Breast Milk Production

Breast milk production is a fascinating natural phenomenon that involves a range of hormones controlled by the endocrine system, stimulation of the nerve endings attached to your nipples and a supply and demand system. You’ve probably heard the advice to feed your baby often to boost milk supply. That’s because your baby is able to trigger all of the elements required for breast milk production. Here’s how it works:

Preparing for Breastfeeding during Pregnancy

Your breasts are gearing up for breastfeeding even during pregnancy. Many women experience breast tenderness as an early sign of pregnancy. You may also notice your areola darkening (perhaps to become more visible to your newborn’s immature vision) and additional Montgomery glands (small bumps on the areola) forming.

Inside your breast your glandular tissues are growing due to increased estrogen and progesterone, which accounts for breast enlargement during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. Milk ducts found between fat cells and the glandular tissue also grow in number and size creating a complex web of pathways throughout your breast leading to your nipples. Each milk duct is connected to one of the 15 to 20 lobes in your breasts. The lobes are made of clusters of lobules which are made of clusters of alveoli. The alveoli connect to smaller branches of milk ducts called ductules.

By the middle of your second trimester progesterone levels increase and allow you to begin breast milk production. The alveoli take in proteins, sugars and fats from the blood stream to get the process going. Chances are you won’t need the milk for many months but if your baby is premature, your supply will be ready and waiting.

Ramping Up Breast Milk Production

Breast Milk ProductionWhen your baby arrives your estrogen and progesterone levels drop quickly and the hormone prolactin kicks into full gear. This is the signal for your body to start producing breast milk. At first you will produce colostrum, a sticky yellowish pre-milk substance that is rich in proteins, vitamins and antibodies to help your baby survive her first few days of life. Within a few days your breast milk production will kick into super-drive and you’ll start producing fattier white milk known as transitional milk. Within three weeks of childbirth your breast milk production has transformed into mature milk that can sustain your baby exclusively for six months and beyond.

The Process of Breast Milk Production

Frequent stimulation and emptying of the breasts is the name of the game when it comes to breastfeeding. When your baby stimulates your breast by suckling (or even when you think of your baby, hear your baby’s cry, smell your baby’s scent or look at a picture of your baby), your body releases oxytocin and prolactin that triggers a “let down” so milk flows from the alveoli to the milk ducts. Between your baby’s compressing latch, tugging suckle and your let down reflex, milk transfers from your nipples into your baby’s mouth.

In addition to this constant stimulation, breasts need to be emptied often to continue breast milk production. This is the supply and demand portion of the process. Your body’s response to a full breast of milk is to cut off production. Receptor sites in the walls of the milk-producing cells of the alveoli stretch and prevent prolactin from entering to stimulate more breast milk production. Even a small amount of residual milk in the breast could decrease milk supply. That’s why it’s important to allow your baby to drain your breasts completely during feedings. When the breast is empty, the cells of the alveoli return to their normal shape and breast milk production resumes.

When your milk supply first comes in but has not yet regulated, you may need to pump to empty your breasts. Over a few weeks your milk supply will level off to meet the needs of your baby. And meet the needs it does! Your milk supply will continue to ebb and flow to support your baby’s growth and nutritional needs through growth spurts, periods of brain development, sickness and for emotional support.

How to Boost Milk Supply

The best ways to boost milk supply is by breastfeeding frequently and until your breasts are empty. This ensures the mechanics of breast milk production are always in motion. The more you breastfeed, the more breast milk you’ll produce. If your baby cannot drain your breasts completely or you are away from your baby during a normal feeding time, pump after feedings or at missed feeding times to ensure you continue to stimulate milk production. Supplementing can interfere with breast milk production because your body learns to produce less milk when you feed less often. Also, as a nursing mother, it’s crucial for you to take care of yourself so you have the energy required to produce breast milk. That means eating a wholesome diet, drinking plenty of water, skipping alcohol, limiting caffeine, being cautious of medications you take and getting sleep when you can.

How to Tell if your Baby is Getting Enough Milk

You’ll know that your baby is getting enough milk if she is gaining weight, soiling and wetting diapers and seems satisfied after feedings. Remember, your baby does not need very much colostrum during her first few days of life because her stomach is extremely small and still filled with water from the womb. After a few days when your milk supply comes in her intake will increase significantly. You’ll know your baby is getting milk if you can see and hear her swallow frequently during a feeding.

