Stimulation of the nipples by a breast-feeding baby triggers the release of Oxycontin after giving birth.
Oxytocin is a hormone that triggers uterine contractions that help the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size.
As vaginal labor requires uterine contractions to move the baby down the birth canal, many women use nipple stimulation to try to encourage these contractions.
In a 2011 survey of postpartum women in the Midwestern United States, 7.5 percent of the 201 respondents said that they stimulated their nipples to try to induce labor.
A 2015 study reported that nipple stimulation during vaginal delivery led to shorter phases of birth. The average duration of the first phase of birth was 3.8 hours for those using nipple stimulation. For those not using this method, it lasted an average of 6.8 hours.
Most experiments on nipple stimulation and labor have involved women with low-risk pregnancies.
Low-risk pregnancies are those in which the women have no additional health risks. These health risks include high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, low or high amniotic fluid amounts, or other risks that could complicate the pregnancy.
The theory behind nipple stimulation is that it mimics breast-feeding and causes sensory cells in the nipples to signal the brain to release oxytocin.
Some women use a breast pump to stimulate the nipples. Others may prefer to use their hands or a partner’s mouth for stimulation.
Some ways to stimulate nipples with the hands include:
- Massaging the areola, which is the darker skin around the nipple. This area contains nerve endings that trigger the release of breast milk when the baby feeds. If a woman is performing self-massage, she may wish to place her fingertips just outside the areola, then massage inward toward the nipple. It is best to massage the nipple gently, in a rolling motion.
- Massaging one breast at a time to avoid overstimulation.
- Limiting the duration of the massage. The recommended length varies from study to study. Some recommend no more than 15 minutes while others suggest a maximum of an hour. A woman should stop stimulating her nipples if her contractions are less than 3 minutes apart.
- Some women also use nipple stimulation during labor to reduce its duration. This may make contractions feel particularly strong.