How Mum’s body makes Milk
The mother’s body gets the signal to make milk once her placenta is out of her body. In a normal birth, it is pushed out while in a c-section, it is removed after the baby is taken out. When the placenta is out, the body notices a shift in hormones. In fact, the body is now aware that the baby needs nutrition from another source since the placenta is out.
Immediately, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone decline rapidly in the moments after delivery. Parallely, the level of the hormone prolactin (one of the hormones responsible for lactation) immediately increases. This activates the milk-producing cells of mum’s breasts.
Milk production has begun! But, wait, it is not entirely done. One more activity is needed to get the milk flowing. This activity is the suckling of the baby.
When the baby feeds at the breast, the mother’s prolactin level increases, increasing milk production. A circular movement starts: that of demand and supply. When the baby empties your breast, more production starts in the breast to fulfil the demand.
If you don’t feed consistently, feed for only a brief period, or the baby is not able to suckle, milk production decreases.
What makes the milk flow?
The single most important function that affects the success of breastfeeding is the letdown reflex, which allows the milk to flow. Let-down occurs when your baby suckles, prompting the release of the hormone oxytocin, which in turn stimulates that milk flow. As the mother gets into the groove of regular feeding, something spectacular happens. She will get a flow of the milk even on hearing the baby crying or even thinking about feeding the baby.
Milk composition goes through changes
While formula milk has a constant composition, breast milk is not the same. It changes during the feeding session and also changes as the baby grows.
The first milk to flow when your baby starts suckling is the foremilk. This milk is called the “thirst quencher”. It is very thin. It does not fill the baby but it satisfies his need for hydration.
As the nursing session progresses, the mother’s breast gives out hindmilk. This milk is high in protein, fat, and calories. If the nurshing session is too short, or the mother switches breasts too early.
To make sure your little one gets his or her fill of nourishment, wait until one breast is well drained before starting the other.
How to know that a breast is well-drained
It is not that difficult for a mother to know that her breast is well drained. It feels lighter. The milk flow also reduces from a gush to a trickle.
An ideal breastfeeding session
Just like a sportsperson needs practice, mum also needs practice for breastfeeding. The good news is that once she has had some practice, she will get very comfortable with it.
So, in the beginning, make sure that you have a comfortable spot, with medium lighting, and quiet. Focus on feeding. Watch the baby as you feed. Make sure she is latching well.
Try sitting on a sofa or armchair or lie propped in bed. Use a pillow on your lap to position the baby. If you hold the baby without any support, you will end up giving yourself achy shoulders and arms.
If you’re sitting up, a pillow across your lap (or a specially designed breastfeeding pillow) will help raise your baby to a comfortable height. Plus, if you’ve had a caesarean, the pillow prevents the baby from putting pressure on the incision site.
Make sure, too, that your arms are propped up on a pillow or chair arms—trying to hold baby
Have healthy snacks before breastfeeding (check our section on recipes) and make sure you drink water, fresh juices as well.