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#29 The benefits of breast-feeding: Including lactation reflex; describe the mechanism of milk ejection, shifting hormonal balanceCOLLAPSE
Breastfeeding has a lot of great benefits for both mom and baby. Here are few benefits of breastfeeding:
- Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most babies.
As the baby grows, the mother’s breast milk will change to meet her baby’s nutritional needs.
- Breastfeeding can help protect babies against some short- and long-term illnesses and diseases.
Breastfed babies have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breastfed babies are also less likely to have ear infections and stomach bugs.
- Breast milk shares antibodies from the mother with her baby.
These antibodies help babies develop a strong immune system and protect them from illnesses.
- Mothers can breastfeed anytime and anywhere.
Mothers can feed their babies on the go without worrying about having to mix formula or prepare bottles. When traveling, breastfeeding can also provide a source of comfort for babies whose normal routine is disrupted
- Breastfeeding can reduce the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Breastfeeding has health benefits for the mother too! Some cancers, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure are less common among women who breastfeed.
The let-down reflex is what makes breastmilk flow. When your baby sucks at the breast, tiny nerves are stimulated. This causes two hormones – prolactin and oxytocin – to be released into your bloodstream. Prolactin helps make the milk, while oxytocin causes the breast to push out the milk. Milk is then released or let down through the nipple.
Some women feel the let-down reflex as a tingling sensation in the breasts or a feeling of fullness, although others don’t feel anything in the breast.
Most women notice a change in their baby’s sucking pattern as the milk begins to flow, from small, shallow sucks to stronger, slower sucks.
Some women also notice, while feeding or expressing from one breast, that milk drips from the other.
Your let-down reflex needs to be established and maintained to ensure a good supply of milk. This reflex requires no thought, unless you are having problems with breastfeeding.
The let-down reflex occurs:
- in response to your baby sucking at the breast
- hearing, seeing or thinking about your baby
- using a breast pump, hand expressing or touching your breasts or nipples
- looking at a picture of your baby
- hearing your baby (or another baby) cry
The let-down reflex generally occurs 2 or 3 times a feed. Most women only feel the first, if at all. This reflex is not always consistent, particularly early on, but after a few weeks of regular breastfeeding or expressing, it becomes an automatic response.
The let-down reflex can also occur with other stimulation of the breast, such as by your partner.
Our hormones change rapidly post-childbirth. But did you know that breastfeeding causes additional hormonal fluctuations, and can even catalyze additional hormonal imbalance symptoms? Here’s how it works: During the postpartum period, estrogen levels decline after you deliver your placenta. Your placenta is the primary source and contributor to high estrogen levels during pregnancy. On top of that, breastfeeding mimics menopause due to the production of the milk-producing hormone, prolactin, temporarily blocking estrogen production, which keeps your estrogen levels low (1). Decreased estrogen levels impact vaginal tissue, temporarily decreasing elasticity, blood flow, and thinning of the tissue. These vaginal changes cause symptoms like vaginal dryness, itching, burning, irritation, painful intercourse, urinary frequency, and urgency.
I personally have breastfed before, I didn’t do it for long due to my son already being primarily on formula because my breastmilk supply was very low. I didn’t experience a lot of hormonal imbalance but I probably would have produced more milk if I ate better foods. Although I did not breastfeed for long, I did have leaks when my son would cry and I had not pumped yet. I also would leak after a hot shower because of the heat. It was very interesting to feel. Every mom has a different breastfeeding journey so everyone experiences something different.