Breastfeeding basics

How your breasts produce milk

Milk production is based on "demand and supply." The more your baby nurses, the more milk your body will make.

Your body makes two hormones that help you to produce milk: prolactin and oxytocin.

  • Prolactin makes the cells in the alveoli (little sacs) produce the milk.
  • Oxytocin causes cells in the alveoli to tighten and squeeze the milk down through the milk ducts and out the nipple. The process is known as "let-down."

The first milk you produce is called colostrum. This is low in volume but packed with antibodies to protect your baby from diseases.

Colostrum is thick and concentrated. Known as "liquid gold," it is very high in protein and nutrients. It is the perfect food given in the perfect amount.

Over the first week, your milk gradually increases. Breastmilk has all the nutrition your baby needs. You don't need to give your baby water.

labeling of different breast parts

The more milk your baby takes, the more milk you body makes. All shapes and sizes of breasts produce milk. You can breastfeed if you have had either a vaginal or a Cesarean birth.

Normal breast changes

The first few days after birth you will notice that your breasts:

  • are soft
  • don't feel full
  • produce colostrum ("liquid gold")

Between the second and sixth days after birth you will notice that your breasts:

  • feel fuller (Feeding or hand expressing often will reduce the swelling.)
  • produce milk that is thinner and whiter

Normal newborn behavior and feeding patterns

Birth day:

  • Your baby will be calm and alert for a couple of hours after birth. He may be tired for the next 12 to 24 hours.
  • The goal is for your baby to feed every two to three hours.
  • If he isn't interested, you can hand express some colostrum into a spoon and give your baby what you collected in the spoon. That will help get things started for you both.

Next day:

  • You will probably see a big change in your baby's behavior the second night after birth. He may want to feed more often than one to three hours. He may be unsettled unless at your breast or cuddling skin-to-skin. This response is your baby's sudden awareness that your womb is no longer home and the most comforting place is skin-to-skin at your breast.
  • After feeding, snuggle with him until he falls into a deep sleep before putting him down.

Your baby will help regulate your milk supply. Together, you and your baby will develop your own rhythm.

Sometimes, in the first two weeks, your baby will not wake up on his own to eat. You need to wake your baby every three to four hours to feed.

What you and your partner can do

Sleep when your baby sleeps. Limit visitors. Try calming techniques such as rocking, humming or playing soothing music. Keep baby skin-to-skin when you or your partner are awake and available. Stay calm and call for help if you need it.

Getting ready to breastfeed

Your partner can help you with any of these:

  • Get the room ready.
    • Adjust lighting (if needed).
    • Ask visitors to step out of the room.
    • Eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV or phone.
  • Get yourself ready.
    • Wash your hands.
    • Get a glass of water.
    • Get comfortable.
    • Massage your breasts to get the milk flowing.
  • Get your baby ready.
    • Enjoy skin-to-skin contact.
    • Help watch for feeding cues.
    • Help calm your baby if he is unsettled.

Skin-to-skin contact keeps your baby warm. You can cover the baby with a blanket.


Alternate which breast you start with at each feeding. Allow your baby to drain the first breast well. You will know your breast is draining well when:

  • your breast softens
  • your baby becomes relaxed
  • swallowing occurs less often
  • your baby comes off your breast

Burp your baby and offer the second breast if you see feeding cues.

Remember, you cannot breastfeed too often. Feeding often keeps your breasts soft and easier to latch onto.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, seventh edition, ob-ah-90026
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 12/02/2015

Did you know?
  • Your milk-making hormones are higher at night.
  • Babies are most interested in feeding between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.
  • Breastfeed at least every three to four hours at night.

Your nurse will help you get started breastfeeding. Ask questions.