WHAT HELPS BREAST MILK COME IN?
Your breasts are already making the perfect first food when your baby is born. It is the early milk called colostrum. Still, most new moms are anxious to start producing mature milk. They often ask me what helps breast milk come in.
You can definitely do things in those early days after birth that can help your milk come in faster. There are also things you want to avoid, if possible, that could make it take longer.
WHEN DOES BREAST MILK PRODUCTION START?
Your breasts start making colostrum around the 16th week of pregnancy. You may even begin leaking some in your third trimester.
While producing colostrum is reassuring, it is not a predictor of a mom’s milk supply. Leaking colostrum also is not an indicator of how quickly your milk will come in after your baby is born.
Your body will start making the transition from producing colostrum to making mature milk, typically between 48 and 72 hours after birth.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MATURE MILK AND COLOSTRUM
Colostrum is high in protein, fats, and antibodies. It can be yellow or even clear. It tends to be thick and sticky. Colostrum has a laxative effect that helps your baby pass the meconium that is in their bowels at birth. It also helps establish good bacteria in their gut. It’s called liquid gold because it gives your baby’s immune system a giant boost.
As your breasts start making more milk, there is a period of about two weeks when you make transitional milk. It has more calories than colostrum and is produced in greater volumes. It is often a deep yellow color and may have a slightly thicker consistency than mature milk. Think half and half.
By two weeks, your milk is considered mature and will often look white but may change colors depending on the time of day or when you pump. Other things can affect the color of your milk also.
WHAT MAKES BREAST MILK COME IN?
The main thing that tells your body it is time to switch from making colostrum to transitional and mature milk is the shift in hormones that occurs when your placenta is delivered. Estrogen and progesterone levels decrease dramatically, and prolactin levels increase.
These fluctuations in hormone levels cause the milk to come in. That is why a woman who never breastfeeds will still make milk initially.
What happens to your breasts after birth will affect how quickly you shift from making colostrum to transitional and then mature milk, as well as how much milk you produce.
BEST WAYS TO HELP BREAST MILK COME IN
It is actually relatively easy for a nursing mom to help with this process. Breastfeeding early and often are two key things that will get your milk flowing.
Start by doing skin to skin right after your baby is born. It helps your baby adjust to his new environment outside of the womb.
He won’t want to breastfeed immediately after birth. You will want to watch for his cues that tell you he is ready to breastfeed. We call those feeding or hunger cues. When he shows those cues, he may self-attach to your breast if he is in a good position. Or, you can reposition him and help him onto the breast
Feed your baby whenever you see those early feeding cues.
Continue doing skin to skin. It helps stimulate the hormones that make milk.
SKIN TO SKIN CONTACT
Skin-to-skin contact with your new baby is the best thing you can do right after birth. It is so important that it is one of the Ten Steps To Successful Breastfeeding in the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.
Research has also shown that it helps a mom produce more milk which indicates that it stimulates prolactin (Source).
Skin to skin is also associated with increased oxytocin levels (Source).
GET A GOOD LATCH
A good latch does three things.
- It helps ensure that breastfeeding is comfortable for you.
- Your baby will get more colostrum/milk out when he is properly latched.
- A good latch provides optimum stimulation of the milk-making and milk-giving hormones prolactin and oxytocin.
There is often a period in the early days when breastfeeding may cause some nipple tenderness for many moms. It should not be toe-curling pain.
- Any discomfort should only happen when you first latch your baby.
- Discomfort should only last 2-30 seconds.
- It should not be intense discomfort.
- Sucking should feel like a tugging sensation. It should not feel like it is pinching.
- Your nipple should be round when your baby comes off your breast. It is not normal for it to be flattened, creased, or lipstick-shaped.
If you are experiencing discomfort that is more than what I described, or even if you are wondering if what you are feeling is within the range of what is expected, then I encourage you to talk to a lactation consultant.
FEED FREQUENTLY IN THE EARLY DAYS
This is probably the easiest way to get your milk to come. How much your baby feeds tells your body how much milk it should make.
If you have a baby who is showing feeding cues at least every three hours, you should nurse on demand. If your baby is sleepy, you may need to encourage more frequent feeding.
When you are in the hospital, you should keep your baby in your room all of the time. The exception would be if you are under the influence of pain medication that results in you being unable to respond to your baby, and you have no one to stay with you and help.
When you go home, you want to keep your baby close by most of the time so you can respond to his signs of hunger. If a baby gets to the point where he is crying from hunger, he has reached a state where he is disorganized and will have a difficult time latching. He may not feed as well if crying has tired him out.
MAKE SURE YOU’RE DRINKING ENOUGH FLUIDS
Staying hydrated is essential for making enough milk.
One of my favorite tips for moms is always to have a water bottle next to them. Easy access will make it more convenient to drink plenty of water.
Because your arms will often be full with your baby, you will want to place water bottles all over the house. Make this part of your daily routine. Prepare them the first thing in the morning. Put them in the places where you breastfeed.
The Hydracy Water Bottle makes it super easy to see how much you are drinking as the day goes on.
If you are not a fan of drinking plain water, you can add lemon or cucumber, or fruit to it. Adding an electrolyte solution is another way to make drinking water more enticing.
I put Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier in my water. It has made a huge difference in helping me drink more.
EAT LACTOGENIC FOODS
Certain foods have a reputation for supporting a good milk supply.
If you are craving a sweet treat, lactation cookies can satisfy that craving and may help your milk supply. You can buy them pre-made or make your own to minimize sugar.
The Milkmakers Lactation Cookie Bites are very popular with moms. They have over 21,000 reviews on Amazon and a 4.5 out of 5 star rating.
