All I want for Christmas is Milk
The British press was abuzz last week the news that Mariah Carey’s pop hit, “All I want for Christmas is You” boosts milk production in goats. I couldn’t help but wonder what Mariah could do for a mother’s milk supply.
Apparently, the milk maids at St. Helen’s farm in the UK were listening to holiday songs, and they noted a marked increase in production – from 3 to 3.5 liters per goat – when Mariah’s 1994 hit single was playing. Of course, women are not goats, and playing Mariah Carey every time baby goes to breast might be enough to drive the whole household crazy, but there’s actually some good science to support the notion that some soundtracks may be better than others when it comes to making milk.
In a randomized controlled trial enrolling 71 women, researchers randomly assigned mothers of preterm babies to listen to a 20-minute relaxation tape or continue their usual routine during pumping. A week later, mothers who received the relaxation tape made an average of 6 ounces of milk when pumping, compared to 4 ounces in the usual care group.
Researchers did not measure hormone levels in the study, but it’s likely that lowering stress increases milk-making hormones in the brain. The two primary hormones for milk production, oxytocin and prolactin, are produced in the pituitary gland. Prolactin is stimulated by serotonin, and we know that low serotonin levels are implicated in depression and anxiety. There’s also good evidence that stress interferes with milk let-down, likely through its effects on oxytocin.
Unfortunately, we’re not very good in the medical field at helping people reduce stress in their lives. When there’s a problem, we reflexively prescribe a pill or a shot. But relaxation techniques – or perhaps, pop holiday singles – could be more effective.
My baby is already en route to grandparents for the holidays, while I work the rest of the week. When I sit down to pump tonight, I’m going to see what Mariah can do for my milk supply.
Alison Stuebe, MD, MSc, is a maternal-fetal medicine physician, breastfeeding researcher, and assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. She is a member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.