August is National Breastfeeding Month. The United States Breastfeeding Committee started this annual celebration in 2011 to highlight the many benefits of breastfeeding and encourage support for mothers. To mark the occasion, we want to begin our breast milk series with some interesting facts.
Did you know…
1. Your milk production changes over time.
At birth, your baby’s stomach is tiny — about the size of a cherry. Newborns eat many small meals each day — even just a few drops. That means in the beginning your body makes a tiny amount of milk. Don’t be surprised if your baby loses some weight at first. As your baby’s stomach grows, your body will make more milk. Now, just because milk production is supposed to start slow, delayed lactation can still happen. That’s why it’s important to work with your pediatrician to watch your baby’s growth, especially in those first few weeks. If your body is not making enough milk, it’s not your fault. There are lots of things that might be going on and you can’t control them all. A lactation counselor can support you through it, and your physician can offer advice and alternatives to keep your baby healthy.
2. Your milk composition changes over time.
At first, your body produces something called colostrum. It’s yellow and thicker than what you might expect. This first stage of milk production is filled with antibodies to protect your newborn’s body, including cleaning and sealing your baby’s intestines. Colostrum has less calories so it’s easier to digest. After about a week, your colostrum slowly starts to change. By the end of the first month, it is a thinner white liquid. This breast milk keeps altering itself as your baby ages to provide the right amount of nutrition needed for growth.
3. Supply and demand matter.
Your body only produces milk if it is being used. If you stop breastfeeding for a while or nurse less often, your body assumes you don’t need the breast milk anymore and stops making it. If you know you are going to be away from your baby — and you want to keep that milk flowing — you can pump during your normal feeding schedule. If you want to build up a supply of extra milk, you can also pump between feedings. The good news is you can keep the milk you pump as long as you store it correctly. At room temperature, it lasts for a few hours, refrigerated for a few days and frozen up to six months or a year. Once you thaw your breast milk, you should not freeze it again. Check out this helpful chart.
4. Your cup size has nothing to do with making milk.
Unless you have a medical issue that prevents your body from making enough milk, any breast size can feed a baby. If you are having trouble with milk production, it may be because of slow hormones, problems with your glands or nipples, preexisting conditions or medications, just to name a few reasons. Again, it is not your fault, so don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor or a lactation counselor.
5. Some women are advised NOT to breastfeed their babies.
Women are advised not to breastfeed if they have:
- taken certain medications (most medications are compatible with breastfeeding but always discuss your medications and breastfeeding status with your physician)
- infections, such as HIV, herpes, or tuberculosis
- active sores on the breasts
We encourage expectant and new mothers to consider the important decision of breastfeeding as it provides essential nutrition designed just for your baby.