Updated: Aug 31
After childbirth, a special hormone called prolactin stimulates the woman's breast milk-producing cells to manufacture milk. Then, another hormone in your body, oxytocin, initiates the release or ejection of milk from the tiny sacs where milk is produced. This is let-down reflex, also called as the milk ejection reflex. Most mothers describe let-down reflex sensation as tingling pins and needles usually felt before or during breastfeeding.
Prolactin is released from the anterior pituitary while oxytocin is secreted from the posterior pituitary. These glands are located within our head.
When the let-down reflex is delayed, it could make the baby lose her interest in the mother's breast. Likewise, this can be frustrating for the mother who has a strong desire to provide the best nutrition for her newborn-- breast milk.
Although release of breast milk is primarily stimulated as the infant suckles from the mother's nipple, there are other triggering stimuli for let-down reflex. Knowing these can help make breastfeeding easier and more fulfilling.
Here are few suggestions how you can help stimulate your let-down reflex:
Prior nursing your baby, apply warm wet washcloths (moist heat) to the breast for several minutes. Warm moist compress improves blood circulation, reduces muscle tension, and promotes drainage of milk for the infant.
Temperature should not exceed 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) or as directed by your healthcare provider. Excessive heat can result to burning sensation. In addition, tissue damage can result from temperature above 50 degrees Celsius and below 0 degrees Celsius.
The temperatures that individuals report as painful vary, although temperatures above 45 °C and below 15 °C are generally considered to be painful (Craig, 2018).
Do not apply moist heat continuously for more than 30 minutes or as advised by your healthcare provider. You should also stop if you see any redness or feel tenderness. Moreover, do not initiate warm moist application without your healthcare provider's advice if you have any medical condition which may affect your sensitivity to heat or any alteration on your skin (e.g. open wound, edema/swelling, bruising, abrasion, bleeding, redness, pain, etc).
Choose a chair which offers good support for your back and arms to prevent fatigue. You can also put a pillow under your arm or under the baby if this offers a more comfortable position. Many mothers use rocking chairs during breastfeeding.
Use some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing; listening to soft, calming music; taking a warm shower or bath; meditating on your favorite passage; praying; expressing your concerns, fears, or any negative feeling to your social support (e.g. spouse/partner, mother, sister, friend); etc.
Drink sufficient and nutritious liquids. This is to ensure adequate milk supply and to prevent dehydration. Different countries may have slightly different recommendations on what adequate fluid intake is.
Generally, daily fluid intake should be 750–2000 mL (6–8 glasses) of water per day for healthy individuals. Others may have prescribed fluid restrictions (e.g those with certain kidney, heart, endocrine diseases, or undergoing dialysis) so make sure you talk about this with your healthcare provider.
Some experts suggest that breastfeeding women need at least 15 cups of fluids daily. This already includes water content from other foods. Others recommend an additional 750 ml during lactation. You can also keep a cup of water, juice or milk handy while nursing your little one. Constipation and/or concentrated urine, which is dark-yellow in color, could indicate you're not getting enough fluids, so drink more.
Do breastfeeding in a quiet and comfortable room. Try your best to feel relaxed and comfortable as you nurse your child. Tension, anxiety, fear, or pain can result to difficulty in achieving a let-down reflex. You must be physically and psychologically relaxed especially during the first few weeks of breastfeeding to condition your body to this challenging but rewarding activity of motherhood.
Ensure that the infant is properly latched on. The baby's tongue should be in between her lower gum and the mother's breast.
Do not smoke, and avoid second- and third-hand smoke. Do not drink alcoholic beverages or take any illegal drug. Consulting with your doctor before taking any prescription or nonprescription medication is very important. Alcohol and nicotine pass into breast milk and can decrease milk production. Some drugs can also pass into breast milk and pose risks for infants.
Related Post: Health Concerns on Thirdhand Smoke (THS)
If these suggestions still fail at home, contacting your pediatrician or healthcare provider will be best. You might be referred to a lactation expert.
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