Your body starts preparing way early for the little one’s arrival. Making sure that your baby stays well nourished after they are born, your body starts producing baby food by as early as 16 to 22 weeks in pregnancy.
Due to the increase in the levels of pregnancy hormones, the body starts producing the first milk called colostrum. However, moms don’t realize it since it doesn’t leak or can’t be expressed. Colostrum is the sticky, yellowish milk, which the best food for your newborn—it is low in fats and is rich in carbohydrates, proteins, and even antibodies that protect the baby from infections. Your body secretes little amount of colostrum, which is just perfect to fill your baby’s little tummy.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, you might find the colostrum leak from the breasts without expressing. It could be messy—moms can wear breast pads inside their maternity bras to absorb the fluid and prevent your clothes from getting soaked. Keep changing the breast pads once you find them soiled.
It is normal for breasts to leak during pregnancy, however, it is also okay if you don’t leak any. It won’t make any difference to the amount of milk your body produces after your baby is born.
If there are any complications associated with the pregnancy, for instance, if the baby is expected to be born prematurely or needs to be fed after birth, you may be advised to express colostrum before the delivery.
For your actual milk to come in, it may take about 3-4 days after the delivery. If this isn’t your first pregnancy, the regular milk may come in even earlier. You will notice that your breasts feel fuller than before.
Your hormones rise and drop throughout your pregnancy stimulating the production of prolactin—it provides your body the ability to make milk. However, the hormones released by the placenta don’t allow the body to respond to prolactin. This restricts the body from producing proper milk.
By the time your baby is born and the placenta is removed, the level of placental hormones drop down gradually and in turn allowing the body to produce milk. This takes about some time and happens automatically, irrespective of whether you choose to feed the baby or express your milk.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends feeding the newborn within one hour of the birth. As soon as your baby is born, they are kept in close (skin-to-skin) contact with the mother. With a little help, your baby can latch onto your breasts. The importance of skin-to-skin contact is that it provides comfort and warmth to the baby, who has also gone through the traumatic process of birth. It also stimulates your breasts to produce milk.
Latching sooner after birth will provide your baby with the much-needed nutrition, increase the flow of the milk and also help you get rid of swollen breasts.
There could be cases when your breast milk may take longer to come out, which could be due to the following reasons.
1. If your birthing experience was too stressful because you had a prolonged labor or an emergency c-section. Your actual milk might get dailed, however, there is still a reserve of colostrum in your body to feed your baby.
2. If you had gestational diabetes or regular diabetes where you needed to take insulin, your breasts might need insulin to kick-start the milk production. Feeding your baby as frequently as you can, will boost the milk production and keep up the flow.
3. In case there are fragments of placenta left in your uterus, it could hinder the normal milk production in the body. The symptoms include heavy bleeding and cramps. The fragments are usually detected in the ultrasound scan and can be removed.
4. Maternal health and medication like hormonal birth control can also affect the milk production.
It is not uncommon to deal with a delayed milk production. Mothers must consult a lactation consultant to help them increase the milk production. If your baby is not latching properly or you are experiencing sore nipples, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor.