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!!

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.

Pumping Log: Medications and Breast Milk Supply

Ugh. Remember my last post about my horrible eye allergy? The doctor put me on steroid eye drops for a week. I looked up the medication the Hale’s book of medications and breastfeeding. Little had been studied in the drug and lactation, but the risk of it passing into my milk was in the safe zone. I never take a risk with eyes, so I diligently took the drops the prescribed 3x per day. But oooooooooh how it impacted my milk supply!!! If you’ve followed my blog, I was doing great Pumping. And average of 12-19 ounces during an 8 hour shift. With these eye drops on board, my supply dropped to barely 1-3 ounces per pump session for a total of 8 ounces of less per day. I was freaking out to say the least.

Two pump sessions worth in the middle of my eye drop treatment. 😑 Only four ounces total.

I added in two extra pump sessions, one before work and one before bed, to give us a little extra umph and getting us to around 12 ounces for while I was gone at work. Herbs, teas, and cookies were not going to do much if anything because this was being caused by a medication messing at a hormonal level. Pumping was my only hope to get through that week. Fortunately my daughter is on solids and is a champion eater. We just made sure to give her extra foods at meal times and she was waking at night more frequently to nurse. Normally I try not to nurse her at night, but this was an important exception. I was also fortunate to have a four day weekend and I just let her nurse on demand.

This is an entire days worth of pumping. Less than eight ounces for the day.

Two days after the drops were done, my supply came back. The take away is this: if you’re on medications that are altering your supply or if you suddenly notice a change in milk supply and are trying to figure out what changed while trying to breastfeed, don’t give up. Keep pumping and add extra pumps if you need to. If your baby is under six months or not on solid foods, you may need to supplement or nurse more frequently during the night until your supply increases or returns to normal.

First pump of the day today and pumping is back to my normal volume!!!

 

Pumping Log: When to throw in the towel

I’ve never been a super pumper. I’ve diligently pumped three times a day at work for the last 8 months. I’ve almost always made just enough for the next day of feedings. Sometimes I’ve even had a conservative stash in the freezer for low pump days or when my husband and I want to go out. There are definitely times when I have to work on my supply to keep it up enough to feed my daughter. Oatmeal for breakfast, teas at lunch, a Guinness with dinner, more tea before bed. Pump. Breast massage. Pump. Repeat. It’s exhausting. Especially since my uninvited monthly visitor has me with a low supply. As I come up on my daughters first birthday, I’m torn.  Continue the schedule I’m on with the highs and lows of constant pumping? Drop the pumping and only breastfed when I’m home and offer something else while I’m gone? Or gradually wean all together? The professional side of me (the crunchy, granola, die hard side) says, “Stick it out!!! It’s not that bad!! Breast is best!!! Your baby needs your milk!!! Show your boobs who’s boss.” While the personal side of me screams, “Screw it! You’re working so hard! Give yourself a break. You went a whole year. You did the best you could with the support you had. Some other milk won’t kill your kid. She’s eating like a champ and she won’t even notice.” I get it now. I understand why some moms give up breastfeeding, especially working moms. I also get why mom’s push through and keep going. We all just want the best for our babies. I’m still on the fence. We’re T minus 1 month to the big one year birthday. I’ll keep you posted on what I decide. But for now, Happy Pumping!!

Pumping Log: Got Milk?

It’s struck again. My monthly reminder of my womanhood and with it a drop in my milk supply. It’s a good reminder, though, for every mom out there that a sudden dip in milk supply doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It just means you have hormones. Congrats. 🎈🍾  When I’m breastfeeding from the boob I don’t notice any difference. My daughter doesn’t seem to want to nurse more frequently or longer. I really only notice it when I’m pumps. “My poor supply” I think to myself. And yet I would never know except that I’m working. On these weeks I usually just eat more oats, make sure to stay hydrated, drink an extra cup of Mothers milk tea, and add an extra pump session at night. And wait for the crimson tide to stop messing with my liquid gold.

First and second pump of the day.
Third pump of the day after a cup of chamomile tea.

