How Breastfeeding Hormones Work - Oxytocin and Prolactin

There are two main breastfeeding hormones released during nursing, and they both serve distinct purposes for the mother and baby.

Oxytocin and Prolactin are the hormones produced during breastfeeding that work together to make milk, establish a letdown, and keep up with the supply and demand of a nursing infant.

Breastfeeding Hormone, Prolactin

Production of Prolactin is stimulated by the baby sucking at the breast, and its primary function is to make more milk.

Breastfeeding hormones are an important part of keeping up your milk supply. Every time your child nurses, it sends the signal to your body that more milk is needed, and then more Prolactin is produced. Obviously, Prolactin works more in the mother’s body, but the baby reaps the benefits of its work when supply goes up and he or she gets more milk.

One thing to keep in mind is that Prolactin also inhibits ovulation in the mother. This is where the common misconception comes from that breastfeeding is a 100% reliable form of contraception. While it is true that hormones and breastfeeding may delay the return of your menstrual cycle , it is very possible to become pregnant while breastfeeding.

breastfeeding hormones, swaddled baby
Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

Breastfeeding Hormone Oxytocin

Oxytocin is another one of the important breastfeeding hormones. The production of Oxytocin is also caused by an infant’s suckling, but instead of making milk, it is responsible for the milk ejection reflex, also known as the “let down." The milk ejection reflex works as a reward for all of the baby’s hard work. It also causes uterine contractions, which is one reason why nursing is particularly helpful directly after childbirth. The Oxytocin produced helps the mother’s uterus contract and return to its prepregnancy size.

Oxytocin is also an important part of the mother and infant bonding process. It is the hormone that is also released during other loving behaviors that make us feel good about a person. The surge of Oxytocin while nursing is one of the ways that the mother falls in love with her baby, and the baby benefits as well, because the mother is more likely to interact and care for the infant.

Hormones and Breastfeeding and Depression

Oxytocin is also a powerful antidepressant. Postpartum depression, also known as PPD, is a common condition caused by hormone fluctuations and other changes after childbirth. These hormones can be a powerful tool against PPD. Successful nursing that releases Oxytocin has been shown to increase mood and satisfaction in mothers.


Tracy Behr

Mom of two, breastfeeding helper, qualified nutritionist and lover of all things natural! Studying a breastfeeding counselor course via Childbirth int.

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