Breastfeeding and sleeping hormones - She Physio & Pilates
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Breastfeeding and sleeping hormones

Breastfeeding and sleeping hormones

Mums are aware of the changes in their breast milk across the day. Breast milk is produced in greater volumes in the morning, and looks thicker and creamier at the end of the day.


what is melatonin

In adults, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin, tryptophan and other chemicals, increase from about sunset – a few hours before sleep – and reach their peak overnight. Production of the chemicals reduces again with daylight. The body uses tryptophan to make melatonin, and regulate serotonin. There are receptors for these hormones throughout the body: blood vessels, the gut, liver, kidney, bladder, and skin. These hormones help the body make sense of day and night. They regulate when we want to sleep, stay asleep and when we wake up.


melatonin in breastmilk

Lactating women have melatonin and tryptophan in their breast milk. Variation in concentration of these hormones in the mum’s blood is similar in the breast milk she produces. This means that when babes are breastfeeding, they are ingesting increasing amounts of melatonin and tryptophan in the evening and through the night.


melatonin in baby’s urine

Babies’ urine was measured at 2-hourly intervals, across the 24-hour day, for hormones that promote sleep: melatonin and tryptophan. The highest concentrations occur around 3am.


expressing milk

There is an implication here for Mums expressing milk. Expressed milk will have varying amounts of these hormones at different times of the day. Morning milk will have fewer sleep hormones; evening and night milk will have more. It makes sense to give your baby expressed milk around the same time of the day as when it was expressed.
So, if babe is having milk not straight from the source –  whether it is formula or expressed milk from the morning – it may give the baby physiological cues to NOT sleep.


same-time same breast milk concentrations

My intention in this blog, is to suggest to mums to collect expressed milk, to record date and time on the milk, and give the milk to the baby at a similar time of day.



Cohen Engler A, Hadash A, Shehadeh N, Pillar G.   Eur J Pediatr. 2012 Apr;171(4):729-32.    Breastfeeding may improve nocturnal sleep and reduce infantile colic: potential role of breast milk melatonin.   doi: 10.1007/s00431-011-1659-3. Epub 2011 Dec 29.

Harada T, Hirotani M, Maeda M, Nomura H, Takeuchi H.  J Physiol Anthropol. 2007 Mar;26(2):201-7.  Correlation between breakfast tryptophan content and morning-evening in Japanese infants and students aged 0-15 yrs.

Cubero J, Valero V, Sánchez J, Rivero M, Parvez H, Rodríguez AB, Barriga C.  Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2005 Dec;26(6):657-61.  The circadian rhythm of tryptophan in breast milk affects the rhythms of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin and sleep in newborn.


Enjoy breastfeeding your baby

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