Baby massage has many benefits. We tend to focus on the benefits for baby, but it also has lots of benefits for mum. Helping with breastfeeding being one of them! Here’s how.
There are two hormones that directly affect breastfeeding: prolactin and oxytocin. Studies have shown that when massaging your baby, mum experiences a rise in these hormones. This helps mum’s milk supply and the ‘let-down reflex’, both of which are necessary for successful breastfeeding.
Prolactin is essential for the secretion of milk. When a baby suckles and stimulates the nipple, the level of prolactin increases and stimulates the production of milk. Particularly in the first few weeks, the more Prolactin that is produced, the more milk will be produced, helping mum to establish her milk supply. Prolactin is produced more at night, so breastfeeding at night can be particularly helpful for ensuring a good supply.
The oxytocin reflex is also sometimes called the “let-down reflex” or the “milk ejection reflex”. It makes the milk flow, helping baby to get the milk more easily.
The oxytocin reflex begins to work when mum expects that baby needs to be fed as well as when baby is suckling. The reflex becomes conditioned to the mum’s sensations and feelings, such as touching, smelling or seeing her baby, or hearing her baby cry, or thinking lovingly about him or her1.
If a mum is experiencing a lot of pain or is struggling emotionally, the oxytocin reflex can become inhibited. This can result in milk not flowing well making it difficult for baby to feed. If you are experiencing this, please do reach out to your health visitor for support. You are never alone.
Baby massage can help to soothe and settle a baby before a feed to ensure a calm breastfeeding session. Again, this is thanks to the rise in oxytocin levels which induces a state of calm and reduces stress. It can also enhance feelings of affection between mother and child, and promotes bonding. When both mum and baby are relaxed, it is much more likely to be a successful feed.
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1 World Health Organization (2009) Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals.
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