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Breastfeeding and hormones

1 – 7 August is World Breastfeeding Week. We have put together a 3 part series on breastfeeding and hormones, nutrition for breastfeeding, and weaning and hormones.
Breastfeeding and Hormones

Breastfeeding sounds simple enough right?!… That is until you actually have to do it! Breastfeeding can be difficult and stressful no matter if it’s your first of fourth baby. There are so many factors that come into play before breastfeeding works. There may be supply issues (too much or too little), pain and discomfort, mastitis, let down issues, hormonal issues, issues with latching, rooting, suckling and swallowing, tongue tie, mental health and lack of support/ education on breastfeeding techniques. In this blog we talk about the hormones involved in breastfeeding and how we may be able to assist you on your breastfeeding journey.

There are two main hormones involved in breastfeeding; Prolactin and Oxytocin.

Prolactin is the breastfeeding hormone, and it is secreted by the pituitary gland. Levels increase during pregnancy to prepare the body for milk production by stimulating the development of the mammary tissue. Milk is not generally secreted in pregnancy as progesterone and oestrogen block it’s production. After labour, the levels of progesterone and oestrogen dramatically drop. It is then that the body starts to secrete milk. This is known as ‘milk coming in’ which usually occurs around day 3 after the baby is born. The suckling of the baby causes more prolactin to be released, therefore more milk being produced in the mammary alveoli. Levels of prolactin usually peak about 30 minutes after the start of each breastfeed, essentially preparing for the next feed. Prolactin is most important during the first few weeks when a woman starts to breastfeed. Once established, the amount of prolactin in relation to amount of  milk is not as important.

Oxytocin; sometimes called the ‘love hormone’ is responsible for the ‘letdown reflex’ as it causes the alveoli to contract and the milk to be ejected. Oxytocin starts work when a mother is preparing to feed and also if she sees, hears, touches or smells her baby. This is why skin-to-skin contact is very important. The ‘letdown reflex’ may be felt as a tingly sensation in the breast, milk flowing from either breast during feeding, milk released is the baby is crying and feeling thirsty while feeding. Oxytocin also causes the uterus to contract in the days after labour to help stop bleeding. This may be experienced as severe labour like pains when breastfeeding but will settle after a few days. Pain and stress can affect the release of oxytocin, which can inhibit milk supply. Oxytocin helps develop affection and is important for bonding. It is also the calming, stress relieving hormone which is why many women feel calm, happy and even sleepy when breastfeeding.

At Essence of Health we can support you on your breastfeeding journey by using acupuncture and supplements. Research has shown that acupuncture can help to increase milk supply. Acupuncture may also be able to help reduce stress which causes qi to get stuck and may lead to reduced or no milk flow. There are a number of supplements which we can use that may be able to assist including Chinese herbal preparations and western herbal supplements.

It is important to note that we are supportive of the women’s right to choose to breastfeed or not. There are many different reasons for not breastfeeding including the health of the mother (mental and physical) and the health of the baby. We advocate for fed is best.

If you would like support with breastfeeding, please contact us to make an appointment.


World Health Organisation. The physiological basis of breastfeeding.

Health CMi. 2017. Acupuncture Boosts Breast Milk Production.

Family Tree. Breastfeeding Issues.

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