How breastmilk is made

How your breasts make and give milk

  • The skin covering the nipple contains many nerves that are triggered by the baby’s sucking. This causes hormones to be released into the mother’s bloodstream.
  • One of these hormones (prolactin) acts on the milk-making tissue, building up the milk supply.
  • The other hormone (oxytocin) causes the breast to push out or release the milk already there.
  • This release of milk is known as the let-down reflex (sometimes called the milk ejection reflex).
  • The more often your baby’s sucking causes a let-down and the more milk that is removed from your breasts, the more milk will be made.
  • Respond to your baby’s feeding cues. Crying is a late sign of hunger.
  • Breastfeed your baby often.
  • Don’t limit time at the breast or delay the time between feeds. A well drained breast ensures more milk is made quickly.
  • The breasts are never completely empty.
  • Babies stop feeding when they have had enough, while at the same time, your breasts are already at work making more milk.
  • Whatever your baby drinks is automatically replaced, producing a constant supply, perfectly matched to her need, whenever she needs it.

How often will baby need feeding?

  • You may be surprised at how often your baby needs a feed.
  • Breastmilk is easily and quickly digested because your baby’s system is designed to have human milk.
  • A baby’s stomach is about the size of her clenched fist.
  • Babies feed often — it is common for a young baby to need 8–12 breastfeeds or more in a 24-hour period.
  • Some of these feeds will be at night.
  • Your supply meets your baby’s needs if you breastfeed your baby whenever she seems hungry or fussy. Sometimes she may only need to suck for a few minutes, while at other times she may need to suck for longer.

Breastmilk changes throughout the feed

  • Early in the feed, the milk has a lower fat content. This helps to quench the baby’s thirst.
  • As the feed goes on, the fat content of the milk rises which satisfies the baby's hunger.
  • A baby who is allowed to finish the first breast, so that he feeds until he comes off by himself before being offered the second breast, receives the higher fat milk.
  • At times your baby may be satisfied with just one breast, at others he may also want the second side, or even a third.
  • By switching which breast you feed from first, you will ensure each breast keeps making a good amount of milk.

© Australian Breastfeeding Association Reviewed October 2012