New mothers are often inundated with advice. Often, much of that advice centers on the benefits of breastfeeding. While breastfeeding is beneficial, many mothers have difficulty doing it. In fact, some mothers report being made to feel ashamed that they even need advice or information on what, they are reminded, is a natural process. Some new mothers have difficulty even producing milk, and now scientists have an idea as to why. It turns out that insulin plays a vital role in the process. In addition to regulating blood glucose, it appears insulin is needed to trigger the lactation process.
Lactation happens in the alveoli of the breasts under the influence of the hormone prolactin and released—or let down—in response to another hormone, called oxytocin. Although lactation begins within the first day after birth, many women do not feel the milk coming in until the third or fourth day. The prolactin, which rises in response to the stimulation of pumping or of the baby suckling, is the hormone that is primarily responsible for producing milk, but other hormones are also involved, and one of these is insulin. Although the process is one that happens within the body, knowing the right way to feed is not instinctive; it can and should be learned. Here are some tips to breastfeed better:
- Use one hand to brace the baby’s head and neck and the other on the hips. Baby will squirm a little looking for the breast, so make sure to leave room for this while still providing support.
- Be prepared to help baby find the target, but follow the infant’s lead in feeding.
- Don’t hesitate to seek help—from family members, from friends, or from lactation consultants and other professionals. Many maternity wards and birthing centers have lactation consultants on staff.
Breastfeeding doesn’t, despite common belief, require drastic dietary changes. You should eat low-mercury fish and drink alcohol only in moderation and immediately after feeding the baby—your breastmilk alcohol level roughly tracks your blood alcohol level—but spiced or seasoned foods are perfectly safe, and even your morning coffee is fine, though you should have no more than two caffeinated beverages a day.