Breastfeeding is so much more than providing nutrition. While breastfeeding, the baby gazes at the mother’s face, gets her warmth, her love and attention, feels secure, loved and it strengthens the bond of love between the mom and her baby. Breastfeeding involves so many emotions on the part of both the mom and the baby, besides being the best known way to provide nutrition to a newborn.
Knowing the importance of breastfeeding, moms-to-be should have the necessary knowledge and information about it, so that they happily breastfeed their baby, without much worries or questions.
It is amazing how the mother’s body prepares itself for breastfeeding all through pregnancy to the baby’s birth. During pregnancy, right from darkening of the aerola, increased blood supply towards the breasts, to increased breast tenderness and heaviness, and internal increase in number of alveoli (where milk is produced inside the breasts), all indicate the onset of milk production for the newborn.
Role of hormones
Hormones play a vital role during pregnancy and birth in controlling milk production and development of breasts during pregnancy. Some important hormones are:
Prolactin: Plays an important role in developing the breasts for milk production. During pregnancy, it helps increase the number of alveoli and in development of ducts and other important structures inside the breasts, which are required for milk production, storage and feeding. The level of prolactin in the body rises at the time of baby’s birth.
Estrogen: A very important hormone required for development of milk ducts, and stops breast milk from forming during pregnancy (lactation inhibitor), and estrogen levels drop after the baby’s birth for first 5-6 months, in order to facilitate milk production.
Progesterone: This hormone is secreted by the placenta into the mother’s body. It also helps in structural growth of alveoli, and acts as a lactation inhibitor during pregnancy. Its levels drop when the baby is born, and prolactin gets to work.
Around the 25th week of pregnancy, the mother’s body begins production of colostrum, yellowish and thick milk which is very nutritive and beneficial for the newborn. It contains antibodies, nutrients in a concentrated form and is high in protein. It also helps the newborn pass his/her first stool. It contains elements that stimulate and aid the newborn’s immune system, and elements responsible for healthy cellular division and growth. It is high in immunoglobin A or IgA that helps protect the baby’s digestive system from pathogens, and also helps the digestive system to mature. Some amount of colostrum may also leak from breasts during pregnancy.
Changes in Breast Milk
The first milk the baby receives is colostrum, which is a concentrated form to provide nutrients to the baby, because the newborn at first cannot consume a lot of milk. From colostrum the milk gradually changes its form depending on the baby’s needs. Right after the baby’s birth, it takes around 40 hours for the breast milk to gain its full flow. The mother’s milk contains all the important nutrients the baby requires for a healthy growth and development. If the mother’s diet is lacking some nutrients, the mother’s body takes the required nutrients from her body reserves.
The alveoli inside the breasts are responsible for production and storage of milk. When the baby begins suckling, the nerves send signals to the brain to release oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates muscles around the alveoli to push the milk out towards the ducts and further towards milk sacs. From there the milk reaches the nipples. The production of milk increases with increase in milk ejection from the alveoli. Oxytocin is also known to be released by thoughts and stimuli like crying baby or wanting to feed.
During feeding, the mother’s milk at first is thin and watery, which helps quench the baby’s thirst, but gradually becomes thick and creamy to satisfy the baby’s hunger.
Ready to Breastfeed?
During pregnancy, a mom-to-be should gently squeeze the nipples and release the blockage at the nipple opening. There are small pores from where the breast milk comes out, and blockage of the pores can be uncomfortable for both the mother and the baby, besides hindering breastfeeding.
Don not expect the breast milk to start flowing just after the baby’s birth, it may take 2-3 days to get a full flow.
Another important point is to ensure proper latching. The baby should take most of the aerola inside the mouth and not just the nipples. Wrong latching can lead to sore nipples and difficulty in suckling for the baby. While beginning breastfeeding, it is good to ensure the baby’s mouth is open enough to take in the nipple and aerola for proper latching.
Breastfeeding position is also important for comfort. There are many breastfeeding accessories like special pillows for supporting the baby’s head or the mother’s arm while breastfeeding.
The most common breastfeeding position is where the mom supports the baby’s head, facing the breast, where the baby’s legs are near the other breast, and the inner forearm supports the baby’s head and body. The mother would need to place a pillow under her elbow where she supports the baby’s head, and the other hand is free to ensure proper latching or support the baby’s body.
Another position is sideways laying position, where the mother lies on the side from where she wants to feed the baby, and supports the baby to face the breast and take the feed. This is a comparatively comfortable position to breastfeed.
More information will be added soon on – Reasons for low milk production, invert nipples, sore nipples, storage of breast-milk, breastfeeding accessories, breastfeeding in public places, common problems, excess milk production, what’s safe and what’s not.
The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk by Diana West, IBCLC, and Lisa Marasco, M.A., IBCLC[ratings]