Recently, I was able to attend an LLL/API conference in Nashville. It was great to see folks I rarely get to visit, to meet folks in person I knew from online, and, of course, to learn some new things from a line-up of great speakers. I attended Kathleen Kendall-Tackett's excellent session, "A New Paradigm for Depression in New Mothers." She explained the natural role that the inflammatory response plays in late pregnancy and early postpartum and the impact that inflammation has on our response to stress. Reducing inflammation in the body through anti-inflammatory treatments such as omega-3s and - you guessed it - breastfeeding helps to mitigate the effects of stress. These are an important part of addressing perinatal depression in addition to the more traditional focus on antidepressants and therapy.
"How does breastfeeding reduce inflammation?" you ask. Through the release of oxytocin as baby nurses. Skin-to-skin and other close contact as well as baby's suckling trigger the release of oxytocin, the "love hormone," in both members of the nursing dyad. Oxytocin release can make us feel warm and fuzzy, literally. Holding, snuggling, and nursing baby bring frequent doses of oxytocin and help us to fall in love with our little ones and to manage the stresses of welcoming a very new person into the world - recovery from birth, sleep deprivation, . . .
Oxytocin is released when we feel good - from close contact with someone we love and trust, when we feel connected to someone. It is responsible for helping to cement social relationship and for causing uterine contractions during labor (and afterwards!). When explaining more about the role of the hormone, Kathleen posed the question, "Does this increase oxytocin?" as a marker for a good decision, a positive choice. That struck a chord with this IBCLC/doula/CBE whose education is in chemistry and whose experience is in parenting. This chemical, which is released when our children are conceived, during our labors and births, every time we nurse is the very same one we all so desperately need as those kids grow bigger and more independent and more challenging - the love hormone.
And so, these are my new guiding words: Does it increase oxytocin. . .
. . . during a labor? If so, it's likely a good idea!
. . . during a birth? Yes? Then go ahead!
. . . during breastfeeding? Maybe. Then give it a try!
. . . during pumping? Assuredly! Then use that trick/tool!
. . . in my day-to-day life with my big kids, husband, the world? Then, by all means, aim in that direction.