When a woman’s breasts become swollen during pregnancy, this signifies the mammary gland is preparing for breastfeeding. The breast is a gland that is composed of glandular tissue, connective tissue, blood, lymph, nerves and fatty tissue. It is the fatty tissue that mostly affects the size of a woman’s breast. Breast size does not have an effect on the amount of milk or the quality of milk a woman produces. Milk is secreted from areola cells. When the alveoli cells are stimulated by a hormone, they contract and push the milk into the ductules and into the nipple openings. When the baby’s gums press on the areola and nipple, milk is squeezed into the baby’s mouth.
During the first days of breastfeeding the breast milk is called colostrum, which contains a large amount of proteins and antibodies. You may have leaked a few drops of this thick, yellowish substance during the final weeks of your pregnancy (some women may have noticed this in the early months of pregnancy). The precious, easily digestible liquid is full of disease-fighting antibodies called immunoglobulins that strengthen your baby’s immune system. It also acts as a laxative, which helps to clear out meconium (the first dark-green motions) from the baby’s bowels. Newborn babies take only a teaspoon or two of milk per feed in the first few days, since their stomach is very small and colostrum is a very rich food that is high in protein. After a few days colostrum is replaced by transitional milk. Your milk is increasing in volume daily to meet your baby’s needs. This is an important time to demand feed. It takes 14 to 21 days before you have mature milk.
If your baby is sleeping for long periods during the day, not waking for feeds, not feeding well, not having many feeds per day or is too tired to feed, it is important to contact your midwife, doctor or other health professional as soon as possible.