So how does breastfeeding work?
Sometimes breastfeeding can be scary. It’s really the unknown that frightens us.
- Will it hurt?
- Will it be hard for me?
- What if I have problems breastfeeding?
But when we understand what’s happening, and why, we’re put at ease.
Let me assure you right from the very beginning that breastfeeding is the most normal and natural thing in the world. We are literally built for it!
And for MOST women, breastfeeding is rather easy to do.
If you find that it is a little painful, as it usually is at first, take comfort knowing that it’s not an overwhelming pain. It causes a little discomfort and it will fade with practice.
It’s best not to anticipate that you’ll have problems, but if you do, you have a huge support network to tap. I’ll be doing my best to cover as many problems and challenges as I can, but you can also contact a professional lactation consultant or your local La Leche League chapter for guidance.
✅ If you’re a visual learner, like me, I encourage you to check out these breastfeeding training videos produced by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant!
Before we get to it, know that you’ll read about what most moms can expect and I’ve done my best to cover everything here, but every woman, every pregnancy, and every baby is different!
How Does Breastfeeding Work – Getting Ready to Breastfeed
Your body starts getting ready to breastfeed way before Baby is born. Your breasts begin to change just a few weeks into your pregnancy.
Around 5 or 6 weeks, your breasts are becoming fuller and you may notice more sensitivity – particularly your nipples, which – along with the areola – have become enlarged and have darkened.
Small bumps around the nipple begin to appear. These are Montgomery’s Glands. They secrete a substance that cleanses and lubricates in preparation for breastfeeding (this miracle solution also prevents soreness!)
Around your third month of pregnancy, hormones begin working their magic; milk ducts and gland-producing cells begin rapid development.
Fatty and supportive breast tissue is replaced by glandular tissue necessary for producing breastmilk. This is about the time you’ll notice that your breast size has increased.
By the end of the second trimester, all preparation is complete and your body is ready to nurse your baby.
✅ With just a few months of pregnancy to go, if your baby is born a little early, you are still ready to breastfeed!
How Does Breastfeeding Work – The Process of Feeding Your Baby
Here’s how the actual process of breastfeeding works.
When your baby’s mouth is brought to your nipple and baby latches on, your brain is signaled to release oxytocin, a feel-good hormone which causes the contraction of muscle cells in your breast.
This contraction squeezes milk from milk-producing cells, drawing the milk down milk ducts to small sinuses near the nipples.
As baby nurses, milk is drawn from the sinuses, through the nipple.
Oxytocin production increases, causing more milk to flow. This is known as the let-down reflex.
Breastfeeding Begins Immediately After Birth
“How soon should I start breastfeeding my baby?”
Plan on your first breastfeeding session within the first hour of birth. When Baby’s born, he’ll be dried off and placed with you for warmth – and he’ll be awake, alert, and instinctively ready to nurse.
It’s a good idea to make it clear to any health professionals that your baby isn’t to be given water, formula, or a pacifier unless it’s medically necessary.
Make it a priority to be calm, which benefits you and Baby, and know that you and your baby know and have everything you need for the first feeding and beyond.
A full-term, healthy baby doesn’t need food or liquids for 24-36 hours, so this is a great time to practice, practice, practice.
Luckily, when babies have skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, they instinctively seek out mom’s breast and intuitively begin suckling. So try reclining with your baby on your tummy and see what happens!
And how does breastfeeding work after a C-section? Reclining with Baby on top isn’t an option, but there are other breastfeeding positions you can practice that will work for you!
Take comfort knowing that most moms don’t struggle or have any problems getting started with nursing. So relax! Educate yourself, get support from family and friends, and know that you can request the help of a lactation consultant (on staff at some hospitals and available privately, as well) or your local La Leche League leader.
Meeting Baby’s Needs
A beautiful benefit of breastfeeding is that your body will produce enough milk to meet the needs of your baby, no matter what.
No matter what!
Breast-size doesn’t determine how much milk you produce – your baby does by intuitively showing you when it’s time to feed and by satisfying his own hunger when nursing.
How often and how long baby feeds determines your supply. The more Baby drinks, the more milk you produce; the less Baby drinks, the less you produce.
During the first few days, your breasts produce colostrum and that’s all your baby needs. His tiny tummy only holds a little bit right now.
Then, after a few days, your milk comes in. You’ll know it because you see it or because you notice that your breasts have firmed up. Don’t worry if it doesn’t happen exactly 3 days after birth – it can take a couple of weeks even, but it will happen.
It’s a good idea to have a backup plan in case you need to work on upping your supply. ✅ You can do that by getting a good quality breast pump like this one.
Baby’s Here – Time to Shine, Mama!
After Baby arrives, you’ll notice that your nipples continue to be very sensitive – maybe more than before!
Your body is now producing colostrum, the first milk your baby will have. This substance is thick, yellow to orange in color, full of the nutrients your baby needs in his early days and is easy to digest.
Probably not what you’re expecting (colostrum looks a lot different than breast milk), this first food is essential for your baby’s nutrition and development.
Sometime during the first couple weeks after birth, your mature milk will come in. Mature milk is thinner and the amount you produce increases. This new type of nourishment has a different composition than colostrum but is still the perfect food for your baby.
Here are some tips to make the first few weeks easier:
- Feed your baby often and on-demand – at least 8-12 times (maybe more) every 24 hours
- Be patient – not every mom and baby team get it right away; just keep practicing
- To get breastfeeding established, avoid bottles and pacifiers for the first month or so and pump to increase your supply, if necessary.
- Get support
How Does Breastfeeding Work – Wrapping Up
How does breastfeeding work? Automatically. Naturally. Intuitively. Immediately. And for some…eventually.
Best case scenario – and most likely – you and baby pick it up quickly and find your stride easily.
If you find yourself facing challenges, know that persistence pays off and that you can find the solution that’s best for you and your baby.
==> Are you planing on breastfeeding your baby? Have you breastfed before? Tell me more about your experience and insights – or just drop a question – in the comments!