How Breast Milk is Made
The human body is amazing.
Find out how your breasts make milk for your baby.
Did you know your body gets ready for breastfeeding before you even give birth? While you are pregnant, your breasts change. These changes allow your breasts to make milk and may cause them to feel fuller and more tender.
Once your baby is born, their suckling releases hormones in your body that cause your breasts to make and release milk.
If you are concerned that your milk has not come in or that you are not making enough milk, speak with WIC breastfeeding staff.
Role of Your Breasts
Milk production occurs within the alveoli, which are grape-like clusters of cells within the breast. Once the milk is made, it is squeezed out through the alveoli into the milk ducts, which resemble highways. The ducts carry the milk through the breast.
The size of your breasts does not affect your ability to breastfeed. Women with small breasts make the same quantity and quality of milk as women with larger breasts.
Role of Your Brain
When your baby suckles, it sends a message to your brain. The brain then signals the hormones, prolactin and oxytocin to be released. Prolactin causes the alveoli to begin making milk. Oxytocin causes muscles around the alveoli to squeeze milk out through the milk ducts.
When milk is released, it is called the let-down reflex. Signs of milk release are:
- Tingling, fullness, dull ache, or tightening in the breasts (although some moms do not feel any of these sensations).
- Milk dripping from the breast.
- Uterine cramping after you put baby to the breast during the first few days after birth.
To encourage your milk to release, try these methods:
- Find ways to relax, such as going to a calm place or trying deep breathing.
- Place a warm compress on your breasts before breastfeeding.
- Massage your breasts and hand express a little milk.
After you've been breastfeeding for a while, the let-down reflex can happen for many other reasons, like when you hear your baby cry, or you see or think of your baby. It also can happen at the time of day you usually breastfeed your baby, even if your baby is not around.
Role of Your Baby
Your baby helps you make milk by suckling and removing milk from your breast. The more milk your baby drinks, the more milk your body will make. Frequent breastfeeding or milk removal (8-12 times or more every 24 hours), especially in the first few days and weeks of your baby's life, helps you make a good milk supply.
Your milk will continue to vary according to your baby's needs. Each time your baby feeds, your body knows to make more milk for the next feeding. The amount of milk you make will go up or down depending on how often your baby eats. By nursing for as often and as long as your baby wants, you are helping your body to make more milk. At first, it might feel like you are doing nothing but breastfeeding. Soon, you and your baby will get into a pattern that works for both of you.