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How It Works

Understanding Breastfeeding

Should you choose to breastfeed, your body will go through several changes. Understanding those changes and how to deal with them will make your breastfeeding experience easier. Here's what you need to know about your breasts and how they produce the perfect milk for your baby.


Your breasts are made up of three kinds of tissue:

  • Glandular
  • Connective
  • Fatty

Milk producing cells in the breast are connected to milk ducts that carry the milk to your nipples. Milk flows out of the nipples through tiny openings, which are not always clearly visible. Surrounding your nipples is muscular tissue, which causes your nipples to stand erect when stimulated.

The dark area surrounding the nipple is called the areola. During pregnancy, this area will become darker and larger due to hormone changes taking place. You will notice pimple-like bumps on the areola. These are called Montgomery glands and secret a substance that helps to lubricate and cleanse the area for feeding.

Preparing To Nurse

In addition to taking a breastfeeding class or reading books on breastfeeding, there are several other things you can do to prepare yourself for the amazing task you're about to take on. For starters, wear a good supportive bra during pregnancy to help prevent excessive stretching and pain.

While some healthcare professionals may recommend rubbing the nipples to toughen them up for breastfeeding, we do not recommend it. Excessive stimulation of the nipples can cause the uterus to contract and in some cases bring on labor.

Keeping Comfortable

Once you deliver, a good nursing bra makes breastfeeding easier. Again, make sure it has good support, but no underwires. Underwire can put pressure on the milk ducts and cause blockage.

There are also some steps you can take to stay comfortable. Avoid soaping the nipples when you shower because it will only cause dryness and cracking. Don't dry breasts with a towel after showering. Let them air dry, as it is a good idea to expose both breasts to air a few minutes each day.

If you are leaking colostrum, use pads in your bra made specifically for breastfeeding. Either disposable or washable breast pads are fine.

What You Need to Know About Colostrum

Did you know that by the time you are 16 weeks pregnant, your breasts are already capable of producing milk? You may notice some leaking during the early months. These small drops of fluid are called colostrum, or the "first milk."

Colostrum is what your baby will receive until your milk "comes in," which usually occurs about three days after birth. Here are some of the many benefits to colostrum.

  • Easily digested.
  • Very high in protein.
  • Easy on baby's digestive tract and serves as a laxative.
  • Loosens mucous in baby.
  • Contains antibodies and passive immunities.
  • Protects the stomach and intestines against any invading organisms.

"Let Down" Reflex

You may feel a tingling sensation in your breasts, a feeling of fullness or a warm upper body sensation when you experience the milk ejection reflex, also known as milk "let down."

When the nipple is stimulated by the baby's sucking, a message is sent to the pituitary gland in your brain. This gland then produces two hormones:

  • Prolactin, which stimulates your milk gland cells in your breast;
  • Oxytocin, which causes the cells around your milk glands to contract, thus squeezing the milk through the ducts and out of the nipples.

The milk pools behind the nipples and beneath the areola in the milk sinuses.

It may take a minute or two after baby starts sucking for the let-down response to occur. Or you may not feel it at all. Also, feeling upset, fatigued, painful or tense can cause the let-down response to be slower.

You may even experience let-down when you are not breastfeeding. This may occur when you hear your baby or another baby cry, when you think about or smell your baby, when you see other babies, and when you are using your breast pump.

Milk Supply

It's hard to tell how much milk you are producing. As long as your baby is feeding every 2-3 hours and draining your breasts, then you can be sure that he/she is getting enough.

The more your baby eats, the more milk your body will produce. The less your baby eats, the less milk that will be produced. Your milk supply is regulated by supply and demand.

If your baby is having trouble latching on or is not draining your breasts completely, you may want to use a pump the first few weeks to keep your milk supply up. Also, breasts can get very full and even painful, so having a pump on hand when your milk first comes in can provide some relief and comfort. Once your baby gets the hang of it and is eating more, you won't have to pump.