The definition of lactation is that period right before and after pregnancy that allows the mammary glands to produce and secrete milk; in order to provide nourishment for a newborn. Usually lactation occurs postpartum, i.e., directly after childbirth. An expectant mother’s body will produce a higher level of both progesterone and estrogen hormones during pregnancy.
Lactation and pregnancy go hand in hand. One usually expects lactation after childbirth because it is a necessity. It is not always the case to experience lactation after pregnancy. Quite a number of cases have been reported where a woman will experience lactation without being pregnant. Experiencing lactation can be quite shocking and can cause alarm when it occurs without pregnancy. However, it is a harmless occurrence. Lactation without pregnancy can occur in a woman who is in her child bearing years, which is usually between 16-40 years. Below we will discuss a number of causes that are behind this condition.
Hormonal Changes – Changes in a woman’s level of hormones occurs in quite a few of a woman’s life cycle stages. The body will respond in a variety of ways when these changes occur. Lactation without being pregnant is one of these ways. As mentioned previously, prolactin is the responsible hormone for lactation. When prolactin rises above it’s normal limits, lactation in the breasts can happen.
Nipple Stimulation – Being part of the reproductive system, breast are meant to play a specific role after childbirth. However, breasts require stimulation to work. In situations where the nipple is being sucked regularly, the brain takes this as a sign to start the production of milk. The breasts mammary glands will start to produce milk as a result of this. There are cases where a woman who chooses not to become pregnant but wants to nurse their adopted child; they make use of this fact so that they may start to lactate. Breastfeeding also helps to create a special bond between mother and child which normally occurs with the natural birth mother and the baby. It has been noted that to stimulate lactation, having the nipples sucked for around 20 minutes, at a rate of eight to ten times a day, for a minimum period of three weeks is necessary.
Miscarriage – Lactation without pregnancy can also occur in a woman who has miscarried. Certain hormonal changes occur after a miscarriage, also referred to as hormonal imbalance, which will result in the breasts lactating. There are times when a miscarriage can go by unnoticed. A woman may think it is just a painful period they are experiencing with heavier bleeding than usual. It may not be noticed that this was due to the loss of a newly conceived baby. The reason behind why lactation occurs in these cases remains unexplained. When experiencing something unusual like this, it is advised to see a doctor.
Drugs – Certain drugs such as Sulpiride, Domperidone, and Reglan can stimulate lactation. These may be recommended in pregnancy and lactation. What they do is raise the levels of prolactin while blocking dopamine. The prolactin increase will then result in lactation. When a new mother is not lactating enough to feed her newborn, it may be recommended that she use one of these drugs to help.
Herbs – Lactation without pregnancy can also be induced through certain herbs. Some common examples of these are anise seed, fennel, cumin seeds, fenugreek, goat’s rue, blessed thistle, and hops. It is very important to be sure you are taking any of these herbs in the recommended dosages.
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