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What is Prolactin?

Prolactin is a peptide hormone which is produced by both females and males. It is associated with two main processes – lactation (the arrival of breastmilk) in women and sexual pleasure in both sexes.

It is produced by the pituitary gland as well as in tissues especially the breast tissue.

Lactation

Prolactin stimulates the mammary glands to produce breast milk. The reason that many women’s breast grow during pregnancy is because prolactin concentrations increase during pregnancy, causing enlargement of the mammary glands of the breasts and later allowing for the production of milk.

Because there are also high levels of progesterone during pregnancy, the breasts do not release the milk. After childbirth the progesterone drops but prolactin remains high, allowing for the possibility of breast feeding.

When a baby suckles on the nipple it causes prolactin to be produced, and therefore the suckling actually brings on milk. It also triggers the release of oxytocin.

It is prolactin which is responsible for halting a woman’s period and reducing her fertility levels, which occurs while she is breastfeeding exclusively.

Sexual Pleasure

A more recent discovery is prolactin’s job in sexual pleasure. It counteracts the effect of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is active in sexual arousal. Therefore, the release of prolactin actually cuts down physiological arousal, which is why men experience a refractory period after sex: they are unable to experience another orgasm for a certain amount of time (each according to his particular refractory period, which increases dramatically with age).

Interestingly, while prolactin is related to a sexual wane, it also leads to sexual satisfaction and relaxation of the body.

Very high levels of the prolactin hormone can cause a lowered libido and possibly impotence.

 


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