Hormonal Balance and Its Necessity for the Breastfeeding Journey

Hormonal Balance and Its Necessity for the Breastfeeding Journey

Postpartum hormonal changes are real. Pregnancy and childbirth bring about a lot of hormonal changes in a woman’s body. Many of these changes result in the production of different hormones to support a healthy pregnancy. However, after childbirth, these hormones suddenly drop, which may affect your physical and emotional being. This might bring about mood changes in you. Suddenly you might start feeling baby blues. 

Hormones and Breastfeeding

Hormonal imbalance is due to a sudden change in the progesterone and estrogen levels in a new mother’s body. In a pregnant woman, progesterone is at its peak but the levels drop significantly after childbirth. The hormone that reigns supreme after childbirth is estrogen, commonly known as estrogen dominance. 

After childbirth, another hormone prolactin goes up to stimulate the production of milk. There is a tremendous surge in milk supply immediately after the birth of your baby, and prolactin is responsible for this. 

Oxytocin is another hormone that triggers milk secretion in milk ducts. The hormone causes muscles around the alveoli to eject milk from the ducts. When your baby is ready for the feed and suckles the breast, the brain receives a signal from breast nerves to release the oxytocin and prolactin hormones.

In simple words, prolactin stimulates the production of milk in breasts while oxytocin brings the milk to your baby.

Breastfeeding or pumping is the best way to raise prolactin levels. You should do it frequently. The more the breasts are stimulated, the more the production of prolactin.

As long as you are breastfeeding, the level of prolactin remains at an all-time high while other hormones are less active. This includes estrogen. But if you mix breastfeeding with formula feeds, it could trigger the return to period quickly. Contrarily, a woman who breastfeeds frequently and exclusively may delay menstruation for several months.

If the period does return soon, it might affect the production of breast milk.

On the other hand, postpartum depression can also impact the levels of prolactin, thus affecting the milk supply.

Postpartum Hormonal Changes and Breastfeeding 

New mothers who suffer from postpartum mood disorders may also find breastfeeding challenging.   These moms might feel plagued by depression and anxiety and find breastfeeding as undeniably difficult. 

Following childbirth, hormones shift dramatically to transition the body from pregnancy to postpartum, having a direct impact on chemicals in the brain. These brain chemicals play a role in the emotional wellbeing as well as breast milk production.  These hormones may work together or in conflict with mood and lactation because there is an association between hormones and breastfeeding.

Progesterone

progesterone levels drop after childbirth. But the drop in hormone may trigger mood disorders. Why? Well, progesterone plays a role in brain chemistry. When the levels of progesterone drop, moms are vulnerable to stress and anxiety. As a result, they may find breastfeeding challenging in the beginning. 

Estrogen

A drop in estrogen after childbirth might also affect the brain chemical balance necessary for releasing stress. Some moms become more vulnerable to developing postpartum depression symptoms due to low levels of the feel-good hormone.

Oxytocin is the cuddle hormone that gives you feelings of pleasure. In fact, your maternal instinct of security for your baby is credited to the hormone of love that reinforces feelings of bonding with your new-born.  

Oxytocin 

Studies find that a connection between low oxytocin and postpartum depression and vice versa. Most new moms with lower oxytocin production lose their sense of connection to their little ones.  As a result, they may have problems breastfeeding their babies. This clearly shows how hormonal imbalance can affect breastfeeding.

Prolactin

Besides, research claims that women with low levels of prolactin may be vulnerable to high levels of stress and anxiety. Those with high levels of stress may be prone to low prolactin release and low milk supply. This is like a vicious circle, which makes it even more challenging for the new mom to deal with stress. As a result, stress and anxiety could affect prolactin and milk supply, confirming the association between postpartum hormonal changes and breastfeeding.

Thyroid

Thyroid imbalance is common in postpartum women. Research finds an association between low thyroid levels and deficient breast milk supply. Women with low thyroid are prone to depressive symptoms.  An imbalance in thyroid levels after childbirth affects mood and milk production.

Cortisol

Higher cortisol levels result in an increased amount of stress and anxiety.  Stressed moms have higher levels of the stress hormone while breastfeeding. This could affect milk production and impact good feelings often connected with nursing. Studies conclude that an imbalance in cortisol levels might adversely lower milk production.

Bottom line

It is a roller coaster ride for most postpartum women to go through a series of changes in their body. From no progesterone to high prolactin production, and a drop in other hormones, you are likely to experience mood swings and drop in energy levels, which could further affect milk production and breastfeeding.

If you have a family history of depression, you might be at risk of postpartum depression. It is important to seek professional help to reduce your chances of PPD. Reach out for help because postpartum hormonal changes can affect breastfeeding and therefore your bond with that little bundle of joy.

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