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How lactation (milk making) works

There is more to feeding a baby than the simple transfer of milk and calories. Feeding a baby is part of a brand new loving relationship than begins before baby is even born. 

Is mother’s milk important? 

Mum’s milk protects her baby against:  

  • Chest infections & viral illnesses  
  • Gastroenteritis & diarrhoea  
  • Urine infections  
  • Ear infections  
  • Allergies (asthma & eczema)  
  • Diabetes and Obesity 

Breastfeeding reduces mum’s risk of:  

  • Breast cancer 
  • Ovarian cancer  
  • Diabetes  
  • Osteoporosis 

Cost - Infant formula is expensive - up to about £1,200 a year depending on the brand bought. What could you buy instead?

“Hassle Factor” - Using formula in 1 year means making up more than 2,000 bottles, that’s about 200 hours work in the kitchen. 

Humans are Mammals - There are over 4,500 species of mammal on Earth. Each species makes a special milk for their babies. Human milk for human babies!  

Added benefits for mum

Did you know that breastfeeding uses up on average about 500 calories per day? To burn off an equivalent number of calories you’d need to swim 30 laps or cycle for over an hour each day. 

How does lactation (making milk) work?  

Watch this five minute video to find out more information about how lactation works

Interested in expressing your milk? 

If all is well it is a good idea to wait until your lactation has settled down a bit before you start expressing. For many mums this will be around 3-4 weeks.  

It is worth considering that early introduction of a teat or dummy may make it more difficult for baby to attach well to the breast, it may interfere with “baby led feeding” and this may reduce your milk supply. 

Why is hand expressing a useful skill for new mums to learn?  

After the birth a midwife will help you to learn how to hand express your milk. Watch this UNICEF video to learn more about hand expressing your milk. 

  • Expressing a bit of colostrum can help tempt a sleepy baby to attach  
  • You may need to express colostrum for a sleepy baby in the first 2 days  
  • You may need to soften an overfull breast on day 3-5 to help baby attach  

Have you heard about hand expressing Colostrum before your baby is born? 

These days many pregnant women start collecting colostrum before their baby arrives.

  • Some babies may experience difficulties with feeding or maintaining their blood sugar levels during the first few days after birth and may require additional feeds  
  • Mothers who have diabetes or who have other identified feeding challenges can particularly benefit from collecting colostrum 
  • Colostrum contains important immune boosting properties and is the perfect food for a new baby 

Further information about expressing your milk before your baby arrives can be found on the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers website

Ask a midwife for guidance on antenatal hand expressing (from about 36 weeks) and consider joining and asking other mothers about it on our closed “Breastfeeding Friends” Facebook groups.