Whether you are preparing for your first baby or are currently soaking in the sweet scent of your precious new baby, it goes without saying that you are incredible! Incredible because your body has formed, grown, nourished and protected your little one from conception. There is a lot of knowledge and education surrounding how our bodies change and behave during pregnancy – all in support of the growing baby or babies. What is not as commonly understood is how our breastmilk is made. If you have ever found yourself wondering just what makes our bodies produce breastmilk, where it comes from, what influences its nutritional value and how production increases or slows, keep reading.
How breastmilk is produced
Breastmilk is produced by a complex system involving glands, cells, nerves, glandular tissue, ducts, and the pituitary gland. Rather than giving you an entire lesson on human anatomy, we will highlight the key “players.” The most important thing to remember when understanding how breastmilk is made is the effect our hormones have on its production and delivery. Breastmilk begins to accumulate in our bodies as early as the second trimester. The early milk is known as colostrum or newborn milk. Colostrum transitions into mature breastmilk a few days after delivery when the pregnancy hormones decrease suddenly.
Where breastmilk comes from
Breastmilk is derived from the water in our bodies and the fat we carry. Breastmilk is made up of about 90% water. During pregnancy, mom’s body undergoes many changes including weight gain. Part of this weight gain is in support of the additional maternal fat stores the body will later use to produce breastmilk. As water and fat come together to form breastmilk, the breastmilk is stored in an area of the breast known as glandular tissue.
What influences nutritional value of breast milk
Many moms worry about the nutritional value of their milk, specifically whether their breastmilk contains enough fat and calories. As we mentioned, breastmilk is primarily composed of water and fat; additionally, milk contains varying amounts of carbohydrates, other lipids, and proteins. Surprisingly, what a breastfeeding mother eats does not have a significant impact on the quality or nutritional value of her breastmilk. It is not true that moms who eat more fat (for example) produce fattier milk. The best way to ensure your milk is well-balanced is to eat a well-balanced diet, yourself. Working with a lactation consultant can help you come up with a delicious and nutritious meal plan that keeps you well-nourished and in turn, your baby, too!
When milk production increases and decreases
Milk production goes through multiple phases throughout a mother’s lactation journey. In the very early days, immediately following birth, milk production increases. The increase in milk supply is triggered by the birth of the baby and sudden decrease in the pregnancy hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Breastfeeding and/or pumping early and often after baby arrives signals the body to begin producing more milk. This frequent stimulation of the breasts/areola/nipple causes the prolactin hormone to soar. Many mothers will experience engorgement 3-7 days following delivery.
Over the first month, milk production steadily increases with proper stimulation and milk removal. By about 12 weeks, milk production regulates. It is common for milk production to decrease slightly after 6 months as babies begin to derive some of their caloric needs from solids.
If you have concerns about your milk supply or would like additional assistance with breastfeeding and pumping, Schedule an appointment today!