Whether you’re in the process of growing a tiny human or you’ve already given birth, you know that nature is amazing. Somehow our bodies know exactly what to do throughout the pregnancy process to create a beautiful new baby. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that breastfeeding is also a part of this natural process. Breast milk production starts with preparation during pregnancy and ultimately begins with the birth of your baby.
How our bodies prepare for breastfeeding during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, you will notice changes in your breasts as time progresses. How dramatic these changes depend on each individual mama. Pregnancy hormones will promote milk duct growth and get breast tissue ready for milk production. This makes the breasts feel heavier and look fuller. The areolas (the darker skin around your nipples) will typically get larger and darker as well. By the third trimester, your body is ready to produce milk!
How the birthing process initiates breastfeeding.
When labor is initiated, the hormone oxytocin promotes powerful uterine contractions and signals to the body that it will soon initiate breastfeeding. Throughout labor, hormones are released to help keep mom and baby energized and strong. Typically once born, your baby will immediately look for your nipple to start breastfeeding. This is their natural instinct. It will promote further oxytocin release to help expel the placenta in the final stages of labor. Birthing the placenta is what truly initiates breast milk production with the release of the hormone prolactin. Once the birthing process is complete, the focus for breastfeeding turns to making sure baby is able to latch and feed well. Ideally, this should be initiated within 30 minutes to one hour after birth. This will ensure further stimulation of breast milk production.
How modern birth interventions can affect breastfeeding.
In the U.S. only 2% of women give birth without any medical interventions. These interventions are now a common part of labor and delivery and they, unfortunately, can affect the initiation of milk production for breastfeeding. This can include interventions like induction, epidural, and/or cesarean birth. It has been found that undergoing any medical interventions makes a mother six times more likely to have a C-section! No matter what specific procedure, it has been found that they affect the normal cascade of labor and milk producing hormones. It can also leave baby and mama feeling lethargic making it hard to promote adequate breast stimulation when everyone just wants to sleep. Of course, mothers and baby can still successfully breastfeed with the right support and education no matter what their birth experience entails.
Strategies to optimize your success with breastfeeding after birth.
- Avoid unnecessary interventions. Be well informed and if baby is healthy, try to wait for labor to start naturally.
- Get as much skin to skin contact as possible to promote adequate hormone balance for breast milk production.
- Respond quickly to baby’s hunger cues and feed them often to establish good milk production and build baby’s trust in the feeding process.
- Get proper support. If you’re feeling unsure, ask for help immediately from a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) to maximize your breastfeeding journey. Ask for help from family and friends as well to allow you to focus on breastfeeding, rest, and healing.
Breastfeeding is the natural next step to caring for your beautiful new baby after birth. With the right care, you should feel empowered to decide how your baby feeds and thrives!