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How your breasts feed your baby


  • Milk production begins within the first week following delivery (usually day 3-5) under the influence of prolactin, a hormone produced by the anterior pituitary gland (in the brain). Prolactin has a direct action on the alveolar cells, stimulating them to produce milk.
  • The release of prolactin is dependent on the baby suckling at the breast. Therefore the more the baby suckles the more prolactin is released.
  • When breastfeeding is successful there is continuous feedback between mother and baby with the mother’s milk supply meeting the baby’s suckling demand.

 How breastfeeding works

  • When the baby suckles and drains the breast, this tells the milk cells to produce more milk for the next feed.
  • When the baby suckles, another important hormone is released into the bloodstream.  This is called oxytocin which is also produced by the pituitary gland.
  • Oxytocin makes the muscle cells around the milk, producing cells that contract and squeeze the milk down the ducts. This is known as the let down or milk ejection reflex.
  • A failure of the let down reflex can undermine breastfeeding. If it doesn’t work the baby will only get part of the feed.
  • You can stimulate the let down reflex by massaging the breast, applying warmth to the breasts and ‘tweaking‘ your nipples.
  • Fat content of breastfeed


  • Milk changes throughout a feed
  • The milk that comes out of the breast first is low in fat. The milk that comes out of the breast later is high in special fats needed for a baby’s brains to develop fully.
  • The baby needs all of this milk (sometimes called the ‘foremilk' and the 'hind milk'), so give the baby time to finish feeding as they need a complete meal.
  • Frequent feeding increases the amount of milk produced by the body, provided most of the milk is emptied from at least one breast at each feed.
  • RESPONSIVE FEEDING - when you are allowing the baby to decide how often and for how long to feed, will ensure that the baby receives sufficient calories. If the baby is taken off the breast before (s)he is ready then (s)he is unlikely to have had a sufficient amount of the high fat milk. It is therefore important that strict rules for breastfeeding are not imposed.
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