Breast Milk: Behind The Scenes

What if there was a special drink you could give to your baby that never had to be heated, prepped or stored? Better yet, what if it delivered the exact amount of fat, vitamins and minerals needed at just the right time? Now imagine that drink could protect your precious newborn from allergies, bad bacteria, viruses and even cancer. It even helps develop your growing newborn’s hair, skin, brain and organs properly. Would you believe this is exactly what breast milk does?

For nine months, your body carries and provides for your growing baby giving her what she needs, when she needs it. Breast milk does just that to ensure that nourishment continues post-delivery.

So how is breast milk made?

Breast milk is created using a hormone called “prolactin”. During your pregnancy, you have higher levels of progesterone, a hormone that actually hinders your body’s ability to make milk. After you deliver the placenta, which follows delivering baby, those high levels of progesterone go down while prolactin goes up. This process takes about three days. In the meantime, you produce colostrum, a thick, nutrient dense, calorie dense version of milk that fully satisfies your newborn’s needs. By the way, did you know a newborn’s stomach is only the size of a bouncy ball?!? Not very much can be consumed at once, how convenient. Many refer to colostrum as “liquid gold” or “baby’s first shot”. It comes as no surprise that this small amount of golden milk packs a punch. With this colostrum, the baby’s immune system becomes strong, in fact, so strong that if you were sick, your baby would be protected even with the endless cuddling and kisses you smack on her face. Around three days old, her stomach grows about the size of a ping pong ball, holding just shy of an ounce at 26 milliliters. What great timing, because this is also when your milk comes in. As she grows, so does your supply, think supply and demand. Now, what’s even more fascinating is how your baby communicates with your body. As the baby latches on to the breast, her saliva contacts the areola (the darker area around the nipple). Her saliva then communicates to your brain telling you what she needs, when she needs it! Wow! In your milk there are vitamins, minerals, anti- viruses, anti- allergies, antibiotics, anti- cancer (HAMLET), anti- parasites, enzymes, disease- fighting stem cells, hormones, pre and probiotics, amino acids, fat, carbs, protein, water and growth factors. Whew, that’s an impressive resume. Anyone else amazed?

So let’s recap. First, you make colostrum, the perfect snack for every sleepy newborn. After three days, breast milk comes in and continues to provide what your baby needs to develop. As your baby eats more your supply follows. This ever- changing breast milk customizes itself every hour and every day to ensure it makes just the right amount of milk with just the right amount of nutrients at just the right time! What a great team you two make! Be proud, this is the power of your body and baby. Ready? Breastfeed!

Written by: Dolly Weikert, Breastfeeding Peer Counselor for NC WIC

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