Does Breastfeeding Really Change Your Brain?

Does Breastfeeding Really Change Your Brain?

It’s been said that motherhood changes you. If you’re breastfeeding, it turns out that you may enjoy even more substantial beneficial changes as a result!

Breastfeeding your bub has a profound positive effect on your mental and emotional well-being. A lot of this is because of the release of our “happy” hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin plays a major role in the releasing of breast milk, and it impacts other areas of a nursing mama’s life, like:

  1. Creating New Neurochemical Pathways

Having a baby suckling at the breast forces your brain to forge brand new neurochemical pathways. These pathways help a mother build and reinforce maternal behaviors, causing a breastfeeding mama to change how she responds to certain situations and stimuli as well as re-prioritize what’s most important to her.

Nursing mamas also have more receptors to oxytocin (we actually have a lot of receptors in our breast tissue!). This increases her feelings of love toward others and her ability to feel loved.

  1. Busting Stress

We can all do with less stress in our lives. As it turns out, breastfeeding can do exactly that.

In one study involving ten nursing and ten non-nursing mums, it was found that after a graduated trot on the treadmill, the mothers who were breastfeeding released a lot less stress hormone than their non-breastfeeding counterparts.

Another interesting study found that breastfeeding mamas had a lower stress hormone response than non-breastfeeding mamas when asked to go through a standardized social stress test.

Then there is another study which showed that breastfeeding mums, when exposed to a stress test, had no increase in their stress hormone levels – and the stress protection continued for nearly 30 minutes after they had finished nursing their little ones.

  1. Less Fearful

Breastfeeding may help mamas take a more measured approach when dealing with what may otherwise be “fearful” and anxiety-driving situations. In one study when men were given oxytocin intranasally, it was found that oxytocin could reduce the activation of the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for anxiety and fear). This also another reason why nursing mums may experience less stress than non-nursing mothers.

  1. Enhanced Emotional Skills and Empathy

Oxytocin has been shown to improve memory of positive social information (such as a smile), improve recognition memory for faces, and enhance social interpreting skills. Interestingly, it also increases a mother’s level of empathy.

The brain of a nursing mama has been shown to have significantly greater brain activity in response to their baby’s cries in comparison to those who do not breastfeed. The biological reason behind this is simple: being responsive to a baby’s cries is a key part of helping an infant feel safe, worthy, and develop trust. A mother who responds to her baby’s cries is one who is helping her child positively develop their mental well-being.

Some other interesting social skill boosts breastfeeding mamas may experience include:

  • Improved ability to identify and recognize fear
  • Improved ability to infer the mental well-being of others
  • Improved ability to identify positive emotional facial expressions
  1. Greater Efficiency

Efficiency is key to get everything (or mostly everything) finished in a day as a mum. So it’s certainly worth noting that breastfeeding can make mothers more efficient than ever.

One study involving food-deprived rats found that lactating rats were able to catch released crickets in a quarter of the amount of time it took non-lactating rats. It’s also been discovered that L-LTP (also known as "Long-lasting, long-term potentiation) can be found in the hippocampi area of the brain in lactating mammals. This serves as a strong foundation for greater long-term memory.

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