When Does Milk Come in?

From Liquid Gold to Mature Milk: What You Need to Know About Milk Production

Your body goes through incredible changes during pregnancy. Your ankles are swollen, you lost sight of your feet months ago and your body is about to become a customized milk production facility. All those changes mean your body is growing a little miracle, but it also sparks lots of questions about what is happening. Understanding the timing of milk production puts you at ease and lets you know if your body is on track to nourish your little one.

Colostrum Production

Manual breast pump and mother feeding a newborn baby

What to Do When Your Milk Comes in

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Colostrum is the first milk your body produces, and it's what your baby gets when you nurse after giving birth. It's often referred to as "liquid gold" because of its yellowish color and the concentration of nutrients and immune-boosting antibodies in the milk.

During colostrum production, your breasts remain fairly soft. That's because your body doesn't produce a large amount of colostrum. Rest assured, your newborn is likely getting enough to eat. Your baby's tummy is still very small, so it's usually plenty to keep your little one nourished.

Breast Milk Production

Your breasts gradually transition into producing mature milk about three to five days after giving birth, although some women take a little longer for milk to come in fully. You can feel the change physically as your breasts feel firm or full. Some women experience engorgement as their breasts fill with mature milk. If you pump, you can see the color and consistency change to a thin, white appearance.

How to Tell If Your Baby Is Getting Enough Milk

Manual breast pump and mother feeding a newborn baby

Warm Breasts & Tender Nipples While Breastfeeding

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New moms have plenty of worries. If you're breastfeeding, one of those concerns is whether your little one is getting enough milk. When everything runs smoothly, your body naturally adjusts milk production to match your baby's intake needs. As your newborn nurses more, your body produces more milk.

If you want to know if your breasts are keeping up, look in your baby's diaper. If your newborn gets enough milk, you should notice an increase in poopy diapers. The initial black, sticky meconium bowel movements give way to lighter-colored stool that typically looks yellowish and loose. Another diaper gauge is having six or more wet diapers a day.

Baby weight gain is another important indicator of milk production. With enough milk, your baby starts regaining the weight that is naturally lost right after birth. This weight gain is measured in ounces, so weighing your baby on the same scale without significant differences in clothing gives you the most accurate tracking option.

What If You Don't Breastfeed?

Breastfeeding moms want their milk to come in, but what about moms who choose to bottle feed? Hormones cause the milk production in the body, so your breasts start producing milk naturally no matter how you plan to feed your baby. As that milk comes in, you may experience engorgement, which basically means your breasts are so full of milk it can cause pain and swelling. Add engorgement to the list of unpleasant body changes due to pregnancy.

You may experience some discomfort after your milk comes in, but your body eventually stops producing milk. Avoid the temptation to express milk from your breasts. It may provide the temporary relief you so badly want, but it also signals your body to make even more milk. You can end up extending the uncomfortable engorgement longer.

Instead, try applying cold packs to your breasts as needed to make yourself feel comfortable. Ibuprofen can also help relieve the discomfort you feel. A comfortable bra is another way to ease the pressure and pain. Wear nursing pads in your bra to soak up any leaking breast milk.

Potential Problems With Breast Milk Coming In

In a perfect world, your breast milk comes in on cue with no issues. In reality, some women face difficulties with milk production. Delays in milk production can happen under certain circumstances, such as C-section births, obesity, diabetes and thyroid issues. A traumatic birth experience, loss of blood or extended pushing during childbirth can also affect breast milk production.

Other women experience low breast milk production even after milk comes in. This situation can happen if you don't have enough tissue that produces breast milk. Previous breast surgery and hormonal imbalances can also affect milk production. If you're concerned about low breast milk supply, work closely with your pediatrician to ensure your baby gets enough milk.

Tips for New Breastfeeding Moms

What can you do to help your milk come in and ensure your baby has enough to eat? These tips can get you on the right track:

  • Nurse your baby frequently to signal your body to produce more milk.
  • Let your baby nurse on demand instead of using a nursing schedule. For most babies, that works out to eight to 12 feedings in a 24-hour period.
  • If you can't nurse, pump to help stimulate milk production.
  • Alternate the starting breast during each nursing session. Newborns tend to eat more from the first breast offered. By starting with the opposite breast each time, you relieve pressure from both breasts to avoid engorgement.
  • Use pacifiers with caution. It can interfere with the process to offer a pacifier before breastfeeding is well-established.
  • For expert advice and support, reach out to lactation consultants in the hospital and after you're discharged.

Your obstetrician and your baby's pediatrician can help if you're not sure your milk is coming in sufficiently. The pediatrician monitors your baby's weight closely to make sure your little one is getting the necessary nutrition.