Now on iTunes: An audio galactogogue
In December, I blogged about a news story out of the UK that Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you” was bumping milk production in goats from 3 to 3.5 liters per day. As I was writing the blog, I came across a study from 1989 showing that an even more impressive milk-making effect from a relaxation tape for moms of premies.
Stephen Feher and colleagues studied 71 mothers whose infants were admitted to neonatal intensive care in two New Mexico hospitals. All mothers were given standard information about pumping for their infants. The 38 mothers randomly assigned to the study group were asked to listen to a 20-minute relaxation recording each day. The 31 moms in the control group did not get a tape.
One week later, study participants pumped during a visit to the NICU. Moms in the relaxation tape group made an average of 90.1 ccs (about 3 ounces) – compared with only 55.4 ccs in the control group, for an average difference in milk production of 63%. Feher and his colleagues found that the tape was even more effective among mothers of babies who were so sick that they were on a mechanical ventilator – mothers who were asked to listen to the relaxation tape made 121% more milk than those who were not. They also found that the more frequently a mother listened to the tape, the more milk she was able to make.
Feher’s study is cited in the Cochrane Review, which catalogues the highest quality studies of health care interventions. It’s a powerful illustration of the effect of relaxation on milk-making. Other researchers have shown that stress – and stress hormones – are linked with reduced milk production and lower milk transfer. That’s likely because stress hormones inhibit release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that stimulates the tiny muscle bundles surrounding milk-making lobules in the breast, pushing milk through the ducts to the areola. Only after oxytocin pushes milk to the areola can milk be swallowed by the baby, or, for babies unable to nurse, collected via hand expression or an electronic pump.
I’m constantly counseling NICU mothers about the link between relaxation and increased milk supply, but until I came across Feher’s study, I didn’t have anything concrete to offer. After some Google sleuthing, I connected with Feher, who was eager to make his recording available to NICU mothers. He has re-created the relaxation and visual imagery recording, and it is now available on iTunes as a free podcast.
As ABM’s Protocol committee recently reviewed, evidence for medications to increase milk supply is weak, and must be balanced against concerns about side-effects. I’m delighted that Feher has made his recording available to moms with NICU babies as a minimal-risk, evidnece-based strategy to increase milk production.
Alison Stuebe is an ABM member and a maternal-fetal medicine physician at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.