Your breasts make milk in response to your baby’s suckling. The more your baby nurses, the more milk your breasts will make. Knowing how your breasts make milk can help you understand the breastfeeding process.
How is breastmilk made?
Breasts often become fuller and more tender during pregnancy. This is a sign that the alveoli, cells that make breastmilk, are getting ready to work. Some women do not feel these changes in their breasts. Other women may feel these changes after their baby is born.
The alveoli make milk in response to the hormone prolactin (proh-LAK-tin). Prolactin levels go up when the baby suckles. Levels of another hormone, oxytocin (oks-ee-TOH-suhn), also go up when the baby suckles. This causes small muscles in the breast to contract and move the milk through the milk ducts. This moving of the milk is called the “let-down reflex.”
The release of prolactin and oxytocin may make you feel a strong sense of needing to be with your baby.
How do I know I’m making enough milk:
Many mothers worry about making enough milk to feed their babies. Some women worry that their small breast size will make it harder to feed their babies enough milk. But women of all sizes can make plenty of milk for their baby. The more often your baby breastfeeds, the more milk your breasts will make.
Your baby’s weight should double in the first few months. Because babies’ tummies are small, they need many feedings to grow and be healthy. You can tell if your baby is getting enough milk by the number of wet diapers he has in a day and if he is gaining weight.
If you don’t feel as “full” as you did in the first few weeks of breastfeeding, you may worry that you are not making enough milk for your baby. But know that the milk is still there and flowing to your baby. Usually, after a few months of breastfeeding, your body learns to make the right amount of milk for your baby.
Also, your baby may only nurse for short periods, such as five minutes at each feeding. These are not signs of lower milk supply. Your body adjusts to meet the needs of your baby, and your baby gets very good at getting milk from the breast. It’s also normal for your baby to continue to nurse longer on each breast at each feeding.
How much milk you make depends on:
- How completely milk is removed each time you breastfeed. An empty breast means better milk production.
- How often you nurse or pump to remove milk. The more often you empty your breasts, the more milk your breasts will make.
- The amount of milk your breasts store between feedings. If your breast stores too much milk between feedings (because your baby doesn’t empty the breast), your breast will make less milk. If your breast is emptied, it will make more milk. It is common for one breast to make more milk than the other, and it is normal for babies to prefer one breast over the other. This can affect how much milk you make in that breast.
How can I make more milk?
The best way to make more breastmilk is to breastfeed often and to empty your breasts completely at each feeding.
After emptying your breasts at each feeding, less milk builds up in your breasts between feedings.
To better empty your breasts, follow these tips:
- Use breast massage and compression.
- Offer your baby both breasts at each nursing.
- Pump after nursing if your baby does not remove all the milk from your breasts. Your breasts will soften when the milk is removed. If the baby empties your breasts, then you can pump to remove milk and increase milk production between nursing sessions.
- Include a power pumping session a few times a week if you suspect low milk supply
Avoid pumping during the first 6 weeks unless you are exclusively pumping.
How often should I be breastfeeding?
You should breastfeed as soon as possible after giving birth. Then, breastfeed your baby every 2 to 3 hours each day so that you will make plenty of milk. This means that in the first few days after birth, your baby will probably need to breastfeed about every one to two hours during the day and a few times at night.
- Kent, J.C., Mitoulas, L.R., Cregan, M.D., Ramsay, D.T., Doherty, D.A., Hartmann, P.E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day.(link is external) Pediatrics; 117(3): e387-e395.
- AAP. (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk(link is external). Pediatrics; 129(3): e827e841.
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