You might already know about the physical benefits of breastfeeding, and how breastfeeding can save you some time and money. But if you’ve never breastfed before, you might not be familiar with the positive effects it can have on your mind, mood, and overall well-being. There are two hormones that are mainly responsible for how breastfeeding works: prolactin and oxytocin. Both of these hormones contribute to how breastfeeding positively impacts a mother’s mental state.
How prolactin and oxytocin help with breastfeeding
Prolactin, which increases during pregnancy and then stays at high levels if a woman is breastfeeding, stimulates breast tissue growth and breast milk production. Oxytocin, which is released when a baby suckles, signals to the breast to let-down milk. Oxytocin actually works a little bit like a reflex in that over time, it can be stimulated when a mother simply smells, hears, or even thinks about her newborn.
Emotional effects of prolactin and oxytocin
Prolactin and oxytocin aren’t just important because they make breastfeeding possible (which is pretty important by itself), but because they make breastfeeding an even more emotionally rewarding experience for women and their babies (and even new fathers). Prolactin has a calming effect on breastfeeding mothers, and it lowers libido in new parents. Oxytocin, also called the “love hormone” or the “bonding hormone”, strengthens the feelings of fondness and love between a mother and her newborn which helps new mothers feel bonded to their baby. Oxytocin can help fight feelings of sadness of depression, which may lower a woman’s risk of postpartum depression or the baby blues.
The bottom line
Those strong loving feelings that you get while you watch them breastfeed are enhanced in part due to the hormones produced by your body. The hormones and their effects help to strengthen the bond between you and Baby, while creating a relaxing, calming effect that makes breastfeeding more enjoyable experience for you and Baby. The hormones involved in breastfeeding may even have some protective mental health effects, making it less likely that a new mother will experience the baby blues or postpartum depression.
- Alicia Dermer. “A Well-Kept Secret: Breastfeeding’s Benefits to Mothers.” llli.org. La Leche League International, June 28 2016. Web.
- “The physiological basis of breastfeeding.” Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2009. Web.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics. “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.” Pediatrics. 129(3). Web. Mar 2012.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast-feeding tips: What new moms need to know.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Nov 2016. Web.