Physiological Mechanisms Governing the Transfer of Milk from Mother to Young

  • Dennis W. Lincoln


Breast feeding is the most overt expression of a symbiotic relationship between the mother and her offspring, insofar as the supply of milk is matched, in quality, quantity, and time with the physiological requirements set by the young. The mother has to lactate, express a desire to nurse, and eject the milk she has stored in the alveoli of her mammary glands if breast feeding is to be successful, but it is the stimulus provided by the young that is the key to the regulation of these events (Figure 1). The sucking of the nipples, besides providing the essential negative pressure for milk removal, stimulates both milk production and milk ejection by evoking the release of prolactin and oxytocin from the maternal pituitary gland. In addition, the sucking stimulus commonly inhibits either ovulation or implantation and thereby delays the arrival of subsequent offspring until the current young have reached a satisfactory state of maturity. And it is the nipple rather than the mammary gland that unites the two, transmitting sensory information to the mother and, in return, conveying milk to the young. In this chapter, attention is focused on one aspect of this relationship: the coordination of milk ejection with suckling and sucking. The control of maternal behavior and the regulation of milk production are, of course, equally important considerations, but these are mentioned here only in brief.


Mammary Gland Breast Feeding Myoepithelial Cell Pituitary Stalk Posterior Pituitary 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dennis W. Lincoln
    • 1
  1. 1.M.R.C. Reproductive Biology UnitCentre for Reproductive BiologyEdinburghScotland

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