Managing Anxiety Around Breastfeeding

A baby nurses while her mom thinks about how to manage her breastfeeding anxiety

Parenting a new baby is fraught with stressors: sleep deprivation, crying fits, endless dirty diapers… But perhaps nothing causes more anxiety than breastfeeding, especially for first-time moms.

Unlike other elements of parenting, breastfeeding is something that only the birthing parent can do – that’s a lot of responsibility for just one person to hold, and in many cases that responsibility extends to decisions about supplementing or switching to formula. 

Talk about the mental load! It’s no wonder that so many new moms are stressed about breastfeeding.

Not everyone who wants to is able to breastfeed

If you planned to breastfeed your baby while you were pregnant, it can be devastating to discover upon giving birth that it’s not as easy as you imagined. For up to 15% of women, in fact, breastfeeding just doesn’t work, thanks to an issue called “disrupted lactation” – essentially, lack of or insufficient milk production.

The oft-quoted motto of “breast is best” has since been replaced by the much more reasonable “fed is best,” and the actual research on the oft-cited benefits of breastfeeding over formula is murkier than the media would have us think. So why do we feel like we’ve failed our child if we can’t breastfeed them?

Plenty of women make the choice to bottle feed, for any number of reasons, but if you wanted to nurse your child and your body isn’t doing what you expected, it can lead to major anxiety (and even depression).

Worrying about doing “enough” to nurse your child (or doing it “right”)

Even if you are able to breastfeed, the anxiety triggers don’t necessarily stop – they just change. If your baby isn’t gaining weight, it’s all too easy to spiral into supply stress and find yourself up at all hours of the night reading recipes for “milk-making cookies” or lactation smoothies. You may even need to supplement with formula, which can come with its own stressors.

Then there are the worries that come with breastfeeding “successfully”: should you feed on demand or set a schedule? Is your baby getting enough hind milk or is he just sipping the fore milk all day and night? Are you latching her correctly? Supporting her neck so she won’t need physical therapy down the line? Does feeling touched out or experiencing wildly fluctuating moods from shifting hormones or suffering from extreme negative emotions while breastfeeding make you a monster? Basically: are you doing it right or are you failing your kid?

It’s a minefield, no matter how you feed your baby. And to make matters worse, anxiety can actually make breastfeeding harder.

Tips for managing your anxiety

  1. Try to focus on what you are doing for your baby. If you’re formula-feeding or supplementing or pumping, instead of beating yourself up for not exclusively breastfeeding, refocus your thoughts on the most important thing: your baby is getting the nutrition they need.
  2. Lean into the positive aspects of your feeding style. Every feeding style has its pros and cons. If you’re unable to breastfeed, why not have your partner or a caregiver take over for half the feeds, to give you a break? If you’re supplementing with formula, maybe that bottle can be a night feed from someone else so you can get some sleep. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, take a moment to appreciate the ease of feeding your child at a moment’s notice.
  3. Be honest with yourself and others about your feelings. While dwelling on the things that make you anxious around breastfeeding can increase your anxiety, stuffing your feelings down only gives them more power. Instead, give yourself space to grieve the loss of nursing if you’re unable, and/or be open with your loved ones about what’s worrying you about breastfeeding. You can’t tackle a problem until you’re able to name it.

Anxiety about breastfeeding – and pretty much everything else that gets thrown at you postpartum – is totally normal, and we can help. At Prospera, our mental health coaches are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, which are super effective for anxiety, depression, and anger issues.

If you could use some support (and who couldn’t?), why not give us a try? Book your free consultation today.

Content reviewed by Dr. Sarah Stanger, Clinical Psychologist

Anne Godenham is a writer and editor with a passion for mental health awareness and accessibility