The Milk-giving Reflex: How To Make Breastfeeding Work

The milk-giving reflex ensures that the newborn baby gets its milk feed. But how does this breastfeeding reflex come about in the first place and how can milk production be stimulated? In some cases, the milk-giving reflex can even be too strong, resulting in breastfeeding problems.

Find out here which methods can successfully counteract this.

What Is The Milk Let-down Reflex?

The milk-giving reflex stimulates the flow of milk through every breastfeeding process and basically even through every skin stimulation when the baby sucks on the breast. Very many women experience the milk-giving reflex as a pleasantly warm and tingling sensation that is felt immediately before the onset of milk flow.

This breastfeeding reflex is triggered by hormones in your body: as soon as the newborn baby sucks on the nipple, special nerve endings are stimulated in the areola. These in turn send signals and information to the diencephalon (hypothalamus).

The diencephalon in turn causes the pituitary gland to release the hormone prolactin, which stimulates milk production. At the same time, the hormone oxytocin, the so-called milk donor hormone, is released, which ensures that the breast milk can flow well through the milk ducts of the breast. From here, the breast milk is passed on to your nipples.

Generally, the milk donor reflex sets in about one to three minutes after the start of the breastfeeding session. You can tell that milk production has been successfully stimulated, for example, when your baby changes its sucking rhythm.

At the beginning, it still sucks rather restlessly and quickly at the nipple, but already after the onset of the milk-giving reflex, it calms down and sucks in deep and regular strokes.

Stimulating Milk Production – What Role Does The Hormone Oxytocin Play?

The baby’s sucking stimulus on your nipple stimulates the formation of oxytocin via the nerves. However, your body already produces this hormone during the birth process.

In some cases, this messenger substance is also administered intravenously, i.e. by infusion, to promote labor, because oxytocin has a contracting effect on the uterus.

In lactation, this hormone takes on other tasks: Here, it affects each muscle cell around the alveoli (milk vesicles) and milk ducts. As the muscle cells contract, the breast milk is transported out through the milk ducts.

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This results in the milk-giving reflex. Without this, your little baby would not be able to “drink the breast dry”, so to speak.

How Is The Milk-giving Reflex Activated?

Stimulating milk production and thus activating the milk donor reflex is not just a matter of stimulating the baby to suck. Many women feel the onset of the milk donor reflex as a pulling and tingling sensation in the breast, especially at the beginning of the breastfeeding period.

However, for a great many women, milk production does not begin with the baby’s sucking, but already with the smelling, hearing, or seeing of their baby. Even thoughts about your own baby can stimulate milk production.

Especially in the first weeks of breastfeeding, many women are afraid of suffering from low milk production. This is because the milk-giving reflex is dependent on many different factors here.

Stress, for example, plays a significant role, because it inhibits the milk-giving reflex. Anxiety, inner turmoil or smoking can also affect milk production. Stress hormones are in fact stronger inside the organism than breastfeeding hormones, which massively disrupts the milk-giving reflex.

For this reason, it is essential that you ensure a calm atmosphere and a pleasant breastfeeding environment. If you want to stimulate milk production, you should avoid stress as much as possible.

Tips And Tricks – How To Stimulate Milk Production

Breastfeed More Often To Stimulate Milk Production

Many new mothers ask themselves how often they should breastfeed. Basically, it can be said that demand determines supply: So the more often breastfeeding takes place, the higher the prolactin level in the body. This means that milk production is stimulated more strongly.

Experts also recommend offering the baby both breasts when breastfeeding or switching sides from time to time. Regular emptying of the breast is a decisive factor for sufficient milk production.

Stimulating Milk Production With Nursing Tea

Various teas for stimulating milk production are available on the market. These include teas with ingredients such as caraway, fennel, anise, or fenugreek. These herbs are intended to stimulate milk production.

Stimulating Milk Production With Heat Pads And Massages

A heat pad can also help stimulate the milk-giving reflex. You can also stimulate milk production with a gentle massage under a warm shower. This will relax your breasts at the same time.

Stimulate Milk Production With Relaxation And Rest

For an active milk production reflex, you should also allow yourself sufficient relaxation. Imagine how you breastfeed your baby and the milk begins to flow. If your baby is not with you at the moment, a picture or a romper of your little one can help.

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If you want to stimulate milk production, you should also keep an eye on hydration.

Milk-giving Reflex: The Right Breastfeeding Technique Plays A Major Role

It may well be that breastfeeding is somewhat painful in the first few days – despite a correct breastfeeding technique. This is mainly because, due to the changed postnatal hormone situation in the body, the nipples are still very sensitive and first have to get used to the baby’s intense sucking.

However, this initial breastfeeding pain subsides on its own after a short time – usually a few seconds after the onset of the milk-giving reflex. For this reason, these initial breastfeeding pains are also called “sucking pains”.

By gently massaging your breasts, you can trigger the milk-giving reflex before the breastfeeding session and thus stimulate milk production. This way, breast milk flows directly when your baby is latched on.

Painful Milk-giving Reflex – What’s Behind It?

