Effects of Breastfeeding on Your Brain
If you are a nursing mother, it is likely that you sometimes feel distracted and forgetful. Things constantly slip your mind, leaving you feeling confused and frustrated. This lack of concentration may be one of the side effects of breastfeeding.
During this time, your body is full of hormones all doing their own thing. They play havoc with your brain, making you feel fuzzy and flooding your system with substances that dull your wits.
This brain fog may be alarming to new mothers. It contributes to our general state of nervousness and can make us more prone to mistakes. And of course, how could we forget that this cascade of hormones comes at a time when we are already sleep deprived and under pressure.
What are the effects of breastfeeding on your brain?
This happens because the areas of your brain that are responsible for accuracy and concentration are focused on watching and protecting your newborn. They remain this way throughout the first six months of your baby’s life.
The consequence is that breastfeeding mothers may struggle to articulate words or follow any conversation that is somewhat intellectually demanding. That is, to some extent she loses her usual mental agility and sharpness.
However, the benefits far outweigh any negative effects of breastfeeding. Your baby is your perfect neurological partner, and the exchange of messages that takes place through breastfeeding generates a burst of new neuronal connections in a mother’s brain.
The degree of hormonal responses will vary over time and depending on how often the baby feeds. The more you breastfeed, the greater this growth will be. It responds to substances such as prolactin and oxytocin, the main hormones responsible for strengthening the emotional bond between mother and child.
So, a simple glance, gesture or the brush of your baby’s skin will put the idea of feeding them into your head. Your breasts will start to warm up and may leak milk. For the child, the reward is immediate. Not only do they receive food, they also get to feel the love and support of their mother.
You transmit these substances to your child, who, in turn, releases oxytocin, making them feel safe and comfortable.
Withdrawal symptoms during weaning
It is common for mothers to suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they are away from their offspring. This can lead to feelings of fear, anxiety and even panic.
The origins of these symptoms are neurological and chemical more than psychological. This seems to happen because the brain is gradually preparing to adjust hormone levels if mother and child somehow become separated.
Levels of oxytocin, which regulates stress, drop suddenly. Don’t forget that oxytocin lasts just three hours in your bloodstream.
When weaning begins, mothers may experience these same symptoms. Given that stopping breastfeeding often coincides with going back to work, it can be an emotionally bruising time for new mothers.
The consequence is a state of distress and anxiety, as the flow of oxytocin that flooded the brain during breastfeeding is suddenly interrupted.
Many mothers try to smooth this transition by using a breast pump to extract milk at work whenever they can. This way, they can gradually ease themselves off the habit of breastfeeding, continuing to nurse their babies over the weekend, for example.
Doing this doesn’t just ensure that milk production can continue, it also replicates the emotional and physiological pleasure of breastfeeding for both mother and child.
Source: The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Farrar, D., Tuffnell, D., Neill, J., & Marshall, K. (2010, March). Pregnancy adversely affects ability to recall previously seen spatial locations. In Society for Endocrinology BES 2010 (Vol. 21). BioScientifica. https://www.endocrine-abstracts.org/ea/0021/ea0021P325
- Brizendine, L., & Montesinos, M. J. B. D. (2007). El cerebro femenino. RBA.