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Breastfeeding & Uterine Contractions: Is It Normal? | Medela

Contractions While Breastfeeding

Why You’re Having Uterine Contractions While Breastfeeding

It is perfectly normal to experience uterine contractions while breastfeeding. This is due to the release of the hormone oxytocin from the pituitary gland in your brain. That release is triggered by the sight, sound, touch, and even smell of your precious baby. Considering that the two of you have only just met, it’s pretty amazing the effect that tiny little person can have on you!

The Importance of Oxytocin

Oxytocin performs many wonderful functions in your body, including increasing relaxation, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and causing muscle contractions. It’s been called the “love hormone” because it’s released when people cuddle, have sex, or bond socially. Additionally, it plays a critical role in childbirth, parenting, and breastfeeding. 

Uterine Contractions

Oxytocin is released at the time of childbirth which causes your uterus to contract and push out your baby. Following childbirth, you may notice uterine contractions that feel similar to menstrual cramps. While they may be uncomfortable and sometimes even painful, they work to shrink your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size while reducing postpartum bleeding and preventing hemorrhaging. 

The Letdown Reflex

When baby latches onto your breast, this sends a signal to your brain to release oxytocin. The oxytocin causes the glands in your breasts to contract, squeezing the milk into your milk ducts. The ducts then contract to push your breast milk through your breast and nipple to baby. This is called the letdown reflex. 

Oxytocin continues to release as your baby nurses so that your milk will continue to flow out to your hungry little one. 

You might discover that this hormone release makes you feel relaxed, even a little sleepy. That’s perfectly normal. Other ways oxytocin can affect you is by raising your body temperature so you feel hot while breastfeeding. It can also make you feel thirsty. 

Mom and Baby Bonding

You might notice that as you breastfeed your baby, you feel a strong emotional connection and desire to protect and nurture your little one. That’s because skin-to-skin contact taking place while breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin in both you and baby. That love fest that’s happening between you two is Mother Nature’s beautiful way of creating the mom and baby bonding experience.

Understanding Oxytocin Release

How will you know that oxytocin is being released in your body? There are several signs to look for:

  • Uterine contractions when you breastfeed.
  • A tingling feeling in your breasts.
  • Breast milk leaking from your breasts.
  • Overall feeling of happiness after feeding your baby.

Conditions That Interfere With Oxytocin Release

There are certain conditions that interfere with the release of oxytocin. These could contribute to issues with breastfeeding:

  • Pain. Childbirth and especially c-sections can leave you feeling some degree of pain which could interfere with the release of oxytocin.
  • Illness
  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes

Stimulating Oxytocin Release

If you are having a difficult time getting your milk to letdown, remember you’re not doing anything wrong. Many women will struggle a bit at the beginning of their breastfeeding journey. Be kind with yourself and rest assured, things will improve with time. 

In the meantime, there are some things you can try to help trigger milk letdown:

  • Snuggle your baby. Skin-to-skin contact works wonders at triggering a release of oxytocin.
  • Look at a photo of your baby. If you’re not with baby and need your milk to letdown so you can pump, simply looking at a photo of that sweet little face could do the trick.
  • Warm shower. This could be exactly what you need to release stress and relax.
  • Massage your breasts. You can also apply a warm compress to your breasts to stimulate milk letdown.
  • Relax. Find a comfortable spot and listen to soothing music or calming white noise. Practice deep breathing and finding peace.

If you’re still struggling and you feel like you’ve tried everything, reach out to your doctor or lactation specialist for other ideas. Your physician may even offer to prescribe Pitocin, which is a synthetic form of oxytocin. Dispensed as a nasal spray, you take it right before feeding. While some women experience headaches as a side effect, Pitocin will not affect your baby.

The birth of your precious baby brings about so many changes. Your body is in the process of recovering and healing after childbirth. At the same time, you’re adjusting to nurturing and nourishing your little one. That’s a lot to take on at once, but we know you’ve got this mama. Remember to relax and practice self-care at this lovely and memorable time.