How Is Breast Milk Produced in the Body?

The breasts of a nursing mother physiologically get ready to feed the soon coming baby when she gets pregnant. One first sign of pregnancy includes having swollen breast accompanied by tingling and tender nipples. These tingling sensations are as a result of hormones moving through your body.

The glandular tissue found in the breast of a nursing mother doubles in size by the time the baby is born. The breast feels heavier and fuller when milk production starts after the baby is born. Each breast may weigh an extra 700g (1.5lb).

How Is Breast Milk Produced in the Body?

Breast milk is produced in the mammary glands of the breast. The various parts of the mammary glands play a significant role in the production of breast milk. These parts are:


The alveolus is the place where breast milk is produced in the breast. This is a structured cluster of grape like sacs that are surrounded by muscles. They squeeze out milk into the ductules when pressure is exerted on them.


These are small canals that transport breast milk from the alveoli to the milk ducts.

Milk Ducts

Milk ducts are a network of canals that transport milk from the alveoli to the ductules and then to your baby. The number and size of milk ducts increase during every pregnancy. There can be as much as nine ducts when you start to breastfeed.

It is not unusual to find your breast leaking milk while you are pregnant, especially starting from the second trimester. Therefore, you can still breastfeed your baby even if you deliver prematurely.

The estrogen and progesterone levels begin to drop when you deliver your baby with the placenta. This makes room for the hormone prolactin to be released from the pituitary gland of the brain. Prolactin release signals the production of milk in the body and makes the mother feel very maternal.

What Happens after the Baby Is Born?

Usually nursing mothers who are breastfeeding for the first time are able to fully breastfeed their babies within 48 to 96 hours after delivery. For second time nursing mothers this is usually earlier than that.

Once the placenta is removed the estrogen and progesterone levels drop significantly and prolactin level increases. The release of prolactin is triggered by the pituitary gland.

Before lactation begins, the body produces extra blood that is sent to the breast. This extra blood makes the breast full and firm. The breast may become temporarily engorged or painful due to the swelling of blood vessels and breast tissues. Nevertheless, frequent nursing helps alleviate this pain.

What Is The First Stream of Breast Milk?

The first stream of healthy breast milk is usually a creamy, high-protein, low-fat substance also known as colostrum. Colostrum may sometimes be leaked as thick, yellowish substance during the final days of pregnancy leading to delivery.

This colostrum is produced in the cells located in the center of the alveoli. They dissolve through the milk ducts and then into the nipples. This “first milk” is easy to digest, and made of immunoglobulin. Immunoglobulins are antibodies that strengthen the baby’s immune system.

How the Milk Flows

The production of breast milk is triggered by the release of prolactin and the decrease in estrogen and progesterone in the mother’s body. When the milk reaches the alveoli, oxytocin, a hormone secreted by the alveolus causes the breast to contract and squeeze thereby releasing the milk into the nipple for the baby while she suckles.

Moreover, it is OK for a nursing mother to feel cramps in her uterus during the first days of breastfeeding. This is because the secreted oxytocin helps shrink the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size. Oxytocin also helps calm the nursing mother and produces a feeling of joy and satisfaction. It is no wonder; this hormone is referred to often as, the hormone of love.

Also, as the amount of breast milk that you give to your baby increases the contraction that causes the breast milk to come out will produce a particular sensation in your body. This sensation could feel as a tingling, stinging, burning or a pricking sensation in your breast. Sometimes the breast milk may even spray or drip when you are giving it to your baby. When this ever happens, you can stop it by slowly crossing your arms in front of your breast and applying gentle pressure on your breast. This applied pressure will stop the flow of breast milk.

How Does My Breast Produce Sufficient Milk for My Baby?

As the baby suckles on your breast during feeding, the brain is triggered to produce more prolactin. The release of prolactin in the body triggers the body to start the production of breast milk.

After a while, the prolactin level reduces, but as the baby feeds again the amount of prolactin increases again and breast milk production is restarted. Therefore, if you want more milk you have to breastfeed your baby often.

Prolactin also suppresses ovulation. It is, therefore, not surprising to find some mothers who use breastfeeding as a form of contraception during the first six months after delivery. This method however, is not 100% guaranteed.

Watch a Video on Breastfeeding

This video is an animation that shows how breast milk is produced, the importance of breast milk, the four basic breast feeding position and the importance of breastfeeding.

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