Breastfeeding and mental health: Nurturing both body and mind

Breastfeeding is often celebrated for its numerous health benefits for babies and mothers. From boosting the baby's immune system to aiding in postpartum recovery, breastfeeding offers an unparalleled bond between mother and child. However, beyond the physical advantages, a critical aspect is often overlooked - the impact of breastfeeding on a mother's mental health. Here, we delve into the profound effects of breastfeeding on a mother's mental well-being, exploring the challenges, benefits, and ways to maintain a healthy balance.


The emotional rollercoaster

For many new mothers, breastfeeding can be an emotional rollercoaster. While nursing fosters a unique connection with the baby, it also comes with challenges. Struggles with latching, low milk supply, or painful breastfeeding experiences can lead to frustration, feelings of inadequacy, and guilt. These emotions can often take a toll on a mother's mental health, especially with the hormonal fluctuations of childbirth and postpartum recovery.

Postpartum depression and anxiety

Breastfeeding can also be a contributing factor to postpartum depression and anxiety. The hormonal changes associated with lactation can trigger mood swings and increase vulnerability to mental health issues. Additionally, the constant demands of feeding and sleep deprivation can exacerbate feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm, potentially leading to feelings of isolation and depression.

Self-care and support

Self-care and a strong support system are crucial to mitigate breastfeeding's impact on mental health. Mothers should prioritise their well-being, ensuring adequate rest, nutrition, and exercise. Moreover, seeking assistance from partners, family members, or lactation consultants can significantly reduce feelings of stress and help navigate through breastfeeding challenges.

The power of connection

Despite the challenges, breastfeeding also provides an opportunity for emotional connection and bonding between the mother and her baby. The act of nurturing and providing for the child can evoke feelings of joy, contentment, and empowerment. The release of the "love hormone" during breastfeeding fosters positive emotions and helps create a profound attachment between mother and child.

Breastfeeding and long-term mental health

Research has shown that breastfeeding can positively affect a mother's mental health. Studies suggest that mothers who breastfeed may have a reduced risk of developing anxiety and depression in the future. The nurturing experience and the positive hormones released during breastfeeding may play a role in this protective effect on mental well-being.

Combining breastfeeding and formula feeding

It's essential to recognise that every mother's journey is unique, and breastfeeding may not be feasible for everyone. The pressure to exclusively breastfeed can be overwhelming and counterproductive to a mother's mental health. It's perfectly acceptable to combine breastfeeding with formula feeding or choose exclusive formula feeding if that's the best option for the mother and baby's well-being.

Breastfeeding is a deeply personal and emotionally-charged experience that can significantly impact a mother's mental health. While it comes with its challenges, it also offers an unparalleled opportunity for bonding and emotional connection. Striving for a healthy balance between self-care, support, and embracing the uniqueness of each breastfeeding journey is crucial for nurturing both the baby's and the mother's well-being. By acknowledging the emotional aspects of breastfeeding and providing a compassionate environment, we can better support mothers through this transformative phase of motherhood.

Can counselling help?

Yes, counselling can be highly beneficial for individuals who are struggling with their mental health due to breastfeeding challenges or experiences.

The emotional impact of breastfeeding difficulties, postpartum hormonal changes, and the demands of motherhood can be overwhelming for some women, leading to feelings of stress, anxiety, guilt, and even depression. Seeking professional counselling can provide valuable support and assistance in several ways:

  • Emotional support: Counselling offers a safe and non-judgmental space for mothers to express their feelings and emotions about breastfeeding. A counsellor can provide empathy, understanding, and validation, which can be incredibly comforting during a challenging time.
  • Coping strategies: A counsellor can equip mothers with practical coping strategies to manage breastfeeding difficulties' stress and emotional turmoil. They can teach relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises, and other coping mechanisms that can help ease anxiety and improve mental well-being.
  • Problem-solving: Breastfeeding challenges may involve specific issues that a counsellor can help address. Whether addressing latch problems, managing low milk supply, or dealing with painful breastfeeding experiences, a counsellor can work with the mother to find solutions and provide guidance.
  • Validation of feelings: Mothers may feel guilty or inadequate due to their breastfeeding struggles. A counsellor can validate these feelings and help the mother reframe her thoughts to a more positive and self-compassionate perspective.
  • Addressing postpartum depression and anxiety: If breastfeeding difficulties contribute to or exacerbate postpartum depression or anxiety, a counsellor can help identify and address these mental health issues, providing appropriate interventions or referrals for further specialised care.
  • Partner and family support: Counsellors can involve partners and family members in counselling to foster a supportive environment for the mother. Engaging family members can help create a network of understanding and encouragement.
  • Decision-making: For some mothers, deciding whether to continue breastfeeding exclusively or consider other feeding options can be distressing. A counsellor can facilitate informed decision-making, considering the mother's well-being, the baby's needs, and family dynamics.
  • Long-term mental health: Counselling can also focus on strategies to promote long-term mental health and well-being for the mother as she navigates the challenges of motherhood beyond the breastfeeding phase.

It's important to note that counsellors specialising in perinatal mental health or those experienced in working with mothers can be particularly effective in addressing the specific needs and complexities associated with breastfeeding and motherhood. Overall, counselling can be an invaluable resource to help mothers overcome mental health challenges related to breastfeeding and support them in their journey toward improved well-being.

At Hope Therapy & Counselling Services, we have an experienced team of counsellors working with a wide variety of presentations. We have significant experience with clients who have struggled with anxiety about breastfeeding and various associated presentations. For more information, visit our profile or book an introductory call.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3
Written by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services, Offering Counselling, CBT, Hypnotherapy, EMDR & Mindfulness.
Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3

Driven by a vision to create a safe and nurturing space for individuals seeking support, Hope Therapy & Counselling Services was born. A handpicked team of skilled and highly compassionate counsellors with a shared commitment to helping others. Together, we work collaboratively to provide comprehensive, tailor-made counselling support.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Postnatal depression

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals