Breastfeeding is a crucial period in the life of every mother. Every mother expects the process to be smooth and enjoyable, especially because they want the best for their newborn child.
This expectation can lead to the mother being extremely anxious leading to the feeling of being stressed.
Maternal anxiety, therefore, refers to the state of worry, feeling stressed and sometimes fear experienced mostly by new mothers as a result of their role of caring for their infant.
This anxiety may arise during the period of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
When left untreated this can have negative consequences on the health of the mother, the baby, and ultimately society.
Postpartum anxiety is usually characterized by feelings of anxiousness, sleep disturbance, loss of appetite, increased heart rate, a sense of worry that something bad may happen, and feelings of distraction.
Anxiety in breastfeeding can be caused by factors such as worries about breastfeeding or a perceived lack of support, the mother’s disturbed sleep, a sense of exhaustion, and a family history of depression and poverty.
Breastfeeding is highly recommended for the newborn child because of its superior nutritional benefits.
For babies who are breastfed, however, the production of breastmilk can be hampered by the level of anxiety a mother feels leading to a poor breastfeeding experience.
Breastfeeding impacts positively on the physical and cognitive development of children.
Mothers who breastfeed also experience physical bonding with the child and other health benefits.
However, several studies have shown that maternal anxiety decreases a mother’s self-confidence, which causes poor mother-baby bonding or interactions.
Maternal anxiety can also interrupt the mechanism by which breast milk is produced.
Less breastmilk production leads to shortening breastfeeding time, giving rise to reduced breastfeeding recommended two years or more.
Moreover, decreased production of breastmilk minimises the exclusive breastfeeding period to less than six months.
Babies need breastmilk for the first six months and then continue breastfeeding while introducing complementary foods.
Reduced production may lead to delayed breastfeeding initiation.
When initiation of breastfeeding is delayed beyond an hour after birth, the probability of continuation of breastfeeding reduces.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend that a mother should initiate breastfeeding within an hour of birth to ensure continuous breastfeeding.
When mothers are stressed, they are also likely to introduce other foods early, which may not be appropriate.
The composition of breastmilk is vital to ensure the child is well nourished.
Available studies indicate that stress affects the composition of breast milk the mother produces. In some recent studies, maternal stress was related to lower levels of fatty acids.
It also negatively affected energy density, fat, medium-chain fatty acid and long-chain fatty acid.
Due to the enormity of the benefits breastmilk provides, it is important to ensure effective breastfeeding is protected by all.
Anxiety is one of the conditions that can hamper breastfeeding, so it is important to treat mothers struggling with the condition.
A visit to a psychologist can help deal with anxiety.
A psychologist or a therapist uses techniques to recognise an anxious mother’s emotions and mental processes.
These negative emotions and thoughts are unlearned and replaced with positive habits and thoughts.
Increasing support or help from family and friends by doing some household chores or assisting with babysitting can take some pressure off an anxious mother.
It is important that an anxious mother gets enough sleep, eats a healthy balanced diet, engages in physical activity every day or attends outdoor programmes such as parties, weddings and dates to reduce maternal anxiety.
Adjusting to life with a new baby comes with many challenges, therefore, it is advisable that new mothers get the necessary care and support from family, friends and health workers to help prevent or manage maternal anxiety.
Breastmilk is the perfect food for babies, it provides them with the best nutrition, supports growth and development, helps babies develop strong immune systems, and protects them from illnesses.
Therefore, maternal mental health should be protected before and after delivery to reduce breastfeeding difficulties.