By Deborah Locicero, MMC Board Member, RN, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)
The perfection of nature is always evident if we know where to look. The human body is a miraculous machine. And nowhere is that miracle more evident than in the hormonally regulated process of pregnancy and birth coupled with the breast’s ability to produce the ideal food to nourish a baby from birth through the first year of life and beyond. What an example of perfection!
During pregnancy, your body can sometimes feel like one big hormone. Starting with the early weeks of morning sickness and tender, growing breasts, continuing through the second trimester’s feelings of increasing anticipation and connection to the baby that has begun to move within you, and soon replaced by the third trimester’s emotional roller coaster, food cravings, and sleeplessness. Your body’s hormones are working their magic.
When you enter your fourth month of pregnancy, prolactin the “mothering hormone”, engages busily with estrogen and progesterone to prepare the breasts for milk production. It does a lot more too! It’s prolactin that makes you nest and scrub your house from top to bottom the week before you give birth, prolactin that empowers you to fiercely tell everyone to “back off and wash up” before touching your baby, and prolactin that make both you and baby doze off into a dreamy sleep at the end of a nursing session.
When your baby is born, he will ingest very small amounts of colostrum for the first few days. On average in the first 24 hours after being born a healthy newborn will take in 15 milliliters (three teaspoons full) of colostrum in about 11 feedings! Due to the delivery of the placenta and your babies frequent suckling, your body experiences a rapid rise in its prolactin level, causing milk to increase dramatically by day three to five.
As your baby begins to need more milk, prolactin rises to meet the task at hand, or you could say, at breast!
Oxytocin is the other hormone most closely associated with breastfeeding. Emotional in nature, it is known as the “love hormone”. Along with contracting your uterus and releasing the milk from your breasts, oxytocin increases feelings of trust and bonding and decreases anxiety and fear in both you and your baby. When your newborn begins to breastfeed she stimulates the release of oxytocin, the breast then “lets-down”, and the baby is rewarded with a flow of milk and a calm and relaxed mother that is filled with love for her new infant.
Partners also have a share in the hormones that go along with pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. Studies have shown that an “expectant dad” has up to a 25% rise in his prolactin level, which can lead to an increase in their loving and protective behaviors while you are pregnant. And just a whiff of oxytocin nasal spray has been found to increase dad’s engagement levels with their newborns.
So, sit back, relax, and bask in the perfection of your mothering hormones and the miracle that is motherhood!