Breast Milk Production: Understanding How Everything Works!

Almost all mothers who breastfeed ask themselves at some point if their baby receives enough milk. Since it`s not possible to measure the breast milk which the small one has served from the breast like the milk received from the bottle, it`s easy to become unsure about the amount of milk you put at his disposal. The very first thing you are able to see if whether or not the milk amount you produce is really low or not.

Breast Milk Production

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Colostrum is secreted only in the first 3 to 5 days after childbirth and is a unique type of food which is extremely useful for newborns. This contains a larger amount of proteins than the rest of the milk, and all the minerals and vitamins that an infant needs during the first few days of his life. Colostrum is rich in antibodies which form the basis of a strong immune system.

Even during the 16th week of pregnancy, prolactin stimulates the production of colostrum, the mother`s first milk. This is how certain cases are explained when some pregnant women have leaks from their breasts or they notice a dry crust on their nipples.

How Breast Milk Is Produced

Birth has the effect of decreasing the progesterone production and increasing the prolactin production, leading to the formation of breast milk. Breasts are conceived to produce milk, the changes becoming quite visible during pregnancy. They increase in size as well as the areolas do, darkening its color.

Each breast is divided in 15 to 20 sections known as lobes and they are arranged like the spokes of a wheel around the nipple. The lobes are units that produce milk and each of them contain another 20 to 40 lobules. The lobules contain alveoli which produce and store the milk. The alveoli are hollow cavities only a few millimeters in size.

The produced milk comes out from the alveoli through the milk ducts and then enters in the milk sinuses which are located in the areola. At the end, the milk leaves the breast through the holes of the nipples.

These small projections on the areola are known as Montgomery glands which naturally secrete a lubricating substance which has the important role to maintain the suppleness of the nipple and to help preventing dryness and infections. Because of this it`s recommended for the breast to be washed only with water or soups which don`t affect the normal PH-ul of the skin to avoid removing this natural lubricant.

When the infant is breastfed, the nerve endings from the nipple and areola are stimulated by sending signals to the brain to release 2 hormones with an important role regarding the process of breast milk production: oxytocin and prolactin.

How Prolactin & Oxytocin Are Involved

Prolactin stimulates the constant production of milk in the alveoli, so that the more the baby is fed, the more milk is being produced. It`s good to know that the production of breast milk functions on the supply and demand system.

Oxytocin triggers milk flow, a process known as ejection reflex. Some women may feel this reflex as a pin prick in the breasts, while others like a tingling or warmth. The milk may sometimes pop out from the breasts even as a response to the baby`s crying. When the milk pops out, you may feel uterine cramps especially if you are at your 2nd child.

Hopefully this basic presentation of how breast milk is produced has helped you better understand how things works and you`ll be able to breastfeed easier.

Do I Have Enough Breast Milk?

The first thing you are able to see is whether or not the amount of milk you produce is really low or not. It`s certain that some mothers have unrealistic expectations and believe that if their infant doesn`t eat regularly at 3 or 4 hours or if he doesn`t sleep all night without interruptions at 6 weeks – they don`t have enough milk.

Risk Factors

These risk factors may contribute to a low breast milk amount:

  • A lack of breast stimulation.
  • A sleepy or ill baby won`t suck so vigorously.
  • Even if the baby sucks often, he may not offer the necessary breast stimulation if he sucks without too much power or inefficiently.

Being separate from the baby or scheduling the breastfeeding sessions after a rigid program – these are factors that may interfere with the supply and demand of the milk produced. Frequent breastfeeding, on demand, is considered the best possible method of increasing the breast milk production.

By limiting the amount of time a baby spends on breasts, it can make for him to receive more of the low-calorie milk which comes at the start of the suckling, and less of the high-fat milk which is loosened later.

Tips to Increase the Milk Production

  • Keep the baby`s weight under observation – especially during the first weeks of his life.
  • Take care of yourself – Try to eat well and drink a lot of liquids. You need at least 1,800 calories per day.
  • Breastfeed frequently – offer your breast every time the baby is interested. Try to feed him 8 times in 24 hours, and even more if possible.
  • Offer both breast on every breastfeeding session – Watch your baby while he`s sucking. He`ll suck vigorously for a few minutes and then he`ll decrease the rhythm. When you notice this, move him to the other breast.
  • Try to massage or slightly press the breast while breastfeeding – This may help to milk rich in calories to “drop” faster and easier.
  • Make sure the breastfeeding method used is correct – Check if the nipple is in the baby`s mouth. If not, he won`t be able to compress the milk sinewy well.
  • Avoid pacifiers and bottles as much as possible – This way, you`ll “teach” the baby how to better suck and won`t become confused.

Foods that Increase the Breast Milk Production

Indeed, although there are no scientific studies to confirm it, practice shows that there are foods that increase the breast milk production.

First of all, doctors also agree that certain tea-based herbs are beneficial to breastfeeding because they increase the milk production, but also because by being excreted in breast milk, they help babies through their properties.

The most common and tested teas are aniseed, fennel or caraway. They can be consumed immediately after birth (a few cups per day) and besides accelerating the milk production, it calms the baby`s cramps and stomach colic.

Also, the pumpkin is considered a good food for accelerating the production of breast milk, while being rich in vitamins and minerals as well.

Most mothers have noticed that garlic is a good stimulation for lactation as well, whether it`s cooked or raw. But be careful – garlic may change the milk`s taste and not all babies will accept it.

The watermelon is another great food which may increase the production of milk, and has a strong moisturizing effect as well. Besides this, it`s a great source of vitamin A and minerals.

Foods rich in healthy fats, like oil or butter, increase both the milk production and its quality.

Beer without alcohol is another popular “remedy” among breastfeeding women, having a noticeable increase in breast milk production when consumed. However, it`s not a good idea to abuse it.

Breastfeeding mothers should first consider they need foods rich in minerals and vitamins, as well as a diversified diet.

Image courtesy of leicspart.nhs.uk

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