Mother’s milk is wholesome nourishment for the newborn. Not only has it been nourishing for an infant but for a growing baby as well. However, often new mothers don’t produce enough breast milk. This occurs because of prolactin levels in the bloodstream.
What is prolactin?
Prolactin is a hormone responsible for stimulating lactation or milk production and maintaining the supply throughout breastfeeding tenure. This hormone is produced by the pituitary gland located near the brain’s base. Apart from secreting prolactin, the pituitary gland also controls sexual development, growth and metabolism in the human body.
Now, coming back to the topic of breast milk production and prolactin secretion, this hormone is essential for proper milk production as demanded by a growing baby. But many times, mothers fail to produce enough milk and thus require a blood test for breast milk. The test reveals the level of prolactin in the bloodstream and its effect on breast milk production.
Prolactin has a correlation with other body activities happening during and after pregnancy. Let us have a quick look into it.
When you are pregnant, prolactin released by the pituitary gland helps your breasts begin with lactation or milk production. But as the pregnant woman’s body has higher levels of other hormones produced by the placenta like progesterone and estrogen, the milk production in breasts is prevented.
As you go into labor and give birth, the placenta leaves your body. Thus, the levels of progesterone and estrogen get reduced, and prolactin levels get increased. The rise in prolactin signals the mammary glands or breasts to produce milk and lactate.
On the postpartum’s first day
In the postnatal phase, the rise in prolactin hormone helps in lactation. However, maintaining milk production does not solely depend on this hormone. To maintain consistent milk production, the mother needs to breastfeed the milk or pump it out often.
The practice of pumping or breastfeeding maintains consistent milk production, keeping it abundant for the baby to suffice.
How is the baby responsible for the mother’s milk supply?
When the baby sucks on the mother’s breasts or the mother pumps it out, the nerves of mammary glands send signals to the brain to release prolactin and oxytocin. The prolactin released into the bloodstream of the mother signals breast to produce milk.
So, as long as you keep breastfeeding or pumping the milk, the milk production continues. Once the baby stops sucking, the prolactin levels go down.
What happens if your stop breastfeeding at all?
You know that the levels of prolactin hormones are higher during pregnancy and after childbirth. But the whole cycle of lactation completes with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding stimulates the mammary glands, which in turn produce hormones like prolactin and oxytocin.
So, at this point, if the mother does not breastfeed or pump the milk out, the levels of prolactin will keep down even below the normal level. This will slow down milk production, and it will finally stop.
What happens if the body does not produce enough prolactin?
The dip in prolactin secretion can alter milk production, making the baby not get enough milk to suffice its hunger. Therefore, if a new mother does not have proper milk production, she should get a blood test for breast milk done.
Some of the prominent causes behind low levels of prolactin could be;
If you have gone through breast surgery near the areola or nipple, you may see low prolactin levels. It happens because, during surgery, the nerves near the nipples get damaged and hence, could not produce stimulation.
Birth control pills
Taking birth control pills with estrogen present in them may also affect the levels of prolactin. Higher the estrogen level, lower the prolactin levels.
Stress and depression
When the mother is under prolonged stress or depression, prolactin levels decline. Hence, milk production is either decreased or halted.
Using pacifier in early days
If a new mother uses a pacifier in the early days of breastfeeding, the stimulation around the nipples reduces, and the milk production is lowered. Therefore, during the prenatal phase, new mothers only breastfeed the baby. Later some time, they can use pacifiers or breast pumps.
Applying numbing creams
Often mothers apply numbing cream during sore nipples. However, this application is not suggested because such creams numb the nerves making them unable to send signals to the brain.
As smoking adversely affects many body functions, it also lowers the prolactin levels in breastfeeding women.
The final put
Once you know the cause behind low levels of prolactin hormone, you can consult a good doctor and get treated. The blood test for milk production will help you get the levels of prolactin in your bloodstream and help the doctor diagnose the issue.
But apart from the test, you should work on your own to increase the hormone level. You may take herbs and regulate food habits to see the change.