Can Stress Cause Lactation Failure?

I gave birth at the age of 20 to my first and only son. I am now 23. I planned from the very beginning to breastfeed him in the hospital and then at home. In the hospital, I was under extreme emotional stress caused by family. My milk never came in, not one drop. I pumped for one week. My doctor finally told me to stop. Some people say it was from undue stress. I do not smoke or drink. I am very healthy. I never really got an answer from anyone, even my own doctor. Please help me with this unanswered question.

-- Brandy B.


There are several possible reasons for what is medically called primary lactation failure. Here is what the Breastfeeding Answer Book says on that subject:

"Very rarely, a mother's breasts will not be able to produce sufficient milk for her baby. This is called primary lactation failure and is due to insufficient glandular development, meaning the milk-producing cells and ducts did not develop and are incapable of working properly. Mothers with this condition typically report that their breasts do not change in size or shape during pregnancy. They do not experience their milk 'coming in' after birth and never feel full or engorged. A mother like this will not be able to fully nourish her baby at the breast. The baby can continue to breastfeed but needs to receive a supplement in addition to his/her own mother's milk, either with a nursing supplementer or with another feeding method. Some mothers who do not notice breast changes during pregnancy or fullness after birth are able to breastfeed without difficulty."

There are also many other possibilities to consider. It is indeed possible for severe emotional stress to interfere with establishing lactation. Certain illnesses can affect a mother's ability to make milk, too, such as hypothyroidism, diabetes and anemia. Taking medications to treat an illness may also affect milk supply. And of course, the situation surrounding the birth is important. Did you receive medications during labor and delivery? Might you have retained a fragment of the placenta? Did the doctor have to use forceps to remove the placenta? Did you have extensive postpartum bleeding?

These are just a few ideas. More information and research will be necessary to figure out what the reason was for your difficulty. I hope you will get in touch with your local La Leche League leader or lactation consultant to figure things out.

-- LLLDiane

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