Breastfeeding is an amazing phenomenon. Humans are one of many mammals that breastfeed their young. First-time moms may find it fascinating as they watch their bodies go through unprecedented changes to help grow and nourish their children.
Breastfeeding can come with many questions. Will you produce enough milk? Will your baby know how to latch? Will you need the help of a lactation consultant? Will you breastfeed exclusively, pump, use formula, or a combination of all three?
Whether you have never breastfed a baby before, you are just curious about how breastfeeding works, or you are an expert in breastfeeding, we will discuss all of these topics and more as we take a deep dive into how breastfeeding works.
The Anatomy of the Breast
The anatomy of the female breast is elaborate; it’s an elaborate web of nerve endings and ducts. It works to produce milk, spurred on by its close relationship with the brain.
Different parts make up the breast in order to produce human milk.
- Mammary Glands (Lobules/alveoli): a cluster of cells that produce milk during pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Areola: dark skin surrounding the nipple
- Milk Ducts: ducts that carry milk from the alveoli to the nipple during breastfeeding
- Nipple: the outlet for milk during breastfeeding
The brain plays a significant role in the art of breastfeeding. As our bodies change throughout pregnancy and postpartum, the brain releases hormones that trigger a physical response to produce milk.
Analysis of Breast Milk
Besides the bump, you’ll likely notice the breasts changing to prepare to feed your baby even before you give birth. In fact, some moms even produce colostrum during the second or third trimester.
Colostrum is full of everything your baby needs, such as antibodies and other essential nutrients to sustain them in the first few days of life as your milk works to come in fully. Most women will produce mature milk a few days after giving birth.
Foremilk and Hindmilk
When breastfeeding, your baby receives foremilk at the beginning of a feed and hindmilk at the end of a feed. The foremilk is often less concentrated towards the nipple, while the hindmilk comes from deeper within the glandular tissue and typically has a higher fat concentration.
How Breastmilk Is Made
The production of specifichormones plays a vital role in breastfeeding. After giving birth, your body produces the hormone prolactin and oxytocin that trigger the mammary glands to produce milk.
After having your baby and delivering the placenta, the progesterone and estrogen levels drop. This causes prolactin to increase and bring in your milk supply. During this time, the baby has a natural instinct to find its mom’s nipple and begin to nurse. This causes a letdown reflex, bringing the milk to the nipple for the baby to eat.
The combination of your anatomy, brain, hormones, and baby should all work together to begin your breastfeeding journey with your newborn.
Babies Encourage Milk Production
While babies generally know how to breastfeed instinctually, sometimes they need a little guidance. Parents might need to guide their baby to a proper latch or encourage them to nurse. That’s why many physicians recommend taking advantage of the golden hour when possible.
Upon entering the world, your newborn baby will generally nurse within the first hour of life. According to the World Health Organization, nursing in the first hour helps improve infant health.
Immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby helps release hormones that bond the two together. Then, the baby feeds by finding its mom’s breast, latching on, and suckling, which should prompt the letdown reflex.
Sometimes the mom is not able to do skin-to-skin contact after giving birth because of a C-section or otherwise. Skin-to-skin contact can still offer health benefits, including temperature regulation; a mother’s partner or other family members can help meet this need.
Your milk will vary according to your baby’s growing needs and stage of life. Some babies naturally will eat more than others. Babies will likely eat more when going through growth spurts or comfort feed when stressed or uncomfortable (like when teething).
The Benefits of a Pumping Schedule
Throughout your breastfeeding journey, your baby will play a huge part in how your body reacts and produces milk. Generally, the more a mom breastfeeds or pumps, the more milk her body will produce.
To get off on the right foot, start as soon as possible. If you need to boost your output, you might benefit from power pumping. Power pumping can increase the hormone prolactin, which, in turn, increases milk production.
Pumping Breast Milk: Essential Info
Breastfeeding is hardly a one size fits all scenario. Some mothers exclusively pump, exclusively breastfeed, or exclusively formula feed. Many mothers do a combination of these, which is great! While breast milk is still considered best, even small amounts of breast milk can offer incredible nutritional benefits.
