The Vicious Cycle of Stress and Diminished Supply

By Jennifer Yoon RDN/LDN, Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair


Maybe it’s a new mom suddenly faced with sleepless nights and the endless needs of a (possibly fussy) newborn. Or maybe it’s a mom with an established milk supply, but new family stressors. Maybe it’s a veteran breastfeeding mother of three. All of these nursing mothers have one thing in common: high potential for diminished milk supply due to stress.

The chemical reactions involved in the body’s response to stress can inhibit the release of oxytocin, slow let-down, and at least temporarily diminish breast milk supply. As milk supply diminishes and let-down slows, baby is fussy, perhaps does not gain weight well, the amount of milk pumped dwindles, the stress factor goes up, and the problem escalates. Mother is frazzled and baby is hungry. The vicious cycle begins. Often mothers are unaware of the stressors in the wave of exhaustion and fear that something may be wrong with their baby or they may be unable to meet their baby’s nutritional needs.

“The mother in a stressful situation may say that she has ‘lost her milk,'” according to The Breastfeeding Answer Book. (Mohrbacher and Stock, 1997.) “It is not unusual for breastfeeding mothers to notice a temporary drop in their milk supply or a delayed or inhibited let-down, or milk-ejection, reflex when they are under great stress.” The drop is temporary, however, and with time and conscious efforts to relax and de-stress, milk supply and let down can return to normal.

Try these suggestions for stress management and improved production:

Identify Stressors — In order to alleviate stress, you must know the source. Identify the issues and determine a game plan to address them. Discuss stressors with a trusted friend or family member.

Enlist Help — Sleep is essential to self care and stress relief. You may need to ask someone to provide a supplemental bottle to achieve a solid block of sleep. You may need to talk to another mom who can relate to your struggle. Get connected with local breastfeeding support groups.

Ensure you are eating and drinking enough — Adequate nutrition and hydration are key. Keep water next to you. Have easy, nutritious snacks handy. Foods that can boost milk supply like oats, fennel, brewer’s yeast, ginger, almonds, chickpeas, and nursing teas are a bonus.

Essential Oils — Diffuse, spray, or apply Lavender, Cedarwood, Chamomile, Frankincense, and Lemon Essential Oils, which have a calming and mood lifting effect.

Guided Meditation — “Researchers at the University of New Mexico found that listening to tapes of guided relaxation and imagery techniques helped moms whose babies were in intensive care to produce more milk.”

A variety of guided meditations for breastfeeding are available on YouTube, including these:


Remember that you must care for yourself in order to care for others.

“Be gentle with yourself, you are doing the best you can”

— Author Unknown.


*** Jennifer Yoon sees patients at the Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair office. For an appointment, please call (412) 221-2121. Read more from Jennifer on The PediaBlog here.