The sexual and nutritive breast: hormones and breastfeeding

We have done a very good job in America of separating the functions of the breast. Too often we see them as sexual OR as a tool of nutrition for our young. Even breastfeeding supporters who are pro-feeding tend to swing too far the other direction by not seeing the feeding breast as a sexual breast. We need to learn to appreciate the breast as both sexual and nutritive and in doing so actually increase the pleasure and function of both acts.

Many parts of the body have dual features. Yet we would never try to inhibit one of them or consider it odd or out of place. The mouth, for instance, has three purposes. With it we also feed the body. It is the first step in digestion where chewing and swallowing take place. Yet it is also communicative. With it we share it thoughts and express our wants and needs. But let us not forget it is also sexual. With it we kiss and perform all nature of sexual acts. Our hands perform tasks beyond number: communicative through the written word, nutritive in bringing food to the mouth, and sexual with the nuances of caressing, holding, and fondling. Society has no problem with these utilitarian organs.

Breasts are sexual organs. Their stimulation aids in the release of Oxytocin. According to Psychology Today, “Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It regulates social interaction and sexual reproduction, playing a role in behaviors from maternal-infant bonding and milk release to empathy, generosity, and orgasm.” This “love hormone”, as it is often called, is released through touching, hugging, kissing, and yes, nipple stimulation. Oxytocin is the hormone that underlies trust. It is also an antidote to depressive feelings, which is why breastfeeding mothers have a largely reduced risk of post partum depression.

When the nipple is stimulated during sex, it plays a part in the release of Oxytocin for orgasm. When the nipple is stimulated during breastfeeding, it plays a part in the release of Oxytocin for milk ejection. This is why when parents become intimate after having a baby, a mother will often leak during orgasm. But a sexually blocked or traumatized mother, who had difficulty with the sexual nature of her breasts, may also find difficulty with the nutritive side of breasts and may have difficulty with the let down of milk.

When we can appreciate breasts as multifunctional, we can appreciate the complex nature of breast feeding. And also understand how to increase milk supply. Breastfeeding is hormone and simulation driven. The more you stimulate, the more hormones are released to make and release milk. Just like with sex, if a mother is stressed, distracted, or uncomfortable, the body’s natural reactions and functions can be impacted (example a distracted woman may not orgasm during sex and a stressed mother may have decreased let down and milk flow). On the other side, we can also use this information to our advantage. We can set the stage to increase milk flow, especially when pumping. By romancing the breasts when pumping (massaging or caressing them, giving gentle nipple rolls, listening to favorite soothing music, having a cup of tea, smelling baby’s clothes or blanket, watching videos of baby) we facilitate the hormone release to make and release milk. When we woo our breasts, speak softly to them and take a time out while feeding our baby or when pumping, we honor the dual nature of our magnificent body and in turn our body will respond positively.

  • Take a moment to reflect on how amazing breasts really are.
  • Think about how you can change the mood around feeding and pumping to help facilitate the hormonal influence on milk production.
  • If you have ideas, feel free to share them!!

Sabotaging your milk supply: working mothers who pump

The number one method to sabotage your milk supply when you go back to work is a caregiver who over feeds your baby. 

Scenario one: Baby is given a full bottle and takes 5 ounces in five minutes. Baby then spits up half the feeding and caregiver tries to give more to “keep it down”. Caregiver tells mom baby is fussy and has reflux. Baby gets put on Zantac and rice cereal.

Reality: there are several factors going on in that scenario that will sabotage a working mother’s milk supply. First, babies are not supposed to take five ounces in a feeding. Their stomach is the size of their fist and should only be taking 1-3 ounces per feeding through the first year of life. Their stomach can only hold so much and if it’s past capacity, the only place for it to go is up. I can eat a whole cake, but I shouldn’t. As an adult, if I overeat I get uncomfortable, too. I either take peptobismol or put on my stretchy pants to wait for the pain to subside. Then I don’t eat that much again.  Babies fuss and spit up for the same reason. We’re over diagnosing babies with reflux that are being fed too much or too fast.

Scenario two: Caregiver gives a baby six ounces every feeding, 3 times while mom is gone, every time the baby cries or wants to suck. Baby appears fussy and wants to suck all the time.

Exclusively breastfed babies should consume 25-35 ounces across each 24 hour day and approximately 20% of their calories should be taken over night. If you do the math, that’s a little over an ounce an hour, or 1-3 ounces every two to three hours. And in accordance to what the baby needs, mom will make that volume. So if caregiver is feeding 6 ounces three times in an 8 hour shift, you’re expecting mom to pump 18+ ounces. In reality, her body will most likely make 6-10 ounces which would be the amount she would make if she were home with her baby. In a few days of over feeding the baby, mom becomes discouraged that she’s not making enough and pretty soon she’ll start supplementing with formula

Babies also want to suck for a variety of reasons: comfort, pain, bonding, nutrition, pleasure, etc. Babies use mom as a pacifier without actually drinking. When babies are away from their mommies is very stressful, so their way to soothe is to suck.

