Why do mothers produce milk in response to a baby’s crying?

About the episode

If you’ve breastfed before, you might recognize this: Your baby, or even someone else’s baby, starts crying quickly, and your breasts suddenly start producing milk.

A cool trick of nature, but how exactly does it work? Researchers investigated this in mice.

They have seen that 30 seconds of continuous crying (or whistling) in babies causes the production of oxytocin in the brain. This in turn started milk production. This effect lasted about five minutes. By then, the young had had enough to eat or started crying again, reactivating the mechanism. Usually nothing happened in less than 30 seconds, probably to avoid false alarms and not waste milk.

In this way, the baby prepares the mother for feeding. If this does not happen, it may take some time for the milk to start. Not a big disaster, those extra few minutes, but still: if you’re already tired as a parent, or hungry as an infant, the sooner the better.

What the researchers also hope is that with this knowledge they will eventually be able to help human mothers who struggle with breastfeeding.

Read more about the research here: The brain circuit responsible for releasing breast milk when a baby cries has been revealed

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Megan Vasquez

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