All About the Milk

Even before your baby is born, your breasts are making colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk your breasts will make, which can be thick and clear or yellowish in color.

What is Colostrum?

Colostrum:

  • Is high in protein, which is exactly what your baby needs in the first few days
  • Contains antibodies that protect baby from infections
  • Helps baby pass the dark, tarry stools he has in the first day or two.

Nurse your baby often in the first few days so he’ll get plenty of colostrum. It will also help your milk supply to come in.

During the first two weeks after birth, your milk will gradually change from colostrum to mature milk. Your milk also changes as your baby feeds. When your baby first begins a nursing session, he gets foremilk. Foremilk is lower in fat and higher in lactose, a milk sugar that is important for development. The foremilk quenches your baby’s thirst. As the feeding progresses, your milk transitions to hindmilk. Hindmilk is higher in fat, so it helps your baby feel full longer. During a feeding, it’s important not to switch breasts until your baby has had a chance to get the hindmilk from the first breast. Some people think of hindmilk as the baby’s dessert.

Supply & Demand Cycle

Breastfeeding is a supply and demand cycle – your breasts will make as much milk as your baby demands.

The first several weeks of breastfeeding are very important in determining how much milk your body will make. It’s as if your baby is placing his order for the amount of milk he will need to grow. Each time you feed your baby, you’re stimulating your body to make more milk.

How does it work?  Prolactin is the hormone that tells your body to make milk. In the first few weeks after your baby’s birth, your breasts grow special nerves (called receptors) that sense prolactin. The more your baby breastfeeds in the days and weeks right after her birth, the more prolactin receptors you will have. Having more prolactin receptors makes breastfeeding much easier; since these receptors will help your breasts make more or less milk based on your baby’s needs.

If you use bottles or pacifiers in the first few weeks, you’re missing chances to stimulate your milk production and risking setting your supply too low. Similarly, if you use formula in the early weeks, your milk supply may be set at a lower quantity than your baby needs.

Setting Your Supply

To make sure you set up your supply correctly, make you:

  • Nurse your baby whenever she is hungry, even if she has eaten very recently
  • Encourage your baby to fully empty each breast (and get the hindmilk) at each feeding
  • Do not give bottles or pacifiers (in addition to reducing your supply, these can also cause nipple confusion)
  • Do not supplement with formula or artificial milk
  • Do not end feedings early – let your baby tell you when he is done