Oxytocin, Vasopressin and Prolactin in New Breastfeeding Mothers: Relationship to Clinical Characteristics and Infant Weight Loss

Elise N. Erickson, C. Sue Carter, Cathy L. Emeis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Maternal milk production requires the neuropeptide oxytocin. Individual variation in oxytocin function is a compelling target for understanding low milk production, a leading cause of breastfeeding attrition. Complicating the understanding of oxytocin pathways is that vasopressin may interact with oxytocin receptors, yet little is known about the role of vasopressin in lactation. Research aims: The aims of this study were (1) to describe maternal plasma oxytocin, vasopressin, and prolactin patterns during breastfeeding following low-risk spontaneous labor and birth in healthy first-time mothers and (2) to relate hormone patterns to maternal characteristics and breastfeeding measures. Methods: Eligible women were recruited before hospital discharge. Forty-six participants enrolled and 35 attended the study visit. Participants kept a journal of breastfeeding frequency, symptoms of lactogenesis, and infant weight. Plasma samples were obtained at breastfeeding onset on Day 4–5 postpartum, and repeated after 20 min. Hormones were measured with immunoassays. Infant weight change, milk transfer, and onset of lactogenesis were also measured. Results: Baseline oxytocin and vasopressin were inversely related to one another. Oxytocin and prolactin increased significantly across the 20-min sampling period while vasopressin decreased. Higher oxytocin was associated with higher maternal age, lower BMI, shorter active labor, physiologic labor progression, and less weight loss in the newborn. Higher vasopressin correlated with younger maternal age, higher BMI, and greater newborn weight loss. Conclusions: Oxytocin and vasopressin have contrasting relationships with maternal clinical characteristics and newborn weight gain in early breastfeeding infants. Further study is needed to understand how oxytocin and vasopressin influence lactation outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-145
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Human Lactation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • breastfeeding
  • breastfeeding difficulties
  • hormones
  • lactogenesis
  • maternal physiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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