How does your breast produce milk

Breastmilk: 4 stages in which the best babyfood is made

A newborn child is heavily dependent on breast milk for his or her survival and nutrition after birth. Till 6 months of age, this milk is all that he or she will need. You might be wondering about how the milk is produced in the breast and how to maintain an adequate flow to meet your little one’s requirement. To understand it, you should start by understanding the structural elements of a breast and their functions.

What are the parts of a breast that are involved in breast milk production?

The structure of a human breast includes a nipple, areola, alveoli, milk-secreting cells, milk ducts, muscle cells, rib, supporting tissues, skin, and fat. These structural components are important for the production, protection, and transport of breast milk.

The breasts are covered and protected on the outside by skin, which is the largest organ of the body. The darker circular or oval part of the breast is called areola. The nipple is at the centre of the areola, which produces the milk. The baby latches on to the entire areola and nipple to drink the breast milk. The nipple and areola are moisturized and kept clean by Montgomery glands that look like small bumps around the nipple.

Where does breast milk come from?

Adipose tissue is the fat component in the breasts that acts as a cushion. Glandular tissue contains milk ducts and alveoli, which produce milk. Alveoli are grape-like clusters of cells that produce breast milk, which is transported through milk ducts. Smooth muscle cells help in squeezing the milk out of the glands. As the baby latches on to the mother’s breast and sucks it, the milk moves out of the breast through the tiny holes in the nipple.

What is the role of the brain in milk production?

Your brain and nerves play an important role in milk production and transport. When the baby suckles, a signal is sent to the brain to stimulate the production of breast milk. The brain signals the release of two important hormones, prolactin and oxytocin. These hormones promote the production of breast milk and its transport through the milk ducts.

How is breast milk made during pregnancy, after delivery, and during lactation?

Your body will get ready for breastfeeding long before the delivery of the baby. As a girl enters puberty, she goes through several hormonal changes, which include the increase in the size of the breasts and the development of glands that produce milk. Her breasts will become tender as her body prepares for pregnancy and breastfeeding after the monthly ovulation cycle. These developments subside in case there is no pregnancy and this cycle continues.

The hormones oestrogen and progesterone play an important role in breast milk production. Once a woman gets pregnant, these hormones bring about several changes in her body, including the growth of milk ducts and the tissues that make milk. There will be an increase in the size of the breasts, and the veins that carry blood will become more visible. There will be some changes in the nipples as well as the areolas, which will become larger and darker. There will be an increase in the size of Montgomery glands too, which are essential for keeping the nipples clean.

The 4 stages of breastmilk production:

Stage 1: Around the 2nd-trimester, hormones will trigger the production of milk. Around 24 to 48 hours after delivery, the breasts will produce colostrum. The breast milk texture will be thick at this point.

Stage 2: It begins 3 to 5 days after the birth of the baby. In this stage, mature milk is produced. The breasts will be fuller as there will be an increase in milk quantity.

Stage 3: It starts at around 9 days after the baby’s birth and continues until you stop breastfeeding.

Stage 4: It lasts for about 40 days after you stop breastfeeding.

When is breast milk produced in pregnancy?

Around the sixteenth week, the breasts will produce the first breast milk, which is called colostrum. Your body will become prepared to support any eventuality, including the early arrival of the baby. Colostrum production lasts from the 16th week till the 2nd or 3rd day after delivery. This is called Lactogenesis I, which is the 1st sequence of breast milk production.

The hormonal levels of oestrogen and progesterone steadily rise during pregnancy and drop after the birth of the baby. Along with this drop, there will be an increase in another hormone, called prolactin. These hormonal changes signal the body to increase the production of breast milk.

When is breast milk produced after delivery?

After delivery, once the baby latches on to the breast and suckles, it triggers the milk production and initiates the supply of colostrum. Colostrum is vital for the baby and hence you should try to feed him or her during this period. Colostrum is followed by regular milk production. This stage is called Lactogenesis II, which lasts till the eighth day after delivery.

How to maintain the milk production?

The milk production will be automatic in the first few days. After the first week, it will be dependent on other factors including the frequency of feeding or pumping of milk. The sucking of the baby releases hormones called prolactin and oxytocin, which play an important role in this phase. Prolactin promotes the production of milk, while oxytocin causes the alveoli to squeeze milk into the milk ducts. Both these hormones are released by the pituitary gland.

Frequent breastfeeding (around 8 to 12 times or more, every 24 hours) or pumping the milk will empty the breasts, which will keep the prolactin levels up and allow the milk production to continue. This stage is called Lactogenesis III, which starts from the 9th day after delivery and continues until the end of breastfeeding.

Tips to release the milk:

-Follow relaxation techniques like yoga

-Before feeding, place a warm compress on the breasts

-Massage the breasts regularly

Does breast size matter in milk production?

Adipose tissue in the breast influences the size of the breast. The size of the breast may improve the ability to store more milk, but does not influence milk production. Women with smaller breasts produce the same amount of milk as women with larger breasts. However, babies of women with smaller breasts will need more frequent feeding to get a sufficient amount of milk in a day.

How to stop the breast from producing milk?

You will be producing breast milk from the day your child is born and it will continue until you decide to introduce complementary foods. While increased feeding can raise breast milk production, the opposite is also true if you desire to discontinue breastfeeding. As you reduce the frequency of feeding, the brain will get the message to reduce the production of milk. Eventually, the tissue that is responsible for milk production will shrink and your body will return to its pre-pregnancy state, which is called involution. You may notice a small amount of milk before it completely dries up.

Breast milk consists of vitamins and minerals that are essential for the growth and development of the baby. It is also rich in antibodies that protect the baby from infections and diseases like diarrhoea. The first milk, which is called colostrum, contains high levels of proteins, minerals, antibodies, and sugar. Mature milk contains a lower amount of protein, and higher levels of vitamins, sugar, minerals, and fat.