How Is Breast Milk Made?
When a mother is expecting a baby for the first time she is often worried about whether she will produce enough breast milk to feed her child. This is quite natural. However some mothers still feel that they will not produce enough for their child, despite begin told not to worry from their doctor, midwife, friends and family. Perhaps, understanding how breast milk is made will alleviate those fears.
During the last few months of pregnancy an expectant mother will undoubtedly begin to notice the enlargement of her breasts. Her bra cup size will increase substantially and nearing the time of birth she may feel some discomfort brought about by this welling. It’s a mother’s developing placenta that stimulates the release of oestrogen and progesterone, which in turn stimulate the complex biological system that makes lactation possible.
The anatomy of the female breast consists of the visible area we can see on the outside; the main point of interest being the areola (nipple), and is what your new baby will latch on to. The inside tissues of the breast contain a mixture of Alveoli, ductules and ducts. These are all contained in a protective layer of fat, which is what gives women the various shapes and sizes of breasts.
By the time the baby is born, glandular tissue has replaced most of the fat cells and accounts for a mother’s very large breasts. Each one may get as much as 1½ pounds heavier. Milk is produced in the alveoli: A cluster of alveoli is called a lobule; a cluster of lobules is called a lobe. Each breast contains between 15 and 20 lobes, with one milk duct for every lobe. It is quite normal for an expecting mother to begin producing milk some months before the baby is born.
Immediately after the baby is born, milk production goes into full swing; again this is caused by the release of hormones following the birth of the baby. A mother can expect to be producing all the milk her baby requires with 24 to 48 hours after birth. This period is called lactogenesis. Many mothers will experience painful breasts due to engorgement, although frequent feeding of baby during the first few days usually relieves this. A mother will also notice that the constuency of her breast milk is very creamy and slightly off white. Again this is normal. The milk produced during this first few days is called colostrums (or first milk). Colostrum is a high-protein, low-fat milk that is just what baby needs during its first days. It is easily digestible and packed with anti-bodies that help ward off infection. A mother’s breast milk will continue to change giving just the right nutrients her baby needs during it’s first year of life.
Of course, in order for your baby to enjoy this goodness he will have to learn to latch on to mother’s breast. This can sometimes be difficult and will need mother’s help and patience. During the first days of feeding, you may feel some contractions in your abdomen as the baby sucks. The usually mild discomfort signals the release of oxytocin, which helps shrink your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size.