Sources: BabyCenter, KellyMom, Parents Magazine, LaLecheLeague, Kids Health and Healthy Children


Loving Moments believes moms should have the knowledge, resources and power to make the healthiest choices for their babies, starting with breastfeeding. In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month in August, we are sharing Breastfeeding Basics, our educational blog series that we hope will empower you with information, encouragement and inspiration to meet your breastfeeding goals.


How Does Breastfeeding Work – Part 2

As you breastfeed your baby and ponder the meaning of life, you may also wonder to yourself “how does breastfeeding work?”  Truth be told, it is a complex and miraculous process of the female body.  As we discussed yesterday, lactation begins as a hormonal function.  Today we’ll discover that breastfeeding quickly becomes a labor of love based on supply and demand in part 2 of our series on how does breastfeeding work.

Once your milk supply is fully in, the name of the game is supply and demand.  The more the breast is stimulated and emptied, the more milk you will produce.  Here’s how it works:

how does breastfeeding workWhen your baby latches and starts stimulating your breast, two hormones are released: prolactin and oxytocin.  Both are essential for milk production.  Prolactin receives nutrients from your body via your blood to produce milk.  Oxytocin contracts the cells in the mammary glands to push milk out of the nipple and into your baby’s mouth.  This is known as the milk ejection reflex or let-down.

Mammary glands are made of channels where milk travels called milk ducts and alveoli, a group of tissues that secrete milk.  Inside the alveoli are cells that produce milk called lactocytes.  On lactocytes are prolactin receptors that have the ability to signal the production of breast milk.  To make milk, the hormone prolactin must meet its receptors to get the party started.  When milk fills the alveoli, the shape of the walls change and blocks the receptors so the signal cannot be given to make more milk. More receptor sites mean more potential milk production.  Researchers believe frequent breastfeeding in the first few weeks after childbirth can increase prolactin receptors.

Additionally, breast milk contains Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation or FIL that helps maintain milk supply.  When the breast is full of milk and therefore FIL, breast milk production slows.  Conversely, when the breast is drained and FIL is not present, production is stimulated again.

Both prolactin receptors and FIL work on a supply-and-demand basis.  Therefore, if you feel your milk supply is low, breastfeeding more often to drain your breast will cause your body to automatically refill it.  Women are often mistaken about breast size and milk supply.  Women of any size breasts can produce adequate milk for their babies.  Moms with smaller breasts may drain them faster but they will regenerate milk as long as breastfeeding continues.  Women with larger breasts may be able to store more milk at one time.

Breastfeeding is an amazing biological and emotional experience.  Now that you know how breastfeeding works, use this knowledge to your advantage for successful breastfeeding.

Did you know…

  • Let-downs can occur when you think about your baby, when you hear your baby or another baby cry, or when it is a normal feeding time.
  • You have multiple let-downs during every feeding although you may not feel them at all.
  • One study indicated that babies only drink about 75% of their mother’s milk in a day.
  • Breast milk production can continue indefinitely if breasts continue to be stimulated.
  • Substances enter breast milk through the bloodstream as it flows past the mammary glands.

Sources:, LaLecheLeague and Sutter Health


How Does Breastfeeding Work – Part 1

How Does Breastfeeding Work Breastfeeding is a phenomenal journey unlike any other in your life.  Bonding with your baby and providing the best nutritional and emotional start to life is an amazing gift you can give your precious child.  Understanding the biology and mechanics of breastfeeding is not only fascinating, it can help you successfully breastfeed.  If you’ve ever thought “how does breastfeeding work” during a breastfeeding session, you’ve come to the right place.  We’re breaking it down for you here.

Early Breast Milk Production

Breast milk production starts as a function of the hormones you produce during pregnancy.  Your body begins producing breast milk as early as your second trimester.  While it is unlikely that you would be able to express it, the lactation process starts during pregnancy to ensure you are ready to feed your baby the good stuff when he arrives.  This early milk is called colostrum and that is what your baby will drink for the first few days after birth.  Colostrum develops through a specific cocktail of hormones that you are brewing during pregnancy.  However, progesterone, another hormone you have during pregnancy, prohibits it from being expressed.

