The stages of lactation

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  • The first milk—known as colostrum—can begin to produce as early as 16 to 20 weeks into pregnancy.
  • The birth of your baby and the act of breastfeeding begins the milk flow of colostrum.
  • Colostrum begins to transition after the first 3 to 5 days of breastfeeding with the surge of mature milk.
  • Exclusively breastfeeding during the first 4 to 6 weeks helps promote good breastmilk production for the duration of your breastfeeding experience.

Your body goes through huge changes during and after pregnancy, and it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what to expect. Our experts at Gerber hope to help guide you through your breastfeeding experience.

How your body prepares to breastfeed:

  • In the first trimester, breast tissue begins multiplying to support milk production for the ability to breastfeed. Tender-feeling breasts are the first physical signs you will notice when this begins to happen.
  • As the second trimester of your pregnancy begins, the breasts have begun to develop milk ducts and glands that make it possible to produce colostrum. You may experience some of this milk leaking out at times, but don’t be alarmed. This is just another sign that your body is making the right changes to prepare to nourish your baby. 
  • Your baby’s birth triggers the initial hormone changes to prepare for the first feeding. The pituitary gland in your brain secretes the hormone, prolactin, which stimulates the glands in your breasts to produce milk.
  • When your baby begins to breastfeed, the suckling motion triggers your brain to release oxytocin. This hormone stimulates your milk flow.

A breastfeeding timeline

Every mother-baby pair has their own breastfeeding relationship that matures with each feeding. Here’s a typical timeline of what’s often experienced when breastfeeding.

Week 1: Frequent feedings
3 to 5 days after you give birth, your breasts secrete a thick, yellowish, translucent fluid called colostrum. This is the first milk, which is high in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antibodies. 

Your breastmilk changes
After 3 to 5 days of breastfeeding, transitional milk develops. This marks the change from first milk to mature breastmilk. As the mature milk comes in, your breasts may become very full and feel tender. Continuing to breastfeed every 2 to 3 hours for a minimum of eight feedings a day will help support a good supply. Try not to skip feedings or wait too long in between feedings.

Frequent feedings are important because it helps your body establish milk production and synchronize to your baby’s needs.

Week 2: Breastfeeding becomes more comfortable
You’re more comfortable because she’s latching on better, your position is more comfortable, and milk production should be well on its way. This will also be about the time of your baby's first growth spurt, so be prepared for an increased feeding demand. 

Week 6: A healthier you
By the sixth week, you’ll feel physically stronger and should be reasonably recovered from giving birth. Feeding only breastmilk during the first six weeks has allowed for your body to produce the right amount of breastmilk at each feeding. You will begin to feel less breast fullness and tenderness between feedings.

Week 12: Breastfeeding becomes second nature
At this stage, you’re a breastfeeding pro—but don’t be alarmed when your baby begins to request more frequent or longer feedings. Your baby’s periodic growth spurts will trigger an increased appetite. 

Top Tip

When you breastfeed, your body will use your stored nutrients to provide quality breastmilk for your baby, even if your diet isn’t perfect. Be sure to eat a healthy diet as often as possible.

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