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How Your Breast Milk Knows It's Time To Flow

You know what's amazing about your body? It knows how to grow, nourish, and birth a baby without much help from you. If pregnancy didn't make you realize that John Mayer knew what he was talking about when he said your body is a wonderland, then breastfeeding will. I mean, your breasts are keeping your baby alive. They are responsible for your baby's weight gain, their thriving, and their full bellies. How miraculous is that? And your breasts do it all on their own, which is even more mind boggling. Seriously, how does your breast milk know to come out? What is giving your boobs a heads up that there's a hungry baby right there?

Well, apparently your body knows what's up. International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Kristin Gourley of Lactation Link, tells Romper that oxytocin is the reason your breast milk knows it's time to release. "Baby suckling at the breast triggers the release of oxytocin in the brain and in turn causes your milk to 'let down.' We sometimes refer to it as the Milk Ejection Reflex," Gorley says. "It's part of the lovely dance between parent and child that is breastfeeding."

That trigger of oxytocin is also why skin-to-skin contact is recommended by lactation consultants, according to Gourley. Research conducted in 2012 found that early skin-to-skin contact had a significant positive effect on breastfeeding one to four months after birth, especially in terms of a mother's confidence. The duration of breastfeeding seemed to increase as well, but there weren't significant statistics from the research.

Oxytocin can also be released when you're expecting to nurse, too. Think about when you hear your baby cry or see a picture of your baby and feel your milk let down? International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and owner of Oh, Baby Lactation Care in Connecticut, Lori Atkins, tells Romper that oxytocin is at fault for the image and actual occurrence of leaking breast milk when a baby cries in the grocery store. "Mom senses, feels, and/or hears a baby, and sometimes, it's enough to trigger that oxytocin release," Atkins says. You become conditioned to the reflex and research has found the oxytocin starts working even when a mother is simply expecting to breastfeed. In fact, if you're stressed, emotionally upset, or in severe pain, this can inhibit that oxytocin release and your milk may stop flowing. This is why support and relaxation is so important when breastfeeding — the better you feel about it, the more easily your milk will flow thanks to oxytocin.

Although it's fun to imagine that there's a light that goes off inside your breasts, like the hot light at Krispy Kreme to signal the deliciousness inside, it's not quite accurate. Think of oxytocin as the light though and your baby as the switch. It's pretty amazing how it all works together to nourish your baby and I'll say it one more time — your body is a wonderland. (And also, a fine lactating machine.)