breastfeedingMothers who expect to breastfeed may not realize that their attitude is important to their ability to breastfeed. Although new mothers describe breastfeeding as a meaningful and fulfilling aspect of caring for their infants, breastfeeding can cause anxiety and stress.

A mother’s intention to breastfeed is actually one of the strongest predictors for successful breastfeeding and nursing for as long as the mother intends. However, women can question their intention to breastfeed within the first few weeks postpartum. Why? The most commonly stated reason for stopping breastfeeding is not enough breast milk.

Lack of breast milk can be a perception by the mother rather than a fact. Indeed, a mother’s opinion of an insufficient milk supply can be connected to her self-confidence in being able to meet her infant’s needs.

As a mother gains confidence in her ability to problem solve, she is more likely to master breastfeeding skills. Her belief that her infant will respond to her efforts and that significant others will support her efforts actually increases her ability to breastfeed.

There’s actually a medical term for this phenomenon. Breastfeeding self-efficacy (BSE) refers to a mother’s belief in her ability to breastfeed her infant. Having a higher BSE not only helps successful breastfeeding, but it can also help women emotionally adjust after delivery. A recent study prospectively evaluated breastfeeding self-efficacy and mood in first time mothers who began breastfeeding at two days, six weeks, and six months postpartum.

High BSE at two days postpartum predicted positive emotional adjustment and fewer depressive symptoms at six weeks postpartum. Exclusive breastfeeding at six months after giving delivery was more common among women who exhibited high BSE. Breastfeeding concerns were among the most frequently named reasons for stress, as well as lack of sleep and social support.

These findings are consistent with a previous report that indicated postpartum depression was more common in women who attempted but struggled to breastfeed.  Stopping breastfeeding earlier than the woman intended was linked with risk for depression. Postpartum depression was far more likely in those women who stopped because they struggled to continue (e.g., pain, low milk production, problems with baby latching or sucking, breast infection) than in those women who stopped breastfeeding for other reasons.

These studies underscore the importance of supporting mothers who choose to breastfeed. If health care providers support women and their efforts to begin breastfeeding, the women may be able to nurse longer. Helping new mothers achieve success with breastfeeding may decrease stress and help build a stronger sense of confidence and competence, which may help reduce risk for postpartum depression.

On the other hand, the health care providers at Creekside Center strongly believe that supporting mothers in their efforts to breastfeed also means recommending or allowing them to stop breastfeeding when they are having considerable or unresolvable difficulties and helping them feel comfortable with this decision. Too frequently, women feel ashamed and insufficient as mothers when they cannot (or decide not) to breastfeed. We at Creekside Center are here to assist women before and after delivery. Delivering a baby and being a new mom are stressful; we’re here to help.