Breasts work beautifully, silently, powerfully….
If you could look through your skin, you’d see a layer of fat that protects the inner working of your breast and keeps it all warm. Underneath, there’s a firm area of glandular tissue where you make your milk. You may be able to feel this if you explore gently. Has the weight or feel of your breasts changed during your pregnancy? That’s the milk-making tissue growing. (If not much has changed, don’t assume there’s a problem – sometimes changes are not easy to notice.)
We often think of glands as a problem: lymph glands in our necks swell when we have a cold, glands in other parts of our bodies get lumpy if there’s infection. These familiar ones clear harmful bacteria from our bodies and can feel tender as they go into action. Glandular tissue in the breast is different: our mammary glands make milk, not lymph. When they start their work, it’s not a signal something’s wrong – just that there’s a baby around who’s going to need food!
Let’s look deep inside the glandular tissue. (We’re looking through a microscope now.) Bunches of milk-making cells cluster together – think of a bunch of grapes.
There’s a network of tiny blood vessels snuggling round the milk-making cells. Zooming in to look inside one of those cells, we see the outer part of it busily drawing nutrients from your blood-stream and transforming them into milk. Your intelligent body chooses the right ingredients from your blood and mixes them into your milk. It filters out unwanted elements too.
Milk pools in the inner part of the cell and it fills up like a spring welling up with water.
The milk moves through small ducts (tubes) into wider ducts, many join together like streams flowing into rivers and down to the ocean, into the largest ducts that bring the milk to the nipple. Nipples have up to nine openings for the milk to come out.
How babies make milk
Yes, you read that right! Your baby is your team partner in the creation of milk. First, he or she starts growing – and your body makes early milk (colostrum) before the baby’s born, and for a few days after. After the baby is born, the after-birth (placenta) follows, allowing your body to make more plentiful milk – when you’ve had two, three (or 4 or 5) days to rest and recover.
When the baby suckles, your body responds. As milk is removed, more milk is made. If milk stays in the breast, milk production slows down and may stop. So if you need to make less milk – if you have an overwhelming supply – you can slow it down by leaving longer gaps between feeds. If you your baby needs more milk, shorter gaps between feeds will pick up the supply.
As long as the feed is comfortable for you with no pain, and you can hear your baby swallowing. If there’s any pain, get help. If that help doesn’t help, get more help.
If your baby cannot yet feed, you can hand express and then pump to give your body signals to make milk.
Make it work for you
You may now be wondering what you should eat to make the right milk. Just food – a good diet for a breastfeeding mother is the same as for anyone else. You’ll need some fruit and veg as usual, for Vitamin C. You’ll probably find you’re hungry more than usual, so eat a bit more of something healthy.
What the formula companies are up to
Have you noticed how the formula companies put photos of piles of incredibly healthy-looking food in any ‘information’ they produce about breastfeeding? That’s to make us think we can’t breastfeed because we don’t eat right every day! Whatever we eat – and there are huge differences world-wide – we human woman make fabulous milk, without even thinking about it. We’ve had two million years to perfect the recipe, after all!
If you think your milk is not good enough…
It is. Maybe your baby and you can figure out a slightly better attachment, so he squeezes the breast just right to get optimum milk flow?