When does lactation start?

When does lactation start?


Believe it or not, milk production and the process of when lactation starts begins around the middle of pregnancy, as early as 16-20 weeks in most pregnant people. If you’ve thought about breastfeeding/bodyfeeding/chestfeeding your baby, or pumping, but want to know more about what is happening during the process, read on. Let’s dive in and learn more about when lactation starts and what to expect in the first days and weeks of nursing or feeding your baby:

What is going on with lactation while you are still pregnant?

Your body begins to produce colostrum, the thick, yellow, concentrated first milk which is nutrient-dense and full of antibodies between 16-20 weeks. During the last trimester of pregnancy, we begin to see an increase in the hormone prolactin which is responsible for producing milk. If you notice any thick, sticky yellow substance on your nipples, especially as you near the end of your pregnancy, don’t fret. It is perfectly normal to see some colostrum, but not all pregnant people do. 

When does lactation start?

Lactation starts before you first feed your baby, but it really kicks into high gear after you deliver the placenta, which results in a drop in the hormones and your hormones shift dramatically. However, you won’t see any milk for a few days after delivery, usually between 36 to 72 hours. No worries! Your body is working on making exactly what your baby needs in the meantime: Colostrum. The first few days and weeks of bodyfeeding is all about establishing your milk supply through frequent feedings.

What is colostrum and why is it so special?

Colostrum, or your baby’s first milk, is the thick, yellowish liquid that your body produces before it begins to make mature milk. In the first few days of your baby’s life, all your baby’s little tummy needs are in that concentrated substance which lines the baby’s gut and protects the baby from infection, is anti-inflammatory, and aids in iron absorption. Colostrum is filled with everything your baby needs in their first days of life: small amounts of easily digestible fat, high concentration of antibodies that protect your baby from disease, protein, and lactoferrin. Remember, the size of a newborn stomach is around the size of a small marble. That explains why they don’t need much colostrum and it also explains why they seem to get hungry again so quickly! Even if you do not intend on breastfeeding/bodyfeedingchest feeding, expressing and providing colostrum to your baby will still allow them to get the immuno-protective benefits of colostrum in their system.is a great idea. Speak with a lactation consultant or qualified postpartum doula to learn about the different ways to feed colostrum to your newborn.

When does colostrum become milk?

By day 2-5 for most lactating parents, colostrum or the first milk, becomes transitional milk with more lactose and fat to help your baby grow and have energy. At around the two-week mark, your milk will finally become “mature”. This is the thinner, whiter milk that we are used to seeing. It’s by feeding your baby round-the-clock that your body makes the transition from colostrum to mature milk and that your volume will increase.

What is cluster feeding?

Cluster feeding is when your baby feeds for extended periods of time. For some families, this can look like feeding for an hour at a time several times a day. For other families, this may look like short but frequent feedings. Feeding so often or for long stretches of time can give new families the impression that their baby isn’t getting enough to eat. If you notice that your baby just can’t seem to get enough, remember the signs of a well-fed baby (see above). Cluster feeding is actually helping your body establish its milk supply because it’s sending signals to your body to make more milk! Nurse on demand and enlist the help of your support team to take the lead with other responsibilities so that you can focus on this very important and time-consuming task. 

How do I know if my baby is getting enough to eat?

Nursing parents will not see or know how much milk their baby consumes which can create confusion or worry. Signs that your baby is getting enough to eat include: feeding regularly every 1-3 hours typically, appropriate wet diaper output (6 or more wet diapers from day 6 on or the same amount of diapers as the day of life from Day 1 to Day 5 and 3 or more yellow poop diapers each day as of day 3-4), a content baby, hearing swallowing sounds during feeds and weight gain. Lactation support groups are wonderful because you can meet with consultants and doulas as well as with other parents of newborns. You can have someone take a closer look at your latch or even weigh your baby before and after a feed to determine exactly how much milk was consumed.

What can I do to boost my milk supply?

The best thing to do to boost your supply is to nurse frequently. Lactation is a supply and demand relationship. The more you signal to your body that you need milk, through a baby suckling and removing your milk or through hand-expressing or pumping your milk, the more milk your body will make. The second best thing you can do is ensure an ideal latch for efficient feeding and optimal milk removal. The third thing that can help support you to boost your supply is to focus on a nutrient-rich diet and quality prenatal or postnatal vitamins. There are also herbs, teas, and cookies advertised to boost lactation. They work very well for some and create adverse reactions for others. Please use under the guidance of a lactation consultant, postpartum doula or nutritionist

While breastfeeding / bodyfeeding is a natural process, it doesn’t always come naturally or easily. It’s a skill that needs to be learned by both you and your baby. Learning any new skill takes time, especially after the marathon of childbirth, so please be patient with yourself as you work this out. And lean on the support of qualified individuals such as lactation consultants, midwives, postpartum doulas and nutritionists who can help you along the way. 

Laura is a doula, having served clients in both New York and in mid-Michigan. She is a wife and the mother of two, a toddler and a teen. When Laura is not supporting new families or her own, you can find her trying out fun new recipes. Laura is available on the boober platform for matches.

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