Breastfeeding and mood: Why it can sometimes make you feel high

Posted in Breastfeeding.

If you are reading this as a sleep-deprived, emotionally fragile new mum you may be rolling your eyes at the ‘feeling high’ reference in the title of this article – ‘feeling like sh!t and in need of hibernation’ is probably a more accurate description of your state of feels. But please bear with me.

I don’t mean ‘feeling high’ like you are on top of the world and are compelled to do star jumps after a feed, rather I mean the good mood hit that you can sometimes get from breastfeeding that makes you feel a bit better about everything. 

It’s a little-known truth among breastfeeding mums that we do tend to feel happier and calmer straight after feeding our babies. 

So what chemicals and hormones are released when you feed your baby to give you this ‘high’?

Disclaimer: here at Babyology we are in support of fed babies, no matter how their tummies are filled.  

The feel good hormones

I personally remember telling my husband as a mother of a newborn that I just “needed to feed the baby” to feel better one day. I was feeling all churned up, irritable and I needed the emotional release that breastfeeding seemed to give me.

You see, when we breastfeed our little loves, two important hormones are released.

The hormones are called oxytocin and prolactin and they work together to make breastmilk, kick off our letdown, and to also stay on top of our supply, in accordance with our baby’s demands.

Oxytocin is also known as the ‘breastfeeding bonding hormone’ and can produce a warm and typically content emotional state in us. Thanks, oxytocin!

mother breastfeeding 2

Like falling in love

Remember falling in love and feeling like you were floating on a cloud? Well, oxytocin is the chemical that was released into your brain then and when you breastfeed, it is again. It’s the reason why you may feel extra mushy over your cute bubba. 

What’s more, nighttime breastfeeding also gives you a different kind of hit. This milk is rich in sleep-inducing substances, such as melatonin, tryptophan, and amino acids that promote serotonin synthesis. Serotonin helps to keep us in a good mood in addition to aiding in sleep-wake cycles. Is it any wonder then that your baby looks like he’s in a blissful drunken state after a feed?! 

More on breastfeeding:

“But I don’t feel high, I feel low”

While many mums report getting a little good mood hit from a feed (that usually wears off because MUMMING, exhaustion and all those other pesky hormones that make us feel so sensitive are at play), others report the opposite. They don’t feel high at all after breastfeeding, but instead feel low. Very low.

Again, this can (sometimes) be blamed on hormones. 

Some women have an increased stress response to increased levels of oxytocin and as such this is counterproductive to their mood stability, making them feel depressed, anxious or cranky.

Then there is also a strange condition called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) which affects some women during breastfeeding. It is experienced as an abrupt feeling of dysphoria (sadness, anxiety, irritability or other unpleasant, negative emotions) and occurs just before let-down, lasting for only a few minutes.

Breastfeeding baby

Being aware of our hormones

In all of this, it’s important to be able to try and stand outside of ourselves and our feelings when we are new mothers. Hormones have taken over us right now and our mood is pretty dependent on them. Be gentle on yourself and if breastfeeding helps to make you feel better, enjoy the good mood hit when you get it, like I did. 

If you are at all concerned you may be suffering from postnatal depression, please chat to your GP. Help is on hand.


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