Join us in part 1 of a 4-part series on breastfeeding!
Breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience for both mother and baby. While providing the best nutrition for baby, breastfeeding also provides comfort for the baby and allows both mama and baby to bond in an incredible way. However, breast milk production remains a mystery to many! Many wonder how and when this “liquid gold” begins to develop.
Milk production begins during pregnancy. Hormones signal the production of early breast milk, called colostrum, around week 10-14. Breasts enlarge; areolae enlarge and darken; and Montgomery glands become more prominent.
The release of the placenta causes a drop in progesterone and an increase in prolactin. These, along with other hormonal changes, stimulate an increase in volume of milk and mature milk production 2-5 days after birth. After this time, milk production is no longer a hormonally-driven process. Milk production becomes dependent on supply and demand. When milk is removed from the breast, more milk is then produced.
How is milk produced?
In order for milk production to occur, the hormone prolactin must be present. In each alveoli are lactocytes, which are the milk-producing cells of the alveoli. On the walls of each lactocyte are prolactin receptor sites. Prolactin travels to these receptor sites and stimulate breast milk production. When the alveolus is full of milk, prolactin is unable to reach these receptor sites, so milk production isn’t signaled to occur. Once the milk is taken out, prolactin is again able to reach these receptor sites and signal breast milk production. Simply put, when milk is removed from the breast, more milk is produced.