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LLLI Center for Breastfeeding Information

Journal Abstract of the Month for August 2005

"Breastfeeding and maternal stress response and health"

Author: Elizabeth Sibolboro Mezzacappa

Nutr Rev 04-7; 62(7):261-68.

Abstract: While there are a plethora of resources documenting the benefits of breastfeeding for infants, there are comparatively few that address positive effects for the breastfeeding mother. Some of these effects occur immediately, such as reduction of stress hormones; others are available to the mother throughout her life, such as a reduction in her risk of developing breast cancer. This article focuses on the former.

The arenas of stress response most commonly studied followed two paths: psychological and physiological. Most of the psychological studies involved self-reporting on the part of the women being tested regarding their emotions and state of mind; hence, they are somewhat more subjective and may indicate a self-fulfilling prophecy if the mother in question was predisposed to believing that breastfeeding would or would not provide stress reduction. In addition, the act of breastfeeding itself, separate from the hormones produced, may increase the mother's self-reported positive feeling. This is an area requiring further study.

The more objective physiological studies often showed a difference in response dependent on the recency of the last breastfeeding incident. Measures of the stress responses most commonly studied were the levels of stress hormones (i.e., cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine) found in the mother's bloodstream, and changes to her heart rate and blood pressure. Also studied were sympathetic nervous system responses, such as the electrical conductivity of her skin. In many of the studies, women's responses were measured against themselves, pre- and post-lactational incident; in others, the responses of women who were primarily or exclusively breastfeeding were measured against those of women who were bottle-feeding.

Additionally, a comparison was made between the widely available studies on lactating rats and those few on lactating humans. In virtually every case, the reduction of stress was clear and convincing with regard to the rats, but significantly more complex for humans. While some specific studies were equivocal, over all the studies confirmed those done on the lactating rat population; specifically, breastfeeding positively impacts a woman's ability to handle stress, whether artificially induced in the laboratory or met as a part of daily life.

This paper is categorized by the following keywords:

Breastfeeding—initiation and duration
Fatigue, exercise
Formula concerns
Long-term benefits
Cardiac issues

An additional abstract of this article may be viewed at this link.

The full text of this article is available at:

LLLI provides Additional Information on the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers. Go to these links for related articles and information from La Leche League International's publication for new mothers, NEW BEGINNINGS:

LLLI's publication for La Leche League Leaders, LEAVEN, also has helpful information.

Additional Research Information from LLLI's Center for Breastfeeding Information is available at this link:

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