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Easy Breastfeeding? Hormones Help!

Updated: Oct 25, 2022



Did you know your body has intricate systems to ensure that breastfeeding works? Biologically, your body is very good at ensuring that your baby survives. Clever body!


So often we think of breastfeeding as a physical skill combined with cognitive learning. And learning facts and skills certainly have a part to play! But your hormones are your superpowers.


Science hasn't even come close to learning all there is to know about the complex hormonal systems that start labour, help you to tolerate labour, give you powerful efficient labour, and help your body to produce lots of milk. But here's a summary of some of the things we know.


Prolactin is the hormone that helps you to make breast milk. When you nurse your baby soon after birth and frequently, your body becomes more sensitive to Prolactin, ensuring that you have an abundant long term supply of the milk that baby needs. Prolactin also affects your emotions. You are able to prioritize the baby's needs and be vigilant as you care for your new little one.


Oxytocin causes contractions during labour, but it's also the love hormone! When you labour without drugs or surgery, your Oxytocin levels are at their highest. You have a surge of Oxytocin after birth when the baby nurses (which helps the uterus contract strongly and expel the placenta, preventing excessive blood loss). Oxytocin combined with Prolactin causes you to be relaxed and feel a selfless devotion to your new baby. This gives you a strong sense of satisfaction, and ensures the baby's physical and emotional needs are met. In other words, these hormones cause you and your baby to fall in love!


Beta endorphins are your friends - in labour, they kill pain. That's how it's possible to labour drug free (in the right circumstances). They are released during breastfeeding, helping you to feel good when you nurse your baby. They are also present in the milk, helping baby to feel good too! Yet another hormone that helps you and your baby to fall in love by helping you to feel good when you are snuggled up together. And Beta endorphins also help your body to release Prolactin, which of course ensures there is lots of milk.


These hormones are present right after birth to help you to get the best start on your breastfeeding journey. They are at their highest level if you haven't had an epidural, or a Cesarean birth. Interventions decrease hormonal levels. Does that mean you 'shouldn't' have any interventions? Of course not! You are the one to decide what interventions you need for your birth. It's your birth! And sometimes we need to change our plan according to circumstances. Making the best decisions for yourself and your baby can mean interventions. And that is ok. Really.


I want you know, though, that these interventions can affect your emotions, and your breastfeeding journey. If you are feeling a little disconnected from your baby, if breastfeeding is difficult, it is not your fault! If your hormone flow was interrupted, you may have missed out on some of the superpowers your body would have provided for you. Strong emotions of connectedness with your baby, or abundant milk that flows easily - these things can take more time after an intervention filled birth.


You can compensate for it!! Oxytocin is the love hormone! You can boost levels by holding your baby skin to skin a lot. I recommend a 'nursing vacation' if you've missed out on some hormones (or even if you had great hormone flow - because it's lovely!). Spend 2-3 days in bed with your baby as much as possible, just bonding, breastfeeding, and cuddling skin to skin a lot. You can have a basinet right beside the bed for when you need to sleep. All that frequent nursing will boost Oxytocin, Prolactin, and Beta endorphins. The feelings of love, and the skills of latching, and the abundant supply of milk will improve. And you will enjoy it! It will feel good for both you and baby. It will reset your hormones the way they were intended to flow.


Of course, a lactation consultant, a postpartum doula with good breastfeeding support skills (like me), or a breastfeeding clinic are great resources to support your breastfeeding journey as well. Seek help while problems are small and easier to fix.


Enjoy your little ones and hold them close!


With love,

Christine





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