For many mothers, breastfeeding isn’t as easy or simple as people have made it out to be. Instead, it can be painful, time consuming, and just downright complicated, leading many nursing mothers to stop breastfeeding before they’d initially intended to.
Providing new mothers with relaxation techniques may be a beneficial part of breastfeeding support. A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says mums who are given relaxation therapy feel less stressed and have babies who eat and sleep more than women who don’t get this extra help.
Stress is often part of the problem as many women struggle to breastfeed their babies, said Nurul Husna Mold Shukri, lead author of the study and an infant nutrition specialist at Universiti Putra Malaysia in Selangor.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that babies be breastfed exclusively for at least the first six months of their lives because it may bolster their immune systems and protect against obesity and diabetes later in life.
For the experiment, researchers offered 64 new mothers who were exclusively breastfeeding standard breastfeeding support in the form of pamphlets and directories of lactation consultants and breastfeeding support groups and lactation specialists. In addition, 33 of the women were asked to listen to the recording daily while breastfeeding or expressing milk for a period of at least two weeks and were encouraged to listen beyond the initial period whenever it felt useful.
After two weeks, mothers who listened to relaxation therapy while breastfeeding reported less stress had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their milk than mothers in the other group. What’s more, babies nursed by mothers who heard the recordings also slept an average of 82 minutes a day longer, were eating more, and experiencing higher weight gains than those nursed by women who didn’t listen to the audio relaxation recordings.
After three months, babies in the relaxation group consumed an average of 227 grams (about 8 ounces) more breast milk each day than infants in the control group.
Breastfeeding is more widespread in Malaysia and maternity leave is longer than in the U.S., for example.
Researchers say that mothers are often anxious and stressed in the first weeks after birth, and infant weight change has been shown to be associated with maternal anxiety. These results show that reducing maternal anxiety with a simple audio recording has the potential to improve infant growth.
“Our trial highlights the importance of minimising and reducing maternal stress, because the experimental relaxation intervention influenced infant behaviour, and volume at one timepoint, and subsequently infant growth,” the study’s authors concluded. “The results suggest that a simple relaxation tool – in this case a meditation relaxation recording – was able to reduce maternal stress aimed at increasing the rates and duration of breastfeeding.”
“Although we only tested one type of relaxation intervention, it seems likely that anything that makes a mother feel more relaxed might have similar effects,” Shukri said.
Mothers should use methods that they know work for them to help relax, such as listening to music, reading, meditating or using mindfulness. These techniques may have multiple positive outcomes in terms of reducing stress, optimising breastfeeding and newborn growth, and helping infant achieve more consolidated sleep, which may help mothers sleep as well.
And you can get many of these relaxation therapies online for free… so why not give it a try? Because if there’s anyone who deserves a bit of guided relaxation it’s new parents.