The Importance of Breast Milk

Why Your Liquid Gold is So Precious

As you prepare to welcome your new baby into the world you are likely preparing to make use of your breast milk by developing a feeding plan. Whether you plan to exclusively nurse, exclusively pump, uniquely combine the two efforts, or introduce formula, it’s just important you’re planning.  We want to offer you a basic overview of breast milk and why it’s worth the effort to get this liquid gold to your precious darling—if you can.

Always remember, our blog posts are intended to give you information without opinion or judgment, to help you form your best decisions for your baby and your body.

First of all, recall that every woman’s body is unique and your experience feeding your child will be as distinctive and personal as your pregnancy has been. There is no point to compare yourself to other mothers and no payout for competing. Our advice is to do your personal best and be kind to yourself and patient as you experiment to find the feeding routine that works and is sustainable for you and baby.

Pep talk done.

Here’s the basic biology, or as we like to call it: Breast Milk 101.

Breast milk has three stages. This is important to know as the first two stages occur near to birth—the time when you’re most overwhelmed with everything that’s new and likely too sleep deprived to think clearly.

Stage 1: Colostrum
Your body first begins lactation by creating colostrum during the end of your pregnancy and through the earliest days of nursing.

Colostrum is generally dark yellow to orange in color with a thick, sticky quality. It is easy to digest, low in volume and fat, but incredibly packed with carbohydrates, protein, and antibodies.

You’ve probably heard doctors or other mothers talk about the protective qualities of colostrum—how it functions as an organic vaccine or the first inoculation. While in utero, an antibody called IgG circulates through your baby’s system. Upon birth, he or she receives the antibody IgA through your colostrum, protecting his system in the places germs are most likely to gather, i.e. throat, lungs, and intestines.

In addition, colostrum also contains high concentrations of protective white cells called leukocytes, which fight disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

That’s not all.

Colostrum is also incredibly valuable to your baby’s gastrointestinal and digestive systems. The newborn intestines are delicate and very permeable. Colostrum coats the porous tract acting as a sealant to any foreign or irritating substances. It also acts as a natural laxative agent, gently prompting excretion of the materials he or she has ingested while in utero as well as the preventing the development of jaundice.

You may become frustrated and anxious by the small volume of colostrum within your breast milk, but don’t be. This is intended by design. When your baby first arrives his or her stomach capacity is a mere 5-7 mL—roughly the size of a raspberry—and it doesn’t expand. This means when your baby’s stomach reaches capacity, any extra liquid will likely be expelled as spit up.

Again, don’t be frustrated or anxious. Your body’s breast milk is perfectly designed for the needs of your baby—in nutrients, antibodies, and amount.

Stage 2: Transitional Milk
Transitional milk usually appears between two and five days after delivery. You will continue to produce transitional breast milk for one-two weeks. It retains a yellowish color but is thinner and more plentiful than colostrum.

Transitional breast milk is also higher in calories than colostrum and contains high levels of fat, lactose, and water-soluble vitamins. Because you’re suddenly producing a greater quantity of breast milk in this transitional stage, it’s common to feel that your breasts are full and uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, your baby’s stomach capacity is increasing gradually; Healthy full-term babies have a stomach capacity of approximately 0.75-1 oz. by day 3 and 1.5-2 oz. by day 7. You will continue to feed your baby small, frequent feedings and he or she will get exactly what is needed from Mama’s breast milk.

Stage 3: Mature Milk
You will begin producing your mature breast milk approximately two weeks after delivery. It commonly has a bluish tint and is much thinner than cow’s milk or formula, but it contains the full nutritional gamut your baby requires for the first six months: water, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

When you nurse or pump the quality of your mature breast milk actually changes from the beginning of a feed to the end. Foremilk comes at the beginning of a feeding and contains mostly water with some vitamins and protein. Hind-milk comes after the initial release of milk. It’s fattier and essential for your baby’s weight gain.

As you continue to nurse and/or pump, the specific properties of your mature milk will change according to the changing needs of your baby, your exposure to environmental elements, and your diet. Although the specific properties of your breast milk change throughout the three stages, human breast milk never loses its capacity to help your baby fight germs and disease. In fact, as long as your baby receives your breast milk, he or she will receive immunological protection against many different viruses and bacteria.

Whenever we have this discussion on breast milk the same question follows:

What do I ensure I produce enough milk?

The simplest answer is, empty your breasts of breast milk and you will produce more.

The actual process of milk production is complex, involving hormonal interactions, physiological triggers, and environmental controls. But there are basic things to keep in mind as you being nursing and pumping.

The central tenant of milk production is that milk production slows as the breasts fill. In other words, milk production has everything to do with the frequency and efficiency with which your breasts are emptied, and less to do with a set period of time.

Newborns naturally feed very frequently for short periods.

Remember when you’re tired and sore, there is a good biological reason for this tendency. A frequent stimulation increases the amount of hormonal receptors in the breast (which stimulate more hormones and thus more milk supply). The number of receptors you develop in the beginning will help ensure a continuous supply.

If you are exclusively pumping, it’s important to understand this biology and try to imitate the pattern of short, frequent sessions in the beginning. Once the transitional milk comes in, pump for 30 minutes per session or for 2-5 minutes after the last drops of milk.

If you’re pumping as a supplement and/or to increase milk supply, double pump for 10-15 minutes after nursing, continuing for 2-5 minutes after the last drops of milk to ensure efficient emptying.

Don’t skip those last 2-5 minutes. You might be anxious to be done – just as you are antsy to skip out of exercise class before you’ve stretched – but these concluding moments are important to completely and efficiently empty your breasts and thus, stimulate more milk production.

In conclusion:
Every woman’s body and feeding experience is unique. Do your best and don’t be too hard on yourself in the process.
Your breast milk is precious. It naturally contains the exact nutrients and protective elements in the perfect volume your baby requires.
Your breast milk develops in three stages: colostrum, transitional milk, and mature milk.
Milk production has everything to do with the frequency and efficiency with which your breasts are emptied, and less to do with a set period of time.
To ensure good milk production and development aim to nurse or pump to feed your newborn at least 8-12 times each 24 hours.

As always, you can find more great tips, info, and product reviews on our website. Happy pumping!