Pumping Log

Everyday is a new day with its own stresses and joys. The more we can take time to enjoy each day, the less we are prone to worry and stress, the better it is for our overall health as well as our milk supply. The past few days I have been working in the neonatal intensive care unit at my hospital. It is my favorite place to work. I love coming alongside mommies and their new babies and helping them feed them in their most critical time. My job on the acute floors can sometimes be stressful. I am helping elderly patients and families make end-of-life decisions. I assess patients feeding skills and decide if the patients can still eat and the options they have for nutrition and hydration. This definitely impacts my milk supply. I always see more of my own milk when working in NICU. Of course when some of those hungry babies cry I can occasionally feel my mommy hormones stimulating my own letdown. Where is your happy place? Have you noticed certain aspects of your environment or work impacting your milk supply? Where do you find your peace when pumping? This really does make a big difference. Happy Pumping!!

I use whatever containers I have clean!! My pumping always decreases as the day goes on.

Pumping Log: One of those days

Is been one of those days. Let me tell you about it. I found a cockroach on my breast pumping bag this morning (I had it next to our 1920’s era fireplace where I was pumping last night). I lost my employee badge and can’t find it anywhere. I forgot my lunch on the counter. When I got to work I realized all my pump parts were sitting in the bottle drying rack at home. My stress was so high I pumped less than 3 ounces my first session (I was thankfully able to use the lactation room in the NICU) which only made me stress more. Then I remembered my own advice. Don’t partner with worry or stress. I have to actively choose joy and peace. I made myself a cup of mothers milk tea and a cup of oatmeal (at least those are always in my pumping bag) and took a deep breath. I made sure to eat a good lunch (I had a certificate for a free lunch in the hospital cafeteria) and treated myself to an ice cream for dessert. I’m already up to 3 ounces at my second pumping. Peace comes from within and not from external circumstances. Joy is a choice that needs to be embraced. Breathe in, breathe out. You’ve got this, mama.

Sometimes being a woman sucks

More specifically, having a period because you’re a woman sucks. Not only are there mood swings and cramps to deal with, there’s also my monthly dip in milk production. Time to make some lactation cookies with extra chocolate chips and a cup of Mrs. Patel’s Milk Water Chai Tea. At least my daughter hasn’t seemed to notice. I was with her the past four days on a mini vacation and she’s been more interested in eating off my plate than my chest. Today I went back to work and knew it would be a lower volume day. Although I always note thamy the milk I pump during my period is a little creamier and more fat sticks to the sides of the bottle. I hope showing these pictures encourages you that is OK to have high and low volume days and not get discouraged. Love your body. Love the process. Worry and stress don’t help anything. Keep eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, taking your prenatal vitamins and taking supplements as needed. Happy pumping!

 

Pumping Log: the pump room

I’m sure every workplace has their own unique style of pumping room. It is a place of sanctuary and safety for many nursing moms during the day. At the hospital where I work, we have an employee lactation room on the first floor. Inside are two somewhat comfortable chairs, each with its own table, two curtains to separate them, and a sink. We are actually very blessed to be in a baby friendly hospital  where they at least attempt to take care of their breast-feeding moms. I have read about pumping room horror stories, though, of “pump rooms” that are nothing more then broom closets or electrical rooms with folding chairs. The law states that all employers must provide a non-bathroom room for breast-feeding employees. But their definition of “non-bathroom” is occasionally taken liberally. The room in which you pump can definitely impact your milk output. If the room you are in makes you stressed, you will see a decrease in milk production. If you are in a calm environment and don’t feel rushed, your milk will have a higher chance of letting down. Do you whatever you need to do to make your pump room as comfortable as possible. Make sure to surround yourself with plenty of pictures of your baby and since it is your break, if you can FaceTime or Skype your baby.

My hospital’s employee lactation room

I do have a funny story about my work pump room. The tables are older and one of them had a broken table leg. The table looked like it was going to collapse at any second. I put in a complaint through the proper chains. I came in the next day and the table was gone. But the two chairs were facing each other with the table in the middle as if anyone pumping at the same time would have a pump off! I don’t Think the maintenance department quite understood the purpose of the room 🙂 with a quick phone call to HR we were able to get a second table and move the chairs back to the proper positions. What are your funny pump room stories? Feel free to share your pump room pictures.

Let’s have a pump off.

Happy pumping!