(Reuters Health) – Mothers who receive breastfeeding support that include relaxation treatment may feel less stressed and have children who eat and sleep more than women who do not receive this extra help, suggests a small experiment.
Many women struggle to breastfeed their children, even when they go to support groups or get one-on-one help from breastfeeding staff. Stress is often part of the problem, says Nurul Husna Mold Shukri, lead author of the study and an infant nutrition specialist at Universiti Putra Malaysia in Selangor.
Pediatricians recommend exclusive breastfeeding until infants are at least 6 months old as it can strengthen their immune system and protect against obesity and diabetes later in life.
For the experiment, researchers offered 64 new mothers who exclusively breastfeed traditional help, including educational brochures and information on support groups and nursing staff. In addition, 33 of the women received sound recordings that encouraged relaxation through deep breathing and offered positive messages on breastfeeding and mom-baby bonding, which they were instructed to play while breastfeeding.
Mothers who listen to relaxation treatment while breastfeeding reported less stress than women who did not receive sound recordings, reports researchers in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
After two weeks, mothers in the relaxation group had lower levels of stress hormone shortage in the milk. At this time, children in the relaxation group also slept an average of 82 minutes a day longer and had higher weight gain than infants in the control group.
After three months, children in the relaxation group consumed an average of 227 grams more breast milk each day than infants in the control group.
"The result suggests that a simple relaxation tool – in this case a meditation relaxation recording – could reduce maternal stress during breastfeeding, which positively affects the breast milk volume and / or composition and positively affects the baby's sleep behavior and growth," Shukri said via e-mail. "Although we only tested one type of relaxation intervention, it seems likely that anything that makes a mother feel more relaxed can have similar effects."
The relaxation tape did not seem to have a long-term effect, the study team noted, as there was no statistically meaningful difference in cortisol levels in mothers or mothers' reported anxiety at the later home visits.
In addition to its small size, a limitation of the study is that the participants knew whether they received the relaxation recordings or had been assigned a control group, which may have affected the results.
It is also possible that the small study of women in Malaysia may not reflect what would happen to mothers and infants in other countries. Breastfeeding is more widespread in Malaysia and maternity leave is longer than in the US, for example.
The results still provide fresh evidence of the importance of addressing maternal stress, says Dr. Valerie Flaherman, Head of the Medical Center of Newborn Nursery at the University of California, San Francisco.
"Mothers are often worried and stressed during the first few weeks after birth, and the baby's weight change has been shown to be associated with mum's anxiety," said Flaherman, who was not involved in the study, via email. "These results show that reduced mom's anxiety with a simple sound recording has the potential to improve infant development."
There is no disadvantage for women seeking relaxation at home, says Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrician professor at the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, New Jersey.
"Mothers should use methods that they know they can help relax, such as listening to music, reading, meditating, or using mindfulness," says Feldman-Winter, who was not involved in the study. "These techniques can have several positive results in reducing stress, optimizing breastfeeding and newborn growth, and helping children achieve more consolidated sleep, which can help mothers sleep as well."
Source: https://bit.ly/30bzN4W American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published online on June 4, 2019.