Breastfeeding is a beautiful and natural thing. Most women are able to produce milk in order to feed their babies. It really is quite amazing what our bodies are capable of.
But how exactly does it work? Such a good question! I think it’s important to understand what exactly our bodies are doing to help us gain a greater depth of knowledge and appreciation for it. The more you know-the better you can navigate the ups and downs and ins and outs of breastfeeding.
How does breastfeeding work?
First of all, it all begins during pregnancy. Pretty cool, huh? About midway through your pregnancy your breast will start to produce something called colostrum. Colostrum is usually a thick yellow tinted fluid and a concentrated source of immune protective factors, protein and minerals. During pregnancy you won’t make large volumes of milk because there are also high levels of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone helps keep the amount of milk you make remain low.
After you give birth and then deliver the placenta- your progesterone levels will dip significantly. Once this happens the prolactin allows for the process of larger amounts of milk to come in. Typically this happens about 30-40 hours after birth. For some women it may sooner- some longer. The amount of milk you produce usually depends on how much output you’re getting. The more your feed or pump- the more milk will come in.
How does the milk come out?
Once your baby sucks on your nipple (or you use a breast pump which mimics the suckling of a baby) it triggers stimulation to your nerve endings which causes the hormone oxytocin to be released.
Oxytocin helps the muscles around your glandular tissue in your breasts to contract which will push the milk into your milk ducts and out through the nipple.
When you feel your milk coming out it is often known as your “let down” or the milk ejection reflex. Not everyone will feel it but if you do it can feel like a tingling or prickling sensation. You can also expect milk to leak out of both breasts during this time.
As mentioned above, the more milk you express the more milk you will make. It’s important to know that your breasts are never emptied of milk as your breasts are continually making milk and there will be milk available when your baby needs it. The more your milk is emptied, the faster it will be replenished.
Not all women will have the same capabilities when it comes to breastfeeding. If you are struggling please reach out to your care provider so they can help you on this journey.
New to breastfeeding? Need a refresher for a second baby? Make sure you signup for “The Complete Online Breastfeeding Class“. This on demand class is designed to help you meet your breastfeeding goals.
Other articles you may enjoy:
- Top Signs of Low Milk Supply To Worry About
- 22 Low Milk Supply Causes You May Not Know About
- Why Is Breastfeeding Painful?
- 8 Breastfeeding Problems After A C-Section
- The Ultimate Guide To Dairy Free Breastfeeding
- 5 Soothing Solutions for Dry and Cracked Nipples From Breastfeeding
- Will Breastfeeding Ruin My Implants?
- How Often Should a 6 Month Old Breastfeed?
Katie Clark is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has helped thousands of mothers and families around the globe navigate breastfeeding challenges and questions since 2015. She has a passion for creating research-based, helpful breastfeeding education and helping parents find a way to make breastfeeding work for them. Katie is a mom of three little boys and lives in the great state of Colorado. She also has a degree in Communications with an emphasis in print journalism.