Help! My milk goes away in the evening
I’m sorry if you’ve been led to believe that milk can just disappear within a matter of hours, this is not true.
In lactation we have a say – “breasts are factories, not warehouses”. And just like in other 24hr factories, I can imagine sometimes production can slow down slightly at night, but it does not stop.
What is actually happening relates to your hormones, and maybe some misconceptions of our biology.
As the sun starts to set we start to produce melatonin – this hormone helps make us sleepy and turn our brains off, to go to sleep. Melatonin also helps boost prolactin (the hormone that helps us make milk). But the effects can take some time to start working.
So overnight the melatonin helps boost prolactin and this is why many mothers often say they wake up quite engorged. But then their supply drops during the day, until they have ‘nothing’ left by the evening/bedtime. And so the baby feeds almost constantly from 4/5/6pm until 9/10/11pm or until the parents give the baby a bottle of milk, which they drink and then fall asleep – ergo, the mother doesn’t have enough milk in the evening and there must be something wrong with her.
Or is there?
I love Mother Nature – I think she got things right the majority of the time. Bottles, formula, and breast pumps are all man made items. These weren’t around hundreds or thousands of years ago. So why did Mother Nature do this to us?
Here is my theory - because obviously I can’t ask Mother Nature what her reasoning was and I’m not an anthropologist, but I do have a keen interest in this area, so I’ve thought about this a lot, haha.
Millennia ago we lived in hunter/gatherer communities. We did not have TV’s, or artificial lights, or the idea that we needed ‘me time’, or even ‘time’ as we know it today.
We would go out and hunt/gather during the day, our babies coming with us, being fed on demand as they wanted/needed. (Or if we were very new mothers we would stay behind in the village to rest and feed, while others did the work.) Then as the sun started to set we would return to the village, because being out after dark was dangerous. We would sit around the fire and snack on what we had hunted/gathered. Our babies would be with us, still feeding as they wanted/needed. Remember – time wasn’t based on hours and minutes back then, it was based on the sun and moon and other things happening in nature.
Then we would go to sleep, with our baby still being close to us, feeding as they wanted/needed throughout the night. And we would wake up with the raising sun and eat a reasonably sized breakfast ("break – fast") so that we would be able to go out hunting and gathering again.
So it makes sense that breast milk supply follows the same sort of ‘routine’ – a large amount in the morning to give us a boost of energy so that we can get up and go about our day. Then we would ‘snack’ during the day and into the evening before going to bed. And because babies need to be fed frequently they would continue to feed overnight.
Plus we lived in close knit communities – there would others around us to help us cook and do other tasks, such as making pots or clothes, or caring for other children. So we could focus on our new little baby.
But we have swapped things around in our modern day life – most of us would have a ‘quick’ breakfast and then go out to work or to do whatever we want during the day, stop to have lunch, and then come home to cook a large meal for dinner. We also now live in separate homes, often keeping very much to ourselves. And we now have the concept of ‘me time’ or needing the evening to be child free for TV watching or other activities.
However, our biology thinks we still live 10,000’s years ago. The melatonin boosting prolactin continues. Our biology still thinks that our babies will be with us 24/7 and we do not need to have an even amount of milk through out the day, because the baby will just feed as much and for as long as they want. There is no such thing as overfeeding a directly breast fed baby.
The other issue with our modern day life is that artificial lights ‘turn off’ our production of melatonin – things such as TV’s, smart phones, tablets, and artificial ceiling lights interrupt the production. Plus, our babies do not make their own melatonin until about 3mths of age, so they rely on getting it through the milk to help them feel sleepy.
And so we end up with a double whammy in the evenings – the perception that babies should go to sleep relatively quickly in the evening or if they cluster feed there is an issue, but they don’t make their own melatonin and we have potentially turned off our production with the artificial lights we have on in our houses, which can make them overtired. And overtired babies are often cranky babies who need more attention.
Having a baby is, in my opinion, a great time to stop and reconnect with ourselves and our families. Where is the harm in sitting with your baby in a darkened room, rocking and feeding them to sleep?
But I need to cook dinner! I have other children to look after! I want to spend time with my partner! And my baby takes a bottle of xxmls and then sleeps for hours, so they much have been hungry*. I hear you say.
This is where only you can decide what to do with this information and how to incorporate into your family, if at all. I’m just letting you know that there is nothing wrong your body or your baby, its simply a matter of our biology still thinking we leave in a much simpler time and our modern day perceptions and technology disrupting it.
*This is actually another misconception of our biology and what our babies need and want. I’ve touched on it in this article, but this topic will probably be the subject for the next article 😉
As always, if you need help with breastfeeding I am here to help - www.cherishedparenting.com.au/lactation-consultant-perth