After a mother gives birth to a child her body does an amazing thing by creating breast milk to feed her new baby. But the process actually begins during pregnancy with the mother’s production of colostrum. Some women even notice that they have colostrum leaking from their breasts before their baby is even born, while others don’t notice it until after their baby is born. Colostrum production in pregnancy is not indicative of how much breast milk a woman will produce after her baby is born.
The hormones that are in a woman’s body while pregnant, and just shortly after giving birth, trigger the woman’s body to produce colostrum and shortly after, breast milk. The baby’s suckling in the hours follow the birth can also help the woman’s uterus to shrink back down to pre-pregnancy size, and it can help to stop the flow of postpartum bleeding. This is why it is important for the baby to stay with the mother, at her breast, immediately after delivery.
Colostrum is often referred to as Liquid Gold due to all of the health benefits it provides. Colostrum is packed with essential things that baby needs in the early days of life, and is easily digestible; which is good, because new babies aren’t experienced at digesting foods.
When a baby is born they have a substance called meconium in their digestive system. Meconium is a black, tar-like substance, that is created by the baby ingesting amniotic fluid and other things, while the womb. Some babies will expel this meconium from their bodies in the few minutes following birth, while others can take a few hours or up to one day to pass this substance. If they have not passed any meconium within the first twenty-four hours the baby may need to be checked by a doctor. Colostrum acts like a laxative in the baby’s digestive system helping to get the meconium out of the baby faster and make room for the breast milk that will follow.
It might not look like much is coming out and going into baby’s stomach, but colostrum has everything your baby needs for the first few days of life. It contains all of the fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals they need while they wait for your breast milk to come in.
Breast milk production usually begins to replace colostrum production on day two to five, following the birth of the baby, and can be accompanied by uncomfortable engorgement occasionally. Some women are worried that their baby is not getting enough to eat in these early days since so little breast milk is being produced. Rest assured that your body is very in-tuned to what your baby needs. Here is a handy chart to help visualize the size of a baby’s stomach so that you can more easily get a feel for how much baby needs to be eating.
Day One – Size of a cherry
Day Two – size of a walnut
Day Seven – size of an apricot
Day Thirty – size of a medium chicken egg
Many women feel inadequate until they learn just how small a baby’s stomach is!
The small size of their stomach means that they need to eat more often in order to keep a steady supply of nutrients going into their bodies. Many women find that their baby wants to eat every hour to four hours and that’s just fine. Going beyond four hours between feedings is not recommended and can cause the baby to not gain enough weight due to under feeding. Going beyond four hours between feedings can also trigger the woman’s breasts to produce less breast milk since breast milk production is all about supply and demand.
Supply and Demand
A woman’s body is very smart; it knows exactly how much breast milk it needs to produce for her child, or children in the case of multiples. It knows this by how often their baby wants to breast feed. The more a baby breast feeds the more breast milk will be produced. Which some people might think is opposite. But a baby will boost a mother’s breast milk supply by wanting to suckle often. This suckling triggers the mother’s breasts to produce more breast milk. So if baby wants to breast feed often, let them! They are so smart!
The World Health Organization recommends that women exclusively breast feed their children for the first six months of age. This means baby should have nothing but breast milk for those first six months. After the first six months baby can then begin to have adult food in small amounts, cooked or mashed to be easy for baby to eat. This does not mean that the baby is ready to be done having breast milk. The World Health Organization recommends that children should have access to breast milk, either directly from the mother or be given a bottle of breast milk the mother has pumped, until at least two years of age. (1)
But mothers and children can decide for themselves when to stop. The benefits of breast milk don’t stop at a certain age, and it is actually very beneficial to keep breast feeding. Breast milk is an uncontaminated source of hydration and nutrients for a baby and child.
It is also completely safe to keep breast feeding a child when you learn you have become pregnant with another child as long as your pregnancy is considered low-risk. Some professionals worry that the nipple stimulation can trigger contractions. But, if you have been breast feeding another child from the very beginning of your pregnancy with another child, then your body won’t be triggered to produce contractions from the nipple stimulation of breast feeding since it is used to the sensation. If you have not be breast feeding another child at the beginning of your current pregnancy, then it is not advisable to begin part way through since it has the potential to produce contractions.