Having a baby brings a lot of changes to your body. Your hormones will vary depending on your stage of nursing. But education is power. The more you can understand the hormones in your body, the better you’ll be able to manage breastfeeding and weaning.
The two main hormones in the female body that directly impact a person’s breastfeeding are prolactin and oxytocin.
Prolactin is a hormone located in the anterior pituitary gland. It’s the hormone that stimulates a mother’s ability to produce milk for breastfeeding.
If your levels of prolactin are too low, it could mean that the pituitary gland isn’t working properly. This could lead to various issues such as a lack of breastmilk or potential fertility issues.
However, it’s normal for prolactin levels to decrease once you wean your baby. This will cause your levels of progesterone and estrogen to increase, which will initiate your menstrual cycle to begin again.
According to the Lactation Network, your hormones will shift during the weaning process, leading to a variety of emotions such as irritability, mood swings, and sometimes even relief.
Oxytocin is another hormone that is released by the pituitary gland that is important to breastfeeding. It stimulates breastmilk to release from the ducts, known as the let-down reflex.
This hormone is increased during labor and actually causes your uterus to shrink after giving birth. It’s what fosters bonding between the mother and child, which is why it’s commonly referred to as the “love hormone.”
Having lower levels of oxytocin is quite rare, although not impossible. Low levels of oxytocin have previously been linked to children having various forms of autism or symptoms of depression.
Some signs that oxytocin is being released successfully during breastfeeding may include:
- Release of milk from the breasts while thinking of the child or hearing a baby crying
- Release of milk from the opposite breast during breastfeeding
- Release of milk from the breasts if feeding is interrupted
- Tingling in the breasts during or after feeding
- Pain or blood flow in the uterus
- Extreme thirst while breastfeeding
Breastfeeding, in general, can cause hormone levels to fluctuate. After you give birth, also known as postpartum, there’s a decrease in estrogen levels. This is due to the loss of your placenta. This organ maintains high levels of estrogen throughout the pregnancy. Once the placenta is released, estrogen levels decrease.
Breastfeeding has similar effects on the body as someone experiences going through menopause. This happens when the prolactin hormone blocks the production of estrogen. Therefore, you have lower levels of estrogen when you’re breastfeeding.
Progesterone is a hormone that is released by the ovaries. It’s critical to the body’s ability to menstruate and have a successful pregnancy. After giving birth, the female body’s levels decrease as levels of prolactin increase.
This is because progesterone directly stops prolactin from allowing the body to produce milk. Once you begin to wean, your body will automatically create more progesterone and, in turn, you’ll begin to ovulate again.
How To Maintain Healthy Hormone Levels
There are many natural ways to promote healthy hormone levels while you’re breastfeeding. Avoid processed foods that can cause increased levels in your blood sugar. Eat more foods that are high in protein, fiber, and iron.
Make sure you’re staying hydrated by drinking enough water as well as eating more fruits and vegetables. A postnatal vitamin can also help provide you with nutrients you need that you may not be getting from your daily diet.
If you’re still experiencing issues with your hormones that are impacting your daily life, make sure to consult with your doctor. You may need the use of lactation supplements. There may also be other issues that need to be addressed that diet and exercise can’t fix on their own.