The first milk-giving reflex is particularly noticeable for most women, when the finest muscle contractions propel the breast milk in the direction of the nipple. The subsequent milk-dispensing reflexes are usually not really perceptible.

However, this slight pressure and tugging that is felt the first time is a neutral sensation that is generally considered very pleasant. In very many cases, the milk-giving reflex is felt much more intensely on the side of the breast that is currently pausing than on the side that is currently nursing.

However, this initial pain gradually disappears all by itself. However, a painful milk-giving reflex that does not subside may also be a symptom of other problems such as mastitis or milk engorgement.

Overactive Milk Let-down Reflex – How Does It Happen?

While very many women worry about not having enough breast milk, especially at the beginning of breastfeeding, there are also many women who suffer from an overactive milk-giving reflex. An overactive milk-giving reflex is a very rapid and forceful flow of breast milk.

When this phenomenon occurs, the baby may pull its head away from the breast or even start gagging after the first few swallows, because it cannot swallow the large amount at such a rapid pace.

How Does An Excessive Milk-giving Reflex Occur In The First Place?

Usually, excessive milk production regulates itself within a few weeks. However, in some mothers, the overactive milk-giving reflex persists even after milk production has settled down.

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Breastfeeding experts assume here that an overactive milk-giving reflex primarily affects mothers who have a large number of mammary glands, so-called alveoli. On average, women have between 100,000 and 300,000 mammary glands per side of the breast. Women with an overactive mammary gland reflex often have a much higher number.

Certain hormonal imbalances or drug preparations can also greatly increase milk production. Anyone concerned about an overactive milk donor reflex should definitely seek discussion with the doctor treating them.

Tips Against A Too Strong Milk Donor Reflex

You can stimulate milk production with your hands: If your breast feels overfull, you can manually trigger the milk let-down reflex. To do this, stroke a little milk out of the breast before you put your baby to sleep to slow down the flow of milk a little. This will also reduce tension and pressure in the breast.

Don’t forget to drink. Decreased fluid intake does not decrease the amount of milk. Rather, you should make sure to drink enough because milk production is not dependent on fluid intake.

Breast pumps can stimulate milk production. If you suffer from an excessive milk supply reflex, pumping milk is generally not advisable: This is because it would cause milk production to increase even more.

Sage tea and sage candies can also help to reduce milk production. Be sure to discuss this with your midwife and doctor. The results of this method often take a few days to appear.

Help your baby cope with the overactive milk-giving reflex by repeatedly changing the breastfeeding position. Even if you normally breastfeed in the cradle position, you can try to sit your baby upright while breastfeeding. You can also lie on your side because this way the milk cannot come out of the breast so quickly.

The question of “how often to breastfeed” also plays an important role in this context: in order to reduce milk production, you can suggest to your body that you are weaning.

You can fake this process, so to speak, by breastfeeding your baby less and less often or for shorter and shorter periods. If each feed produces less milk than before, this is a clear signal to your body that you are producing less milk.

Take enough breaks. If you want to stimulate or reduce milk production, the breastfeeding rhythm plays a key role. Put your baby to the breast for a short time and let him suckle briefly. Then take him off the breast again.

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Release the suction vacuum carefully and do not take your baby from the breast in a jerky manner. It is best to gently put your little finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth, then the baby will usually let go of the nipple on its own.

Does An Overactive Milk-giving Reflex Harm The Baby?

Too much milk production makes it difficult for the baby to drink but does not harm the baby’s health. Try to look at it from the positive side: Your body is producing enough food for your little darling!

After all, breast milk is the best foundation for healthy growth and ideal development. A strong milk-giving reflex is also absolutely no reason to stop breastfeeding.

Absent Or Delayed Milk-giving Reflex – What Could Be The Reason?

New moms may not only have an excessive milk-giving reflex but also a delayed or even absent one. If the milk flow is completely absent, the baby will unhappily refuse the breast because much of the breast milk present in the breast is not released.

If the milk-giving reflex is not activated several times during breastfeeding, most of the breast milk remains in the breast behind the nipple.

The following triggers may be behind a failure to release milk.

  • Tense breastfeeding position.
  • Recently healed breast inflammation: In such a case, the baby might react to possible changes in the taste of breast milk.
  • Painful or sore nipples.
  • Changed body odors of the mother, for example, due to care products containing perfume, such as a new care cream or shower gel.
  • Nicotine use.
  • Alcohol consumption.
  • Taking certain medications.
  • Certain unfamiliar foods such as intense spices, garlic or asparagus.
  • Taking an estrogen-containing birth control pill.

If the baby does not get enough milk, a so-called breastfeeding strike may occur. However, it is not only reduced milk production that can trigger a breastfeeding strike in the baby. The following causes could also be behind it.

  • Stress or startling of the baby during breastfeeding.
  • Teething.
  • Ear infections.
  • Pain or colds in the baby.

Especially if the baby is startled during breastfeeding, this can lead to a delayed milk supply: As a result, there is a congestion of milk in the mammary glands, which can even be quite painful and uncomfortable.

In the worst case, this can lead to disturbed milk production. Stimulating milk production, reducing milk production or regulating it – these are all key issues for new mothers.


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