Having a baby changes everything, they say. And this is true for the lactation process too.  When you give birth, your progesterone, estrogen and other hormone levels drop and prolactin levels increase which signals your body to release colostrum for your baby to enjoy.  Although it doesn’t seem like much, colostrum is usually a sufficient source of nutrients for most babies.  It is full of fat and protein that babies need to survive their first few days of life.

Cue the Breast Milk

Two to three days after giving birth, you will start to feel your breasts getting full.  This is when your milk “comes in” and mature breast milk production begins.  Again, this is a by-product of hormones.

When your baby latches, she creates a suction on your milk sinuses that causes milk to flow.  This is one reason why proper latch is so important.  Your baby cannot drink milk adequately without a good latch.  Latch may become more essential when your milk supply levels off a few weeks later and milk is not so abundantly available.  Babies without proper latch and a good suck may then struggle to get milk.

If you thought your breasts were getting large during pregnancy, you may be surprised that they can expand even further to accommodate breastfeeding.  Many new moms experience breast discomfort at this stage because their breasts feel very full and are sometimes engorged.  Feeding or pumping often can help relieve the pain and prevent plugged ducts.

Also, as you and your baby get the hang of breastfeeding and work on proper latch, your nipples may feel sore and tender.  Rubbing breast milk on your nipples and letting them air dry is the best way to heal and soothe sore nipples.  As both of you become more familiar with breastfeeding, the pain usually subsides.  If breastfeeding is extremely painful at any time or if sore nipples persist for more than a few weeks, seek help from a lactation consultant.

These two early stages of breastfeeding are hormonally driven.  They occur whether a baby breastfeeds or not.  It’s not until the next stage that breastfeeding takes on its true persona – a process of supply and demand.  We will dive into this aspect of breastfeeding tomorrow.

Did you Know….

  • The areola becomes dark and enlarged during pregnancy and breastfeeding to help your baby find your nipple.
  • There are 15 to 20 holes on the nipple that can express breast milk.
  • The areola is a self-cleaning device!  The bumps you may notice excrete oil that helps cleanse your breast to keep it free of bacteria and anything else that may cause infection.
  • You produce two types of mature milk: foremilk is thinner and higher in calories while hindmilk is thicker and has more fat.

Sources:, LaLecheLeague and Sutter Health

Fenugreek Boosts Breast Milk Supply

Fenugreek Boosts Breast Milk SupplyFenugreek is a culinary and medicinal herb that hails from the Mediterranean, Europe and Asia.  It has a rich history as a powerful ancient herb that, among other uses, can increase breast milk supply.  It is formally known as Trigonella foenum-graecum L. and it contains unique properties that can make it a truly majestic herb for new mothers.

While research is lacking on exactly how Fenugreek boosts breast milk supply, lactation experts and moms agree that it really works for many breastfeeding mothers.  Fenugreek is generally considered an effective and safe galactagogue, a fancy way of saying it boosts breast milk supply.  And because it is a natural herb, it is probably a better choice than pharmaceutical solutions to low milk supply.

Researchers believe that Fenugreek may be effective at stimulating breast milk supply because of a phyto-estrogen known as diosgenin, which acts like estrogen in a lactating mother’s body.  Estrogen is one of the essential hormones required to produce breast milk.  The theory is, by supplementing with Fenugreek, mothers increase their estrogen-like factor and therefore produce more breast milk.

Fenugreek Boosts Breast Milk SupplyStudies show that using the proper amount of Fenugreek – approximately six grams a day – breastfeeding moms can improve their milk supply within three days.  Some women experience increases by up to 900% when they take Fenugreek regularly.  Most moms take Fenugreek until they reach their desired results and then discontinue its use.  Once breast milk supply is elevated, normal breast stimulation through breastfeeding usually sustains milk supply.

Although herbal supplements are not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, Fenugreek is considered safe by most obstetricians and pediatricians for both lactating mothers and babies.  It is labeled GRAS or Generally Recognized As Safe when purchased from a reputable supplier.  The major reported side-effect for lactating moms besides an increase in breast milk production is sweat or urine that smells like maple syrup.  This is due to the natural sugars found in Fenugreek.