EXPECTED WET DIAPERS AND DIRTY DIAPERS IN THE FIRST WEEK
Counting diapers is a good way to know that your baby is getting enough to eat in the early days of breastfeeding.
For the first three days, your baby should have as many wet diapers as days old she is and at least one bowel movement each day until the milk comes in.
If your milk is not in by the third day, your little one should have a wet diaper every eight hours until the milk comes in. A baby who is not having an adequate number of diapers needs to be supplemented.
When your milk volume increases, the number of diapers will increase also.
If you have no signs of your milk coming in by the fourth day, you should add some pumping sessions into your feeding routine and contact a lactation consultant.
The milk is said to be delayed if it is not in by the fifth day.
KNOW WHEN YOU SHOULD EXPRESS MILK
If your baby is of average size and eating frequently, you don’t need to pump unless you have a risk factor for a low milk supply.
However, there are situations when doing hand expression and using a breast pump will help your milk come in and encourage an abundant milk supply.
- Premature baby – start pumping as soon as possible. Research shows your first pumping session should be within one hour of birth (Source).
- A sleepy baby who is not eating frequently enough or long enough.
- Your baby is small. Little babies sometimes stimulate little milk supplies. I advise moms to pump 4-6 times a day right after breastfeeding if their baby weighs less than 6 # 8 ounces.
- History of low milk supply with a previous child
- Delay in baby starting to breastfeed. If your baby is healthy and average weight but hasn’t started breastfeeding by 12 hours, it is a good idea to start pumping every 2-3 hours until your baby is feeding regularly.
HAND EXPRESSION HELPS BREAST MILK COME IN
Moms who combine hand expression with pumping produce more milk (Source). Doing hand expression in addition to breastfeeding or pumping may encourage your milk to come in.
Once your milk does come in, take steps to minimize engorgement. Breasts that get hard with no relief every few hours can put your milk supply in jeopardy.
AVERAGE AMOUNT OF MILK PRODUCED IN THE FIRST WEEK
- 1st 24 hours – about 1 ounce (30 ml). Baby will get 1/2 teaspoon to 2 teaspoons at each feeding
- 2nd 24 hours – 1 teaspoon to 1/2 ounce
- 3rd 24 hours – 1/2 – 1 ounce
A mom’s milk usually comes in between 48 to 72 hours. Her milk production will rapidly increase over the next few days. By the end of the first week, most moms are producing about 10 to 20 ounces each day.
Your baby may not need as much as you are producing at first. Over the next couple of weeks, the amount of milk you make will adjust to what your baby needs.
WHY MOMS THINK THEY DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MILK
It’s common for new moms to worry they aren’t making enough in those first few days. But the small amount of colostrum is the perfect amount for your baby’s tiny tummy.
Babies nurse frequently in the days before your milk comes in. This can make a mom worry that her baby wants to eat so often because he is not getting full.
Breastfeeding is more than just a way for babies to get food. It provides comfort and helps a baby feel safe as they adapt to their new environment.
Another common reason moms think they don’t have enough milk is they may not see a lot if they are pumping in the first few days.
When a mom pumps during the colostrum phase, she may only see a few drops. Babies tend to be more efficient at getting milk out than pumps, especially colostrum, which is thick and sticky.
Comparing your baby’s feeding behavior to an older baby who goes longer between feeds is bound to cause anxiety.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY NEWBORN IS GETTING ENOUGH BREAST MILK
These signs are reassuring that your baby is getting what she needs from breastfeeding before your milk comes in:
- Baby is eating at least eight times every 24-hours.
- You can hear or see your baby swallowing at least every 4-5 sucks.
- Your baby is having the minimum number of wet and dirty diapers.
- Your baby’s mouth is moist.
- Her temperature is normal.
MISTAKES IN EARLY DAYS THAT CAN CAUSE LOW MILK SUPPLY
Breast milk supply generally works on a supply and demand basis. The more stimulation your breasts get, the more milk they will make. While there are certainly exceptions to this, it is usually true.
Anything that decreases the amount of time your baby spends at the breast can result in a reduced supply.
Unless medically indicated, you should not give your baby formula. Formula takes longer for a baby to digest, and not only will you miss that feeding, but it will take longer for your baby to want to feed again.
Some moms worry when their little one wants to eat very frequently, it is a sign that they are not getting enough from breastfeeding. Frequent feeding is normal, healthy behavior in the days before your milk comes in. We like to say your baby is putting in her order.
When you breastfeed, let your baby decide how long a nursing session should last. If he is sucking vigorously, don’t take him off.
He does not need to spend an equal amount of time on both breasts. Offer the second side when he is finished with the first side. If he has fallen asleep, you can try changing his diaper.
It’s okay if he doesn’t want the second side, but it’s good to offer it in the early days. Sometimes, a baby will seem sleepy, but they perk up and latch on when they are put next to the breast.
If there is a medical indication to supplement, you should use a breast pump any time your baby is supplemented.
You also should avoid pacifiers. If your baby wants to suck, you should let her breastfeed. The more stimulation your breasts get, the sooner your milk will come in.
HOW NEW MOMS CAN AVOID LOW MILK SUPPLY
Your breasts need a lot of stimulation in the early days. Most babies do an excellent job of encouraging breast milk production by wanting to nurse very, very often.
It is something to be happy about if you feel like your baby wants to be on your breast all the time.
You will avoid supply problems by keeping your baby close by and feeding whenever you see feeding cues.
Most breastfeeding moms do not need to take any special supplements in order to make enough milk.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON WHAT HELPS BREAST MILK COME IN
You can be confident that your body and your baby will do what is going to help your milk come in. With these tips, you can encourage it. The good news is that the things that help your milk come in are the same things that support a good milk supply.