How Breastfeeding Works
After you give birth, hormones are released in your body. These hormones cause the alveoli, the tiny sacs deep in your breast tissue, to produce more colostrum, and in about three days, milk. Colostrum is very concentrated and helps protect the baby against illness because it is high in antibodies.
The alveoli are connected to milk ducts, which lead to several openings in the nipples. When your baby sucks, she triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates milk flow. This is called the let-down reflex. The let-down response feels like pins and needles, or fullness from as high as the shoulders down to the nipples. Don't be concerned if you don't feel the let-down the first few days after birth; this is normal. Even though you might be feeling tired or stressed, just find as quiet and comfortable a place as you can to nurse - take a deep breath and relax as your baby latches on.
Your baby is getting enough breast milk if she produces about six to eight wet/dirty diapers a day (more if you use cloth diapers). You have probably learned about breastfeeding from your health care provider or childbirth educator. In addition, almost all birth settings have lactation consultants (breastfeeding specialists) on staff to answer any questions you may have about infant feeding and help you get a good start. And if you choose to have a doula after the baby is born, she can also help you with any questions or concerns that may come up about breastfeeding. Finally, organizations such as La Leche League or Women, Infants and Children (WIC) offer breastfeeding support groups and can direct you to lactation consultants in your community.
Most recent page update: 8/6/2012
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Founded in 1918, Childbirth Connection has joined forces with and become a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families. Together, these two women's health powerhouses are transforming maternity care in the United States.
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Check out our resource, "Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care"
Childbirth Connection has joined forces with and become a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
We want all women and babies receive the best possible maternity care.