The Miracle of Breastfeeding Revealed

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When you began breastfeeding, you felt a sense of wonder that your body could make your baby’s perfect food. You were curious: How is milk made? What is the breast made up of? But you quickly got busy with your baby and forgot your plan to research how breastfeeding works. Here’s a quick guide to the ins and outs of breastfeeding, so that you can look down and know what’s happening as your body provides for your baby. 

Your body and your baby are designed to work together.

Anatomy of the Breast

What’s going on below the surface in the breastfeeding breast?

  • Milk is made and stored within the lobules of the breast. 
  • The lobules contain cells called alveoli that look like grape clusters and produce the milk. 
  • Ducts are tubes that the milk flows through from the lobules to the nipple. Small muscles in the breast squeeze the milk along its path. 
  • The nipple has many openings (an average of nine) for the milk to flow through the ducts to the baby.
  • The areola is the dark area around the nipple. The little bumps you may see on your areola are called Montgomery Glands. The areolar glands produce oils that clean the nipple and provide a special scent to attract your baby. 
  • The baby’s nose is flat so that she can nurse and still breathe. And she is able to nurse by curving her tongue around the nipple and areola (as much of the areola as possible should be in the baby’s mouth). 

How the Breast Makes Milk

Your baby’s sucking triggers the hormone prolactin, which signals to the alveoli that it’s time to make milk. Another hormone, oxytocin, also rises when your baby begins to nurse, causing the “let-down” reflex, when your milk starts to flow heavily, shortly after your baby begins nursing. It can feel like tingling or pressure, though some moms don’t feel anything at all. 

Prolactin and oxytocin both cause a strong attachment to your baby. Some moms have a “let down” just by looking at their baby, picturing their baby or even hearing another baby cry at the grocery store. 

The Milk

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The breast makes three different types of milk.

  • Colostrum is the first milk your body makes; it’s thick, rich and a yellowish color. During the first days of your baby’s life, this is the only milk that she needs. It may not seem like enough, but it’s called “liquid gold” for a reason. It’s the perfect food for her new tummy.
  • The change to transitional milk occurs about two to five days after birth (i.e. “when your milk comes in"). This milk can look yellow, cream or white. Your breasts will begin to fill out.
  • Mature milk starts about five days after your baby is born. It’s thinner and more watery than transitional milk. It can even be blueish/white in color. Now your breasts should feel full and heavy.

The benefits of this milk continue to be discovered. For instance, your milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight disease and infections. You are giving your immunities to your baby. And, your milk changes according to your baby’s needs. So, if your baby is born too early, your milk will be richer in protein and amino acids so that she can gain weight more quickly. 

Your body and your baby are designed to work together. Learning how nursing works can help you value the process more and feel wonder at the way your body provides just what your baby needs.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.