What Breast Pump To Buy
One of the many questions moms have is about what they need to feed their babies. They might have gotten breastfeeding pillows or nipple cream at their showers, but items like nursing bras and pumps center more on unique personal preferences.
For example, there are three different types of breast pumps. These choices include electric breast pumps, manual breast pumps, and portable breast pumps.
Manual Breast Pumps
Manual and electric breast pumps are two of the most common types you’ll come across.
Manual breast pumps are generally more affordable and easier to travel with. They don’t require electricity or batteries and are a great introduction to the world of breast pumps. The easy-to-clean BabyBuddha Manual Pump has two levels for different suction strengths. It’s covered by most FSA and HSA plans and comes with a two-year warranty.
Electric Breast Pumps
Electric breast pumps are more powerful and productive than their manual counterparts. The BabyBuddha® Portable Breast Pump is a hospital-grade electric pump that has the same comfort and discreet appearance as top manual options. The portable BabyBuddha breast pump is lightweight, rechargeable, and mimics the suction of your baby in order to increase milk production while pumping.
Breast pumps are an essential part of many families’ child-raising plans, which is why most insurance companies have to cover hospital-grade pumps. To get started on pumping, fill out this form to apply through your insurance.
Breastfeeding Tips: Things To Look Out For
A strong latch helps babies get enough milk (and keeps them from accidentally hurting their moms). Knowing the hunger signs can help moms know when to breastfeed (outside of the scheduled times based on age). In the long and short run, both of these can help moms produce enough milk.
Hunger Signs: What To Look For
Newborns need to eat frequently, day and night. As they get older, you will not have to feed them quite as often, and they can hold larger quantities of milk at a time.
The more you get to know your baby, the better you will recognize their hunger signs.
Hunger signs in your newborn may be:
- Putting first to mouth
- Turning head toward the breast
- Puckering or smacking their lips
- Clenching hands into fists
- Crying or fussiness
A Good Latch: What To Look For
The correct latch can be a game changer for feeding times and any discomfort you feel while nursing. You may think that your baby is latched correctly as long as they are getting milk, but this is not always the case.
Here are a few things that you can look for in a good latch:
- No discomfort while nursing
- Baby's mouth is wide and surrounds the breast, not just the nipple
- Baby’s chin touches your breast
- You can hear swallowing
- The head is turned straight towards the breast, and the chest rests against your stomach
- Baby’s ears move slightly
- Baby’s lips are pursed and turned outwards
- Baby’s tongue is cupped under your breast
An incorrect latch usually causes discomfort for the nursing mother. If you notice your baby latched incorrectly, remove them from your breast and try again.
If your baby has a consistent habit of latching incorrectly, you may want to reach out to your healthcare provider and have your baby checked for tongue-tie.
How To Know If My Baby Is Getting Enough Milk
The decision is yours regardless, but even exclusively breastfed babies are likely getting the right amount of milk. If your little one has the appropriate amount of dirty diapers and is gaining weight back, then they are likely perfectly content with the amount of milk they are getting.
If you are ever unsettled or concerned that your baby is not getting enough milk, always reach out to your pediatrician or a certified lactation consultant. These healthcare professionals can help you gain confidence in your breastfeeding journey and offer any support needed.
Remember To Ask for Support
One of the best things you can do for yourself when breastfeeding is to trust your body and your baby. Breastfeeding support is available for women who want to learn more or need extra help. Educating yourself and relaxing will help your body lean into its natural instincts.
The first days of caring for a breastfed baby can seem difficult. Even if you have breastfed a baby before, each baby is different, and there is a learning curve involved.
Breastfeeding is a complex and beautiful thing that helps new moms care for and bond with their children. Our bodies are typically equipped with everything that we need to have a successful breastfeeding journey, but if you find yourself struggling, reach out to a professional to help guide you.
In no time, you’ll feel like a true breastfeeding expert!