Scenario three: Baby is given 4 ounces and chugs it down in five minutes. Baby is happy to chug down high volume and the caregiver thinks baby is just a piggy and really hungry. Baby occasionally coughs and chokes and milk comes out her mouth.

Reason: Babies have a swallow reflex that is with them at birth. When liquid reaches the back of the throat it triggers the swallow reflex. Babies are obligated to swallow otherwise they will choke or let the milk pool out of their mouths. When you see a baby chugging down milk really fast, it’s not usually because they are starving, but because they are trying to keep up with the flow of the bottle. As I said in an earlier post, there’s really no such thing as nipple confusion, but flow confusion. At the breast, other than during active let down in the first few minutes of active feeding, the baby controls the flow of milk by how they suck. In bottle feeding, the bottle will flow because gravity always wins. Caregivers need to be taught paced bottle feeding. Using a slow flow nipple, feeding baby in side lying, and frequently tilting the fluid away from the nipple to slow the baby from drinking so fast gives the baby more oral control and time to appropriately eat.

There are two kinds of receptors in the stomach: stretch and density. It should take a baby 10-20 minutes to eat from a bottle. This is also how long it takes the stretch receptors to tell the brain that the stomach is full. I can eat a whole pizza really fast, but I shouldn’t. Babies can eat a large volume really quickly, but they shouldn’t. Not only is it not developmentally appropriate, but pretty quickly the high volume needs will sabotage mom’s opinion of her perfectly healthy milk volume. She’ll turn to all kinds of milk makers: cookies, teas, herbs, etc and eventually if she’s discouraged enough she’ll turn to formula, when in reality if the caregiver would slow down feedings and give the rigjt volume, every one would be happy.

Happy pumping!!


Breastfeeding advice from social media: Buyer beware

Asking for medical advise from social media forums, especially mommy groups, is like asking a mother who’s had a baby to deliver yours. Just because she has experience in the field does not make her qualified to give technical advice in that area. She can give you her opinions or share her experience, but she did never be relied on as a trustworthy source when providing care to YOUR child.


Breastfeeding is especially one of those areas that we need to tread wisely into when asking for help and advice. Or culture has hidden breastfeeding from the norm and made it this mysterious, murky action where myths and misunderstandings abound. So much of the information found in quick Google searches are anecdotal, antiquated, or based off formula feeding data which is completely distinct and sometimes totally opposite of true breastfeeding. We should be seeking community support for breastfeeding, but not when medical advice is being solicited.

When mothers give out advice on social media platforms, they are not taking into consideration the whole breastfeeding picture and may inadvertently give advice that could care harm or actually negatively impact breastfeeding. For instance, when a mother of a two month old asks for advice on increasing her breastmilk supply and mother start giving advice on herbs, lactation cookies, or teas, they may not be considering WHY she is needing to increase her supply. Is her baby in the NICU? Is she going back to work and stressed with the pumping process? Does she have. History of sexual abuse that she actually needs to work through? Did her pediatrician have her supplement which impacted her supply? Is she trying to sleep train and sabotaging her own supply? Is she ALLERGIC to the herbs in those teas and supplements? How often is she feeding? Does she have a metabolic or hormonal disorder impacting her supply? Does she have enough glandular breast tissue to even produce sufficient milk supply? Does her baby have a tongue tie? Does the baby simply have a poor latch? These are the questions that are crucial in giving appropriate breastfeeding advice to protect the breastfeeding relationship. The best advice a mother can give on the social media platform is to have the questioning mother contact a lactation consultant.

The gold standard for breastfeeding advice is the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). There are other forms of lactation consultants that teach and serve out of a variety of backgrounds. The IBCLC is the top most coveted professional because of the extensive education and rigorous testing they need to go through in order to be able to assist lactating mothers. In order to sit for the FOUR HOUR board exam, candidates must have extensive education in specific health science subjects, like nutrition, psychology, and childhood development; 90 college level credit hours of education in human lactation and breastfeeding, and hundreds to thousands of clinical practice in providing care to breastfeeding families. They must also maintain a high level of continuing education courses and continue to sit for the board exam every 10 years.

So when you see moms with questions related to breastfeeding in social media forums that are beyond opinions or personal experience, the best advice is professional advice.