Breastfeeding & Nipple Stimulation

Young mother with her daughter
A young woman breastfeeding her child in a restaurant. (Image: Halfpoint/iStock/Getty Images)

While breast milk is best for your baby's nutrition and development, the nipple stimulation that naturally occurs when breastfeeding can have effects on your own body. Your nipples are covered in nerves that respond to the natural and gentle touch of your baby. This causes reactions that may seem strange at first, but are a normal part of breastfeeding in general.

After Birth

Directly after having your baby, your uterus is slack from the changes your body has undergone. When you first begin to breastfeed, you may find that the initial nipple stimulation causes uterine cramps, which are uncomfortable. Don't allow this reaction to stop you from breastfeeding; what feels like menstrual cramps is actually caused by the release of oxytocin, the labor hormone, into the body. The result is contractions that help to tighten your uterus to stem bleeding and tone your uterus.

Milk Letdown and Production

Nipple stimulation is an important part of building your supply, particularly if you're breastfeeding when stressed and not allowing your body to relax and respond to your baby. The sensation of your baby's tongue at the breast can help stimulate letdown so your baby can eat. You can stimulate your own breasts before a feeding session to help prepare your body for nursing. If your milk supply is low, you may be able to increase your supply using stimulation and a breast pump.

While Pregnant

If you're breastfeeding while pregnant, your doctor may warn against simulating your own nipples, should you be at risk for preterm delivery. That's because nipple stimulation releases oxytocin into the body, which can begin contractions. As long as you don't have a risk for preterm delivery, you should be able to continue breastfeeding throughout your pregnancy, though you should contact your doctor if you begin having contractions while pregnant and breastfeeding.

Stimulating Nipples

Your baby's natural movements at the breast make for the most organic stimulation methods. Your body automatically responds to the flutters and sucking motion of your baby's mouth. If you need to control your milk production or stimulate letdown manually, use a breast pump. Attach the pump to your breast and begin the expression process. The sucking sensation of the vacuum attached to your breast can help stimulate your breast to cause letdown so you can feed your baby or pump milk for later use.

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