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How is Milk Produced?

mom holding babyMilk is produced in the mammary glands and carried through ducts. Women can have between 3 – 10 ductal openings in each nipple for transfer of milk. Not all release milk at the same time.

When the baby starts to nurse, nerves in the nipple are stimulated and impulses are sent to the brain for milk production and milk release. As the pituitary gland receives these nerve messages, the prolactin hormone is released and milk is produced in the alveolar cells of the breast. The oxytocin hormone is also released and it contracts the muscles around the alveolar cells and forces milk down through the milk ducts. This is called letdown. Being relaxed while breastfeeding is important since stress and tension can inhibit the release of these hormones. When letdown occurs, milk may drip from the other breast.

Influences on Milk Production

The delivery of the placenta initiates milk production. The continued production of milk is influenced by many things including:

  • Hormones influence both production and release (or letdown) of milk. Prolactin causes milk production and oxytocin causes milk release.
  • Stress may inhibit letdown and/or the amount of milk being produced. Relax, get comfortable, and avoid interruptions, if possible, when breastfeeding.
  • Drugs may come through breast milk and/or affect milk production. Check with your doctor or lactation consultant before taking any medications. Many medications are safe while breastfeeding.
  • Smoking can decrease milk supply and increase risks for early weaning. Smokers should breastfeed frequently. Smoke after breastfeeding to reduce the tobacco-related chemicals in your blood and milk. Smoke away from your baby.
  • Nutrition is important for you to provide a satisfactory diet for your baby. Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Breastfeeding may increase a mother’s thirst. Drink fluids to avoid thirst.
  • Frequency of breastfeeding in the first two weeks is important in establishing an adequate milk supply. Nurse your baby 8-12 times in a 24-hour period (every 1 ½– 3 hours). After the baby is two weeks old and back to birth weight or better, let him/her set the schedule.
  • Milk Supply matches your baby’s demand. Allow your baby to nurse 10 – 20 minutes per breast for the removal of foremilk (“appetizer”) and the rich hindmilk (“main course of the meal”) to ensure baby’s satiety and weight gain.

Nutrition

Eating a well-balanced diet is important. This includes vegetables, fruit, milk, breads, and cereals. You should also eat four servings of protein daily. Protein foods are milk, meat, cheese, eggs, dried beans, and peas. You need to eat 500 calories per day more than you needed before pregnancy.

Other guidelines include:

  • Extra amounts of vitamins.
  • Ask your obstetrician about continuing your prenatal vitamins (or other good quality vitamins). Increase calcium to 1,200 mg/day, eating 4-5 servings of calcium rich foods. Some good sources of calcium include milk, milk products, dark green or yellow vegetables, and nuts. If you are unable to get enough calcium in your diet, you may need a calcium supplement.
  • Drink extra fluids. You should drink 8 – 10, eight ounce glasses per day. A good habit is to drink a glass of water, juice, or milk each time you breastfeed. Limit your intake of caffeine (coffee, tea, and cola) to one to two eight-ounce servings per day for your first few weeks of breastfeeding.
  • Limit certain foods. Sometimes a food in the mother’s diet may increase baby’s fussiness. These foods may include milk, eggs, nuts and caffeine containing food and drinks (tea, coffee, sodas, and chocolate). If your baby is fussy, limiting these foods in your diet may be helpful in reducing fussiness, particularly if there is a family history of food allergies.