Fenugreek comes in capsule, powder or tea formats.  Many people find the taste bitter and therefore mix it in other foods such as soups, stews and salads.  The spice is a staple in Indian and Mediterranean cuisines.

Additionally, Fenugreek contains a host of other great nutrients for mothers to pass along to their babies.  These include Vitamins A, C and several of the important B vitamins.  Plus it contains trace minerals such as calcium, iron, folate, choline, magnesium and potassium as well as many others.  And being a seed, Fenugreek has a good deal of plant-based protein.

Fenugreek should not be taken by pregnant women because it can cause the uterus to contract. This could lead to preterm labor and premature birth of a baby.

If you find that your milk supply is low, ask your doctor if it is safe for you to take Fenugreek to boost your breast milk supply.

What’s Busting your Breast Milk Production?

Mammals like us humans have the unique ability to nourish our babies through breast milk.  Nature tells us that most mammal mamas produce enough milk to feed their babies adequately.  But humans have been known to mess with nature from time-to-time, which may reduce breast milk production.  Today we’re looking at breast milk production busters so you can avoid low milk supply.

First of all, as a reminder, your supply may not be as low as you think.  Many moms have misconceptions about the state of their milk supplies.  Determining milk supply by the firmness of the breast, let-downs, how much you pump, not leaking, a baby who wants to nurse constantly or a baby who will take a bottle after breastfeeding are not sufficient indicators.  The best way to know if your baby is getting enough breast milk is if he is gaining weight appropriately, has consistent wet and dirty diapers and seems satisfied after most feedings.

If you do find that your breast milk production has slowed, it could be due to several factors:

What’s Busting your Breast Milk Production?

Breast milk production, like other hot commodities, is a game of supply-and-demand.  The more you breastfeed, the more breast milk your body will produce.  Conversely, the less you breastfeed, the less breast milk you will produce.  Therefore, anything that prevents you from breastfeeding your baby regularly and whenever your baby is hungry will reduce breast milk production.

The major impediment to supply-and-demand is supplementing.  Whether its formula or pumped milk, supplementing will train your breasts not to produce the amount of milk your baby needs at any given time.  If you continue supplementing, the cycle will perpetuate and your milk supply will continue to drop or not increase with your baby’s growing demand.

Breastfeeding on demand is the best way not to bust your milk supply.  This allows your baby to determine when he’s hungry and your body will adjust accordingly.  Also, let your baby breastfeed as long as he wants.  Offer both breasts with each feeding to establish good supply on each side.  Sleeping babies often don’t want to wake for feedings, especially newborns.  Some babies will “dream feed,” which is eating while sleeping, which will help ensure your baby eats every 2-3 hours during the day.  Otherwise you may have to employ some drill sergeant tactics to wake your baby for daytime feedings.

Being dehydrated, sick or taking certain medications can bust your breast milk production.  Breast milk has high water content so you’ll need to be hydrated to produce that fabulous milk.  But you don’t have to go overboard.  Drink a normal, healthy amount of water – 8 to 10 glasses a day – to quench your thirst.  Also, consult your doctor and pediatrician before starting new medications as they may interfere with milk supply. If you are sick, discuss alternatives to medications such as clearing sinuses with steam treatments or a netty pot rather than resorting to medication.

Some experts also believe that bottles and pacifiers may result in low milk supply because babies won’t be as efficient on the breast.  Breastfeeding is hard work for babies, whereas sucking on a bottle or a pacifier is relatively easy.  Inefficiently at the breast may reduce supply.  Depending on your situation and your baby, consider waiting to introduce bottles and pacifiers until your breast milk is well established.

Keep your supply healthy and avoid these breast milk production busters!



How to Produce More Breast Milk

If you’ve begun nursing you’ve probably occasionally had one of the breastfeeding mothers’ biggest concerns: is my baby getting enough milk?

It is important to remember that there are only a very small percent of mothers who cannot produce enough milk for their child and there are always steps to take to help produce more.

However, if you are feeling like your milk supply is a little low there are a few suggestions that could help you increase.


How to Produce More Breast Milk

  • Take care of yourself: Drink enough fluids and eat healthily. Never try dieting while you’re nursing, especially in the beginning when you are still forming your breast milk supply. You and your little one need you to stay healthy!


