The Benefits of Melatonin in Birth and Breastmilk March 19, 2024

The Benefits of Melatonin in Birth and Breastmilk

Newborn baby feeding from its mother

These days everyone is talking about the benefits of melatonin. Melatonin in supplement form, manufactured and marketed to treat sleep-related issues such as insomnia or jet lag, is a booming business. But melatonin is first and foremost a natural hormone produced in our bodies to help us sleep and to regulate our sleep-wake cycles. It is made by the pineal gland in the brain in response to darkness, telling the body that it is time to sleep. Levels of the hormone typically rise in the evening and peak during the night, and gradually decline towards the morning when it’s time to wake up. But what has melatonin got to do with birth and babies?

Melatonin and Birth

Despite what Hollywood shows us – labour starting when the waters break in the middle of a supermarket trip – it’s much more common for labour to start at night or in the early morning when all is quiet and calm, and dark. This is why, as a birth doula, I make sure my phone is always on at night, because the most common time for me to get called is in the wee hours of the morning.

A 2018 study looking at 5 million births within a 10-year period in England, confirmed what midwives and doulas have known forever. They found that when birth started spontaneously, without medical intervention, 71.5% of births took place outside the hustle-bustle workday hours of 9am-5pm. And the majority of these births took place under cover of darkness between midnight and 6am.

But why nighttime? For one, the rest and the privacy of nighttime hours helps with the flow of oxytocin, the “shy” hormone which creates labour contractions and is released when the woman feels safe and calm. Another reason is the presence of our friend melatonin. Research is very clear that when melatonin is present in the uterus, oxytocin is more effective. Hence why dimly lit birthing environments are so beneficial for labour progress.

Melatonin in Breastmilk: Giggles & Sleepy Dust

When it comes to breastfeeding, melatonin is passed from the mother to the baby through the milk, helping them to sleep! The levels of melatonin in breastmilk tend to reflect the circadian rhythm of the mother – nighttime breastmilk is higher in melatonin than daytime milk, supporting new babies in sleep-wake cycles before they’ve established their own circadian rhythms. And there’s more good news: Some studies suggest that breastfeeding, with its natural variation of melatonin levels in milk throughout the day, may help synchronise a baby’s internal clock, promoting better sleep patterns. This added to all the amazing benefits of melatonin as a highly effective antioxidant, free radical scavenger and anti-inflammatory agent. Wow!

What’s more, laughing can help boost melatonin and improve your baby’s mood. So cool! One study looking at the effects of laughter on levels of melatonin in breastmilk found that the milk of mothers who watched a comedy in the study tested higher in melatonin levels, and their babies who fed on this higher melatonin milk were less allergic, irritable and colicky Kimata 2007. Another good reason to get together with friends for a real belly laugh, go to a Cuidiú meet-up or check out Parent & Baby Cinema or Netflix for a good comedy.

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