When does milk come in?
One of the first questions that we will address is when milk comes in after delivering a baby. When you give birth, your body goes through many hormonal changes. The hormone prolactin triggers the production of breast milk. The level of prolactin needs to increase to produce breast milk.
The first fluid that is expressed from your breasts after birth is called colostrum, which is the most potent natural immune booster known to science. This sticky, yellow substance begins production during late pregnancy and contains nutrients for your baby's first few days of life.
It also contains antibodies to protect your baby against infection and acts as a natural laxative for your baby's first bowel movements (containing meconium). Newborns usually drink colostrum for 2–3 days before breast milk production starts.
The next stage of breast milk production is called the transitional milk flow. This form of breast milk lasts for the first few weeks after the production of colostrum has stopped. This milk contains higher levels of lactose, fat, and water-soluble vitamins.
After this, mature breast milk production begins. This milk contains approximately 90 percent water and 10 percent proteins, fats and carbohydrates. This milk keeps your baby well hydrated and is easily digestible.
Where does your milk come from?
Breast milk production occurs in specific glands in the breasts. These glands get a jump start when the placenta is delivered and the hormone levels of progesterone start to drop.
In addition to the drop in progesterone, the body starts to increase the production of milk-producing hormones including prolactin, insulin, and hydrocortisone. These are the same hormones that will increase or decrease to meet the demands of your baby's feeding schedule.
Low milk supply symptoms
Here are some signs that your baby isn't getting enough milk:
- Fussiness after eating or wanting to nurse more often than necessary or recommended
- Body weight not increasing (should increase by at least 0.7 to 1 ounce each day).
- Few wet diapers — Babies urinate much less frequently in the first few days of life, but by day five they should have at least 5 or more wet diapers daily.
- Dehydration —Signs of dehydration include dark urine, yellow skin (jaundice), reluctance to feed, and lethargy.
What causes low milk supply?
Some of the things that can cause a woman to have a lower-than-average breast milk supply are:
- Insufficient growth or development of the ducts that produce breast milk
- Scar tissue from breast surgery
- Hormonal imbalances caused by polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes, or hypothyroidism
- Medications and herbal supplements such as hormonal birth control, pseudoephedrine, and large amounts of mint, parsley, or sage
- Baby using a pacifier before 4–6 weeks of age
How to increase milk supply: 5 tips
Many new moms are concerned about making enough breast milk to feed their newborn. This is especially true if this is your first baby or the first time that you have chosen to breastfeed. Here are five tips to increase your milk supply.
1. Adjust your breastfeeding position or change to another position to encourage proper latching.
2. Try to have more skin-to-skin contact with your baby before and during feedings. This contact can help stimulate the hormone oxytocin and get your milk flowing with the let-down reflex.
3. Use relaxation techniques to reduce any stress that you may be feeling. You can try listening to some calming music that will allow you to relax and promote milk flow.
4. Pump your breast milk. By pumping on both sides, you can stimulate the let-down reflex and fully empty the milk ducts. Do this after your baby nurses, especially if they don't nurse for very long or only on one side. You can then store the milk for future use.
5. Make sure that you are practicing a healthy lifestyle. Breastfeeding a baby requires a healthy diet, moderate exercise, plenty of rest, and avoidance of medications that can reduce your breast milk supply. Talk to your doctor about any medication you're taking while breastfeeding.
Common misconceptions about milk flow
Here are some common misconceptions about breast milk production.
Myth 1 - Exercise will decrease milk supply. In fact, exercise is healthy for all moms following childbirth, including breastfeeding mothers. There is no evidence that moderate exercise affects the flow of your milk.
Myth 2 - You can never use formula if you want to breastfeed. Sometimes it is necessary to supplement breastfeeding with formula. This may be necessary if there are complications following delivery, for multiples (e.g. twins), or if the baby isn't getting enough milk in the first few days after birth. Every mom produces breast milk in different amounts and on a different schedule.
If you have tried these tips and feel that your baby is still not getting enough breast milk, contact the doctor or a lactation consultant to discuss your concerns. They will have suggestions to help you and your baby.