What is Breast Milk?
Breast milk is the perfect food choice for babies. It is nutritious, natural and specifically made for newborns. Breast milk is easily digested and contains carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals and vitamins, and hormones your baby needs for the next six months. Babies who are fed breast milk are less likely to develop infections, allergies and other diseases.
How is Breast Milk Produced?
During the second trimester of pregnancy, milk is produced in sac-like glands in the breast. Hormones known as prolactin (stimulates milk production) and oxytocin (stimulates contractions of the milk glands, also referred to as the ‘let-down reflex’) are released.
Initially, the milk that is produced by your breasts is called colostrum, which occurs during the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. Colostrum is thick, yellowish in colour, high in protein and rich in antibodies passed down from the mother. It is present in small amounts for the first three days after birth and is all the nutrition your baby needs at this time.
Over the next few days (48 to 72 hours), breast milk increases and changes into mature milk. When you first begin breastfeeding, the milk that your baby receives is called foremilk. It is watery, thin and has a bluish tinge. Foremilk contains water mostly and is needed to quench the baby’s thirst. After several minutes of breastfeeding, your breast will release hind-milk.
It has a cream-like texture and is high in fat. Hind-milk helps your baby to gain weight and satisfies his or her hunger. It also has a soothing effect on the baby, encouraging sleepiness. It is important to breastfeed early, a few hours after birth. Nursing your baby frequently and on demand, at least 8 to 12 times a day, as this will help to maintain your milk supply.
Help for Breast Milk Production
Very often mothers who are breastfeeding struggle to produce milk. Although there are a wide variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help you to lactate and produce breast milk, these medications can be passed from the mother to the baby causing some harmful side effects.
Natural remedies are a much safer option and have a gentler effect on the body’s system. Herbs such as Galega officinalis, Silybum marianus (Milk Thistle) and Trigonella foenum-graecum (Fenugreek) promotes milk production and increases milk volume. Another effective herb, Borago officinalis (Borage) stimulates breast milk production and flow, and is a calming anti-inflammatory for women recovering from childbirth
More Information on Breast Milk Production
Tips for breastfeeding
In order for breastfeeding to be a pleasurable experience for both you and your baby, follow these useful suggestions:
- Create a peaceful nursing environment by making sure that both you and your baby are relaxed and comfortable
- Make sure that your baby is positioned correctly and latched on properly
- Nurse early and frequently
- Join a postpartum class or consult a lactation expert if you are struggling with breastfeeding
- Eat healthily and get plenty of rest
Tips to express and store breast milk
- Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap when expressing milk.
- Expressing milk may be done by hand or using a breast pump – using a breast pump is usually faster.
- Use sterile plastic or glass containers before storing milk. Fresh breast milk can be refrigerated for about 5 to 7 days, and kept at room temperature for up to 8 hours. Breast milk can also be frozen – keep breast milk in a freezer compartment of the refrigerator for 2 weeks, in a refrigerator/freezer with separate door for up to 3 to 4 months and in a deep freezer for 6 months. Remember to date the containers!