Breastfeeding While in Recovery
By Hattie Rowe
West Virginia University
Breastfeeding is a unique and personal choice for every woman. The decision whether or not to breastfeed should be made by the mother, and not by her eating disorder. Research has shown that women who experience eating disorders and body image issues are less likely to initiate breastfeeding and more likely to wean their child sooner than average (Micali et al., 2009; Zerwas & Claydon, 2014; Claydon et al., 2014). There are many reasons as to why this may occur. Breastfeeding requires a higher daily calorie diet in order for the mother to be able to provide milk to the baby. Some women attribute weaning off earlier to a desire for starting to get back to a pre-pregnancy body sooner. It is also difficult to continue focusing on one’s own body (Carwell & Spatz, 2011). However, breastfeeding has benefits for not just the baby. Mothers can use breastfeeding as a tool in their eating disorder recovery that helps them learn and maintain healthy habits.
Breastfeeding while in recovery can be beneficial to mother and child. Riordan & Wambach (2010) found that Oxytocin, a hormone produced when lactation occurs, provides a sense of comfort and calmness. Women who breastfeed also have been shown to experience reduced stress levels. Staying on a schedule that provides sustenance to your baby can help you introduce a healthy eating routine into your daily life. Seeing your baby grow and thrive with the proper nutrition may encourage you to nourish your body so it can flourish too.
Reaching out to a lactation consultant or dietician can offer additional support throughout the breastfeeding process. Pregnancy service providers and mental health professionals will be able to guide you through the obstacles you may encounter to help alleviate stress. These professionals can provide a variety of strategies and advice to help you continue on your breastfeeding path of choice.
Your body has, and will always be with you. She has taken you through the journey of welcoming a new person into the world. Lactation is a new process your body is learning to accommodate, so allow her time to adjust. Your eating disorder may try to tell you reasons why you should stop breastfeeding early, or possibly not start breastfeeding, but don’t let your eating disorder dictate what is YOUR decision and choice.
Claydon, E., Craig, C., Zerwas, S., Smith, M.V. (2014, March). Breastfeeding practices among mothers
with ED symptomatology. Poster presented at the International Conference on Eating Disorders: New York City, NY.
Carwell, M. L., & Spatz, D. L. (2011). Eating disorders & breastfeeding. MCN: The American
Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, 36, 112–117.
Harris, A. A. (2010). Practical advice for caring for women with eating disorders during the
perinatal period. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 55(6), 579–586.
Riordan, J., & Wambach, K. (2010). Anatomy and physiology of lactation; the biological specificity of
breastmilk; & maternal nutrition during lactation. In J. Riordan & K. Wambach (Eds.),
Breastfeeding and human lactation (pp. 79-116; 117-160; 497-518). Sudbury, MA: Jones &
Micali N, Simonoff E, Treasure J. (2009) Infant feeding and weight in the first year of life in babies of
women with eating disorders. Journal of Pediatrics, 154, 55–60.
Zerwas, S.C. & Claydon, E. Eating Disorders Across the Lifespan: From Menstruation to Menopause. (pp.
237-261) In Barnes, D.L., ed. (2014). Women’s reproductive mental health across the lifespan. New York: Springer Publishing.