We are all aware of the nutritional and health benefits of breastfeeding but there is much more to it than that! The act of breastfeeding is much more than mere feeding, that is the tip of the iceberg, to better understand this I am going to start by looking at, what I consider to be, the most magical hormone we possess, OXYTOCIN!

Oxytocin is a hormone found in both men and women, it was discovered around 1906 by Sir Henry Dale and he named it oxytocin from the Greek words meaning ‘ quick’ and ‘childbirth labour’, which were some of the effects that this hormone had on women. Later he discovered that oxytocin was also involved in breastfeeding and promoted the expulsion of the milk. Since then, continuous research is being carried out around this miracle hormone and its effects on us. It has been named the hormone of love, calm and connectedness. Some of the effects of an increase of oxytocin are a drop in blood pressure, it promotes healing, increases circulation in the skin and the digestive system becomes more effective.

How then is all of this linked to breastfeeding I hear you ask?

When an infant breastfeeds a chain of events occurs:

  • the breast is stimulated by the infant sucking,
  • nerve impulses are sent to the brain
  • oxytocin production is increased

As this is a reflex action, when it occurs enough times a pathway is created in the mother, so that when she sees her baby, hears it or even just thinks about it she may get a tingling in her breast from the pressure of the milk. Therefore increased oxytocin equals increased milk flow!

Now that you have had a brief introduction to oxytocin let us look at the benefits of it when breastfeeding and how these are  reasons to breastfeed.

According to Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg (The Oxytocin Factor), there are 9 effects of oxytocin in breastfeeding:

  • controls the expulsion of milk
  • stimulates milk production
  • Redistributed heat in the mothers body to warm the infant
  • Increases the mother’s ability to extract nutrition
  • Reduced blood pressure and stress hormones in the mother
  • Creates calm in mother and baby
  • Makes the mother more interested in bonding
  • Induces social memory and calmness in the infant
 (taken from The Oxytocin Factor)

So increased breastfeeding, increases oxytocin and looking at the effects above, I would say therefore benefit all involved. Just looking at the last few points I found it fascinating that when nursing, a woman experiences a warming of her own body and her skin temperature can rise (or fall) around 2-3 degrees Celsius depending on the needs of her infant. We all know that infants need warm, care and protection to survive and this skin to skin contact when breastfeeding provides this, especially if an infant has been in high care and may need a little extra TLC.

Babies that experience this close skin to skin contact are generally, calmer, relaxed and tend to cry and fuss less. Breastfeeding is then vital to create a solid boding foundation for mother and baby and that all important attachment between them. Infants that experience this close attachment experience an emotional bond and are said to be more confident, able to cope with change, higher IQ, able to concentrate for longer and are generally more well rounded when growing up.

What better benefit for breastfeeding do you need, than a happy, healthy, content and calm baby and mum?

Thank you for reading. 

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