  • Nurse regularly, for as long as your baby will nurse: Nurse as frequently as possible and as often as your baby is hungry. The more you nurse, the better for you and your little one!


  • Offer your baby both of your breasts while feeding: ‘Switch nursing’ is incredibly helpful as it helps your baby to feed longer. When your child begins to slow down their suckling on your first breast, quickly switch them over to the second. Then switch again when their suckling begins to slow, until you have offered each breast twice.


  • Gently massage your breasts as you nurse: This helps the richer, high calorie milk let down more easily and stimulates breast milk flow.


In most normal cases a mother will always be able to produce enough milk for their hungry baby; but it is always helpful to be proactive and talk with a specialist to see what your options are if you are looking to increase your supply.


Make sure to talk with your lactation consultant to find the best course of action that is right for you. Every nursing mother is unique and specific recommendations or steps may be necessary.

How to Breastfeed Long Term and Maintain Consistent Breast Milk Production

How to Breastfeed Long Term and Maintain Consistent Breast Milk ProductionThe popular saying “go with the flow” was not intended to describe breastfeeding, but it’s a great reminder of how to keep your breast milk production consistent. Finding the right breastfeeding groove is a matter of figuring out what kind of storage capacity your breasts naturally have regarding producing and holding breast milk. After you’ve learned if you’re a heavy, moderate, or light breast milk producer, then you’ll want to come up with your “magic number” for the amount of times per day you should completely drain your breasts.

Certified Lactation Consultant Nancy Mohrbacher explained the “magic number” concept in a recent breastfeeding article that details the steps nursing mothers should take to maintain consistent breast milk supplies. Many new moms do not realize that when their breasts reach their maximum fullness then breast milk production naturally begins to slow down, so expressing breast milk or nursing your little one to effectively drain your breasts is key to continuing milk production.

If a mom’s “magic number” is 8 times a day (which Mohrbacher explains is a typical result for many nursing moms) then she must take care to express milk, pump, or breastfeed 8 times a day to maintain the same breast milk production. Her breast milk storage capacity will not change as time goes on, but the amount of milk she naturally produces is exactly the amount her baby needs for a healthy diet.

If your little one is breastfeeding less at home and you’re pumping the same amount at work, your breast milk production will be effected and slow down. Mohrbacher explains that many of the moms she works with do not take into account that as they introduce solids and reduce nursing sessions that their breast milk production is responding to less use. If you’re passionate about breastfeeding exclusively for a year or more, take care to consistently drain your breasts every day the same amount of times that worked for you when your little one was an infant. Your body takes its cues from your actions and will not continue to produce the same amount of breast milk if you’re steering your baby to other food sources.


Breastfeeding Report Card Update and New Mom Nursing Concerns

Breastfeeding Report Card Update and New Mom Nursing ConcernsAccording to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 37.7% of new moms are exclusively breastfeeding 3 months after giving birth. At 6 months after birth, the percentage drops to 16.4. What drives so many first time mothers to supplement with formula or abandon breastfeeding altogether? Even though the CDC’s 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card shows marked improvement in on-site hospital support systems, women are continuing to not breastfeeding for a full year.

A September 2013 Time article notes that women who worry about their breastfeeding abilities (including issues like proper latch and sufficient breast milk production) before their baby is born are more likely to switch to formula sooner than women who did not express similar concerns. Even though lactation and breastfeeding are often touted as “natural” actions a mother instinctively knows, there are facets about latching and breastfeeding that so often a new mom is not taught while in the hospital. Small, correctible issues might seem like larger deficiencies when a new mom is struggling with feeding her baby. If a new mom’s anxieties are not addressed by a medical professional (especially if there is no lactation consultant available) it is unsurprising that she would feel as though breastfeeding were a task too difficult to handle.

What can you do to help a new mom struggling to nurse? Volunteer your own experiences and any breastfeeding information that you picked up along the way. Anxiety grows in the absence of information, so by sharing your take on breastfeeding, you are helping to foster another mom’s confidence. Sore nipples, frequent feedings—these elements of the breastfeeding routine are draining on a first-time mom, so any advice and encouragement will go a long way in boosting her confidence!

Do you have any important breastfeeding advice you’d like to share? Leave us a note in the comments!