Breastfeeding creates a special bond between mother and baby. It also is the best way to give your child all of the nutrition and immunity she needs during a critical stage of growth and development. However, breastfeeding can be hard. Not knowing how much milk you are making or if your baby is getting enough can be frustrating. Understanding how milk production works and the signs of adequate intake can help put your mind at ease.
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During pregnancy and just after birth, the body controls your milk production through hormones. While you are still pregnant, your progesterone and estrogen levels are high; this acts to produce colostrum but not to release it. After you give birth, these levels drop while another hormone, prolactin, vigorously increases milk supply. After your established supply comes in, switching from colostrum to milk, the milk is produced on an as-needed basis. In other words, the appetite of your baby dictates how much milk you will produce. Your body works on supply and demand, which is influenced by your baby's frequency and duration of feeding.
Milk production works as a feedback loop. Inside your breasts are prolactin receptor sites. These sites change their shape when the breast is full, signaling to the body that milk does not need to be produced. However, when the breast is empty, the hormone prolactin enters the breast and increases production. A theory about these receptor sites is that the more you feed in the first weeks after birth, the more sites are produced and the higher your milk production. Another mechanism of production lies within the milk protein. A protein termed feedback inhibitor of lactation inside the whey of your milk signals your body that milk is present and no more needs to be produced. When the breast begins to empty, this protein is no longer present and milk production increases.
Growth and dirty diapers are two ways to judge if your infant is receiving enough milk. Two weeks after birth, your child should be gaining weight at 6 oz. per week. If you are going to judge food intake by weight, you will need a reliable scale. An easier way to determine if her needs are being met is by tracking her wet and dirty diapers. Your child should be making five to six wet diapers one week after birth. Four days after birth, your child will indicate adequate nutrient intake by producing three to four soiled diapers.
Two problems you may run into while breastfeeding are oversupply or undersupply. An oversupply of milk means your breasts are still fully engorged after baby is done eating. To fix this problem, try block nursing. Restrict your child to one breast for a period of three to four hours, but do not restrict feedings. If the breasts are not emptied as often, they may reduce milk production. If your child is not showing the signs that he is getting enough milk, you may have undersupply issues. To increase your milk supply, supplement feedings with pumping. The more frequent you empty your breasts, the more milk they will produce.