You have been preparing for breastfeeding all your life. When you were a fetus, your breasts began as “buds.” Inside each bud, a basic mammary duct system — which produces and delivers breast milk — formed and grew along with you during childhood. When you reached puberty, hormones released during your menstrual cycle triggered breast development. Estrogen produced during the first part of the cycle helped your breasts to develop milk ducts, and progesterone released during the second part of the cycle stimulated the development of milk-producing glands. This growth continued throughout puberty. Colostrum, the “First Milk” Now that you’re pregnant, your body is quickly preparing for breastfeeding. Between weeks 16 and 22 your breasts begin to make colostrum, the super-concentrated first milk produced for your baby. The areola (the dark area of skin surrounding the nipple) usually darkens even more and gets larger, as does the nipple. Even now, you may notice some clear, yellow or white drops of colostrum leaking from your nipples.
Once your baby is born, breast milk will develop in stages, taking about two weeks to become mature milk. First, it is pure colostrum. This highly nutritious food, liquid gold, is packed with antibodies that are key to your baby’s health. Those first feedings, regardless of the amount, give your baby an amazing start. Colostrum coats your baby’s stomach, creating a barrier through which most bacteria and viruses cannot pass and decreasing his risk for many infections. It helps protect his digestive tract, mucous membranes, throat, lungs and intestines, and helps prevent sensitivity to the food you eat — lessening his risk for future food allergies. Coverage remains as long as you breastfeed. Your breasts will produce about three to four tablespoons of colostrum in the first 24 hours after birth. Since a newborn’s stomach can only hold about two to three teaspoons of milk, this amount is plenty for breastfeeding your baby on first day of life. With frequent feedings (at least every two to three hours), the volume of milk you produce will increase, so there will always be enough for him.
A Good Start Research has shown that breastfeeding benefits continue throughout your child’s life. They include a decreased risk of diabetes, obesity, juvenile leukemia, heart disease, asthma and ear infections. Breastfed children also have better jaw and eye development. Breastfeeding benefits you, too: It helps your uterus return to its normal size. It may help you lose your pregnancy weight, and studies have shown that breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. To breastfeed your newborn, have her placed on your chest, skin-to-skin, right after birth. You’ll be amazed as she latches on to your breast and starts feeding. If you keep her skin-to-skin as much as possible over the next few days, you may find that you both take to breastfeeding with ease. However, if you do experience any problems, you’re not alone. Talk to a lactation consultant at your place of birth, or contact your local La Leche League (www.lalecheleague.org). Or enroll in a Lamaze class to help you understand the process and get ready for that first special feeding! Lamaze International promotes a natural, healthy and safe approach to pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting practices. For more information, visit www.lamaze.org.