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Br Med J. 1980 Sep 27;281(6244):834-5.

Breast-feeding and plasma oxytocin concentrations.


The patterns of response of oxytocin to a breast feed were studied in 10 mothers in the first week post partum. The initiation of lactation did not appear to be related to release of oxytocin. In established lactation an oxytocin response did not appear to be essential for adequate milk flow and did not occur always at the time of peak milk flow. The only factor identified that positively correlated with release of oxytocin was multiparity. In those subjects who showed a response the hormone was released in surges, some of which persisted in the circulation for less than one minute. These findings cast some doubt on the conventional view that release of oxytocin is essential for satisfactory milk flow during breast-feeding.


10 mothers comprised this study which measured the patterns of response of oxytocin during breeastfeeding. 6 mothers were studied in early lactation during the 1st-3rd postpartum days and the remaining 4 mothers were studied in established lactation on days 5-7 postpartum. 3 basal blood samples (1.5 ml) were drawn over the course of 1 minute in the 15-minute period before a feeding. This was done without the infant present in the room in order to avert the possible release of oxytocin due to mother-infant proximity. 3 more samples were drawn during the minute preceding sucking to assess anticipatory oxytocin release and additional samples were drawn over successive 20-second periods during a feed from the 1st breast. Oxytocin showed no response to feeding in 3 patients; no significant difference in total oxytocin response was seen when comparing those in early and those in established lactation. Multiparous mothers (N=6) did display a greater total oxytocin response than did primiparous mothers. In those subjects who registered a response, oxytocin was released in surges which remained circulating in the system for less than 1 minute. Thus data indicate that oxytocin is not necessary for the successful injection of milk from the breast. Likewise, the timing of that hormone's release may not coincide with peak milk flow.

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