Many new moms are starting their breastfeeding journey, so it is important to know how this process changes our bodies and our hormones. Breastfeeding hormones will change throughout the day and over the whole course of breastfeeding. To find out more, keep reading this blog post!
What hormones are involved in breastfeeding?
While you are pregnant, your hormones are working in order to prepare for breastfeeding once the baby is born. The hormones that are involved during pregnancy to prepare for breastfeeding are estrogen, progesterone and prolactin. Once the baby is born, more important roles are placed upon both prolactin and oxytocin.
How your breastfeeding hormones change over time: Estrogen
While you are pregnant, the placenta and ovaries release high amounts of estrogen into the body. The estrogen helps to cause the ductal system in the breasts to grow and form branches. After around 5-6 months of pregnancy, the breasts are ready, but both estrogen and progesterone work together to prevent the production of milk at this time. Once the baby is delivered, there is a drop in estrogen levels.
How your breastfeeding hormones change over time: Progesterone
Progesterone is also released during pregnancy by the placenta and ovaries and its role is to cause growth of the breast nodules, and to inhibit milk production after 5-6 months. There is also a reduction in progesterone levels after the baby is born.
How your breastfeeding hormones change over time: Prolactin
While you are pregnant, prolactin levels rise in the blood in preparation for producing breast milk, but this is blocked by estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy. As both estrogen and progesterone drop following birth, they can no longer inhibit the action of prolactin and breast milk is produced.
Prolactin has a large role in breastfeeding once the baby is born. When the baby begins to suckle, this triggers the release of more prolactin in the blood, which in turn triggers increased milk production. Prolactin levels are at their highest around 30 minutes after a baby begins feeding and remain high for about 3 hours. The more prolactin that is stimulated in the blood, the more milk is produced. These high levels of prolactin will remain for several months of breastfeeding and pumping, but levels will return to what they were before pregnancy over time. Insulin also plays a role in stimulating prolactin and milk production.
How your breastfeeding hormones change over time: Oxytocin
Oxytocin plays a number of important roles in breastfeeding, one of which is contracting cells to allow milk to flow into the duct and through the breast. This reflex of contracting cells to allow milk to flow is conditioned to the mother’s emotions and sensations, therefore if a mother thinks lovingly of her baby, this may cause milk to flow. If a mother is emotionally upset, this reflex can be inhibited.
Oxytocin also plays a very important role in bonding between mother and baby. Release of oxytocin during breastfeeding can promote a deep feeling of love and help you to nurture and look after your baby. Oxytocin will help a mother to relax and can also reduce stress and anxiety.