Starting milk production: the first few days
Breastfeeding itself doesn’t change the appearance of your breasts; the changes are primarily due to carrying a baby and having your milk come in.
Breasts naturally prepare for breastfeeding throughout pregnancy (see Breasts). This preparation culminates at childbirth, when hormones send the signal to start milk production.
Whether you have small or large breasts, long or short nipples, they are designed to produce milk and feed your baby. There is nothing you need to do to prepare your breasts for breastfeeding. Whether your baby arrives early, on time or late, you will have milk for her.
Colostrum: your first milk
The first few days after your baby’s birth are very important for initiating breastfeeding and starting milk production.
Your first milk (colostrum) is thick and yellowish in colour, and contains just what your newborn needs. You may feel like you’re not producing much milk, but when your baby nurses, she gets small quantities that are ideally suited to her little stomach.
During this learning period, it’s normal for your baby to nurse very often. She was nourished constantly when she was in your womb. As the days go by, she will get used to this new method of feeding.
Stimulating the breasts by nursing at least 8 times every 24 hours helps get milk production off to a good start. It also helps prevent your breasts from getting engorged (see Engorgement). If your baby isn’t ready to nurse, you can stimulate your breasts by expressing milk manually or with a breast pump (see Producing a good supply of milk).
When your breast milk “comes in”
Between the second and fifth day after giving birth, milk production increases rapidly and the milk becomes clearer. This is known as having your milk “come in.” It is caused by hormonal changes and happens in all women, whether they breastfeed or not. For more information on this increase in milk production, see When your milk comes in.
The composition of breast milk
Breast milk composition changes throughout the breastfeeding period to adapt to baby’s needs and age.
Breast milk is made up of proteins, sugars, and all the fats a baby needs, including omega 3 fatty acids that support brain and eye development. It provides each baby with the exact amount of vitamins and minerals they need to develop, with the exception of vitamin D (see Vitamin D: Not your ordinary vitamin!). What’s more, it contains enzymes that facilitate digestion.
Breast milk has antibodies that help baby fight infections and develop her immune system. It is also rich in good bacteria that are thought to provide her with lifelong protection.
To date, over 200 components have been identified in human milk. Certain factors influence the composition and taste of breast milk (see What influences the composition of milk).