Understanding how milk supply changes throughout lactation can help mothers feel empowered and informed about their breastfeeding journey. The journey of milk supply begins before the baby is even born. From the moment a woman conceives, her body starts preparing for the remarkable task of nourishing her child.
Mammary development begins in the fetus, and hormones during puberty play a significant role in the growth of the ductal system. As estrogen is released from the ovaries during puberty, breasts start growing, and secretory glands form on the milk ducts as the ductal system matures. This early development sets the stage for milk production.
Pregnancy – 6 Months Postpartum:
A woman’s body starts producing colostrum as early as 12 to 16 weeks into pregnancy (although most women don’t see any leaking until their third trimester, if ever.) Colostrum is a highly concentrated, nutrient-rich food that serves as the first source of nourishment for the baby once they are born. It contains essential antibodies to strengthen the baby’s immune system and has laxative properties, which aid in the passage of meconium. After birth, the mother’s milk supply transitions from colostrum to transitional milk and eventually to mature milk. The volume of milk also increases during this time. Transitional milk is higher in lactose and carbohydrates than colostrum and acts as an intermediary stage between colostrum and mature milk.
On the other hand, mature milk is higher in fat to meet the baby’s growing needs as they undergo rapid development. Around days 2 to 5 post-birth, milk volume starts to increase significantly. This increase in milk supply is driven by hormonal changes in the mother’s body and occurs regardless of milk removal. However, after this initial period, the baby’s demand for milk becomes the primary factor in determining milk supply.
6 Months Postpartum – 1 Year+ Postpartum:
Solid foods begin to be introduced around the middle of the first year of your baby’s life. However, it is essential to note that even as your baby starts to explore new tastes and textures, they still rely heavily on your breast milk to meet their nutritional needs. Studies have shown that babies receive about 30% of their calories from breast milk at night. Your milk continues to benefit your child for as long as you breastfeed. It has been observed that only some babies consume a significant amount of solid foods before 18 months old. Therefore, continuing to offer breast milk beyond introducing solids can boost your baby’s nutrition and strengthen their immune system. The composition of breast milk changes as your child grows, adapting to their evolving needs. One of the fascinating changes in breast milk composition is the increase in fat and protein content after one year postpartum. Breast milk produced beyond the first year is higher in fat and protein compared to earlier stages. On the other hand, the carbohydrate content tends to decrease. Additionally, breast milk beyond one year postpartum continues to provide high IgA antibodies, which play a vital role in fighting illness and infections.
Milk supply is a dynamic process that changes throughout lactation. It’s remarkable how a woman’s body adapts to her child’s needs. If you have questions about your own milk supply and want to meet with one of our IBCLCs, fill out this form. As always, keep up the great work, mama!