Music Psychology

Can music help breastfeeding?

I have no intention of pressuring anyone to breastfeed. I struggled for months with feeding my babies. We went on to manage a good relationship with feeding, but I know – I really know – how hard it can be.

If you are struggling too then I feel for you and wish you all the very best. Please seek out all the help you can, there is absolutely no shame in saying that feeding is difficult.

The most heartening piece of advice from my midwife was that ‘fed is best’ and at this challenging time in life, it is not worth making yourself ill trying to feed when it isn’t going well. There is help out there and there are options, so talk to those who can support you.

First and foremost, talk to a midwife, community health nurse, GP or health visitor. I will also leave some contact details for organisations who could help at the end of this blog.

Having gone through two difficult breastfeeding journeys with my children, I was intrigued to read the following study in a nursing journal. It conducted a meta analysis on research into the impact of music on breastfeeding.

The effects of music intervention on breast milk production in breastfeeding mothers: A systematic review and meta?analysis of randomized controlled trials

Meta analysis combines many studies on the same topic and answers important questions based on all the data. In general it is a more powerful method of investigation than any single study. It looks at a body of research to determine if experimental effects are real (i.e. reliable), what direction they follow (positive or negative), and whether any reliable effects are big or small.

I had never heard of research into the impact of music on breastfeeding and was surprised to hear that between January 1978–March 2020 there had been 2081 randomized trials. It is a tribute to the stringent method of this paper that all these articles were considered but only 5 met the strict criteria needed for meta analysis. The authors used the Cochrane method, a gold standard for meta analysis in the medical field.

Me and my son Antony. Antony was born with tongue and lip ties which made feeding difficult and painful

How might music help breastfeeding?

It can help in more ways than one. To paraphrase the authors:

  1. High endorphin levels that can occur after enjoyable music listening result in the release of lactogenic hormones and help increase breast milk production
  2. Music listening results in an expansion of the blood vessels and improves endothelial function, helping the body to produce and release nitric oxide and endorphins, reducing mental stress and tension, and increasing breast milk production
  3. Postpartum depression is associated with increased cortisol which negatively affects the frequency and duration of breastfeeding. Music intervention has been shown to lead to an increase in oxytocin levels, resulting in increased milk production

The total sample of the present meta analysis was 554 participants. Active and passive music interventions were included; there is always variety in an overview paper as each study inevitably uses different music. The interventions lasted between 11–60 min and for between 1–14 sessions. 

Two of the trials were conducted in India, and the others in Thailand, Malaysia, and Brazil. The control groups received standard training and the output measurements were breast milk volume measured in ml, drop collection by nurses, or breastfeeding rates.

Four of the studies showed a small increase in their measure in the music group, whilst one of the studies showed no difference between their music and control groups. None of the studies noted any negative impacts of music interventions.

Daddy’s girl – My daughter Penelope in her father’s arms at 48 hours old

“Overall, the results showed that music intervention had a low and positive effect on breast milk production in breastfeeding mothers”.

The authors concluded that health professionals who give counselling to breastfeeding mothers can recommend the use of music interventions to help increase breast milk production.

One notable thing for me was that the one study that allowed mother’s to have input into the choice of music heard reported the largest positive effects. This comes as no surprise to me as my own studies of music in health settings have also found that personal choice in music listening plays a significant role in positive outcomes. This is an important point to note for any future studies in this area.

Organisations that support breast feeding mothers

  • National Breastfeeding Helpline (UK) – Independent, confidential, mother-centred, non-judgmental breastfeeding support and information. Open 9.30am – 9.30pm every single day of the year

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