Hormones and breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is controlled by the hormones oxytocin and prolactin, and by FIL (Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation).
Both oxytocin and prolactin increase when your baby’s mouth stimulates your nipple.
Oxytocin causes milk to be released from the breast tissue, often called the ‘let-down reflex’. Oxytocin is also the ‘love hormone’ and can make you feel relaxed, happy and loving. It puts you in the perfect mood to have a lovely cuddle with your baby. Oxytocin may be inhibited if you feel very tense or stressed. If you are having difficulty breastfeeding it can sometimes help to stop trying to breastfeed and comfort baby (and you) another way. Then try feeding again when you are both calmer. Having skin to skin contact can help stimulate oxytocin before a feed.
Prolactin and FIL control the production of milk – they respond to how full or empty the breast is. So when milk is removed from the breast (when baby feeds or you express milk) these hormones report back to start-up milk production.
This means that frequent feeding or expressing milk means that your body will produce more and more for next time.
Positioning and attachment – why it matters
Your baby needs to breastfeed with a large amount of breast tissue in his/her mouth, not just the end of the nipple. This allows milk to flow freely, meaning that your baby gets all the milk he/she needs and the breasts are stimulated to produce more milk for next time. Sometimes achieving this optimum ‘attachment’ is a little tricky to master for mum and baby in the early days. This is why being able to access support from trained breastfeeding supporters can make a big difference to your breastfeeding journey.
How you hold the baby can make a difference to how well they are able to attach. The main principles are:
- Hold your baby close to you
- Keep baby well supported, so that his head and body are in line
- Allow baby to extend his head up to the breast
- Wait for the baby to open his mouth wide before helping him onto the breast
Further information about this is available in our positioning and attachment section.