How your body prepares to breastfeed:
- In the first trimester, breast tissue begins multiplying to support milk production. You may notice that your breasts are tender when this happens.
- As the second trimester of your pregnancy begins, your breasts begin to develop milk ducts and glands that make it possible to produce colostrum. You may experience some 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.
Your breastmilk has multiple stages
Also referred to as "first milk," colostrum has more benefits than most people realize. After giving birth, your very first drops of colostrum provide a boost to help your baby build a strong immune system. Each feeding over the next 3 to 5 days will be rich in proteins, vitamins, prebiotics, immunoglobulins and fatty acids, especially suited for your newborn. Colostrum is a yellowish or creamy color and thicker than the “transitional milk”.
Colostrum turns into "transitional milk," which lasts about 2 weeks. The levels and types of fat, carbohydrate, and protein are adjusting to keep up with your baby's evolving nutritional needs. Vitamin and mineral levels, enzymes and protective antibodies also change in transitional milk at this time.
From about the time your baby is 4 weeks old, your breastmilk is fully mature, and generally won't change much from here on out. It has higher water content for hydration, but with the right balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates needed for your baby's growth. Breastmilk changes over the course of a feeding, so that the first milk—called foremilk—is thinner, and the milk produced at the end of a feeding—called hindmilk—is higher in fat.
A breastfeeding timeline
Every mother and baby has their own breastfeeding relationship that matures with each feeding. Here’s a typical timeline of what the two of you may experience.
Week 1: Frequent feedings
Your breasts will secrete colostrum for 3 to 5 days after you give birth. 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.
If you're having trouble getting your baby to latch on, or have questions about your milk supply, reach out to a lactation consultant or ask your OB to help identify one. Your baby's pediatrician may also have resources that may help you.
Week 2: Getting used to breastfeeding
You'll become more comfortable because your little one latches 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, and your body will respond by producing the amount of milk your baby needs.