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  • Writer's pictureLisa Paul IBCLC

Relaxation and the let-down response

During breastfeeding, a mom makes two hormones, prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin makes the milk, and oxytocin gets the milk out. It is totally possible that a mom makes plenty of milk, but she does not produce enough oxytocin for it to leave the breast. The exact reason a mom does not make enough oxytocin is hard to pinpoint, but we do know that oxytocin is related to relaxation. A stressed-out mama inhibits her own oxytocin and may hold her own milk back.

Here is a good example from our farm. We owned dairy cows, and the cows loved my husband. When my husband was gone during the milking time, my son was tasked with milking the cow. He was probably about 12 years at the time, and this was not a task he loved.

One day he came back with an empty bucket. Things happen, milk spills but he claimed that the cow did not have any milk, that he tried to milk her, but nothing came out. A couple hours later, my husband came home, and the cow yelled at him with the “Come milk me” call. Of course, my husband got a very full bucket of milk and thought that maybe my son had not tried hard enough. Over the years, it happened a couple more times that a stressful event would prevent the cow from letting down.

How does this relate to a new mom and baby? Well, there are many reasons why the let-down response could be inhibited. One reason could be that bonding was interrupted in those precious hours right after birth. Mom may be feeling disconnected from baby and therefore does not want to let down to a ”strange” baby. Mom may also be experiencing pain during latch, and that pain makes her tense up. (I am fairly sure that my son was not the best milker and did cause the cows pain.) Or mom needs to use a pump and she just does not feel that same connection to the pump as she does her baby.

Figuring out why does not necessarily fix the problem. What we can do is focus on the relaxation response to help mom let down milk whether it is to her baby or a pump. What is relaxing to you may not work for someone else, but here is a list of relaxation techniques that may not be the standard ones you see.

Yoga Nidra: I am a fan of this technique which is also referred to as yogic sleep. They say 20 minutes of yoga nidra is like 4 hours of sleep. I concur, I was able to sleep on a cot in a tent for a month at Yogaville, waking at 5am, because I did yoga nidra twice a day.

Affirmations: I find that listening to uplifting phrases can help me to relax.

Timers: Another odd technique that I use is a timer to tell me I am done with a task, or to define how long I will do something. This blog post is an example. I told myself I would spend 1 hour doing this, and I would have to be done. It is easy to get caught up in perfection by getting every inch of the kitchen clean or to try to get every last drop of breastmilk out. Set a timer and be done with your task. Maybe that means to do a quick 5 minutes of washing dishes before you sit down to nurse because looking at those dishes while nursing is going to cause you stress.

I wish you an abundance of relaxation today!

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