When does breast milk come in?


by Mother & Baby |

The first thing your baby will need to master when they arrive into the world is breastfeeding.

While you could probably do with one less thing to worry about in the lead up to your baby’s arrival, it’s worth doing a bit of research into breastfeeding and your milk supply before you give birth. Although you’ll learn lots in your antenatal classes, you might want to speak to your midwife or health visitor if you feel you need to know more about feeding your baby.

It may take some time for you and your baby to get into the swing of things, so to help you learn more about when your breast milk comes in and the way to encourage lactation early, we spoke to midwife and lactation consultant Beth Graham to find out more about when your milk will come in.

When will my milk come in?

Typically breast milk normally comes in 2-3 days following a normal delivery according to Beth.

‘When your baby is born, your breasts produce food for your baby and we call this colostrum. It is milk, but it is very low in volume (the first feed can be as little as 5ml – one teaspoon). This increases slowly over the first few days and then the volume available to the baby increases dramatically. We call this the milk “coming in”.

To give you a guide, the average colostrum intake by healthy babies increases from 2-10 mL per feeding in the first 24 hours to 30-60 mL (1-2 oz) per feed by the end of day 3.

How does the milk change in those first few days after birth?

‘The Colostrum or first milk as it’s sometimes called, is very low volume thick sticky milk that is packed with nutrition – it is particularly high in protein and antibodies. It also has a mild laxative effect so helps the baby poo. The baby’s stomach is the size of a marble so they cannot consume large quantities and so the food they eat needs to be nutritionally dense!’ Says Beth.

Between days 2 and 5 of your baby’s life, your milk will start to change from the thicker, golden colostrum to more mature white, thin milk.

‘Mature milk is significantly more diluted (more volume) giving the needed fluids, so appears thinner or more watery. It is packed with nutrition, and has higher amounts of sugar and fat than colostrum.

‘As the baby gets older, the nutritional content changes to meet the baby’s needs - it is a constantly evolving food source. It is nutritionally perfect to meet the changing needs of your developing baby.’

What are the signs that milk is coming in?

It’s likely you’ll notice some changes to the look and feel of your breasts when your milk begins to come in. According to Beth, these include:

  • The breasts usually become swollen and tender to touch.

  • They usually increase by a cup size quite dramatically over a period of a few hours!

  • They may drip milk.

  • When the baby breastfeeds, you usually hear more frequent swallowing.

  • The breast feels softer after a feed but it quickly fills for the next feed.

Are there any ways to encourage breast milk to come in during and after birth?

‘Colostrum harvesting at the end of pregnancy will stimulate the breasts and encourage a greater volume of colostrum to be produced. This means hand expressing a few times a day in the weeks leading up to the birth, and collecting then freezing the colostrum.’ Recommends Beth.

‘You can talk to your midwife about this from about 36 weeks of pregnancy. Frequent feeds in the first few days after the birth will stimulate the breast further and will encourage the milk to come in.’

What do I do if my breast milk does not come in? 

Remember all mothers are different and while some may start producing the mature milk on day two after birth, others may be longer up to five days so try not to worry too much if yours is taking longer to come in than you hoped.

‘The best thing to do is to keep feeding the baby to encourage the milk to come in,’ Beth advises.

‘Many women worry that their milk isn’t coming in but it's usually a latch problem. If your baby is very unsettled, not peeing and pooing frequently or your nipples are becoming increasingly sore, seek help to improve the latch and help the baby drink more colostrum.

‘This will encourage the milk to come in. Under the guidance of your midwife, you can give your baby the colostrum you harvested in the pregnancy.

‘If you have a planned caesarean (no labour) or if you have a pre-existing medical condition, the milk your breast produces can be delayed by up to 10 days. For about 2 per cent of women, the milk never comes in and in these situations you can talk to your health care provider as the baby may need additional nutrition.’

Where to seek help 

If you’re concerned about breastfeeding, milk production, or just feel like you need some extra support, you should contact your Midwife, Health Visitor or one of the many local support groups in the UK.

Alternatively, you can find a private Lactation Consultant for support. Lactation Consultants of Great Britain has a directory and you can find someone who covers your area for a home visit.

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