When Your Milk Comes In
What is Colostrum?
For the first few days after birth, your breasts produce a special food called 'colostrum', which looks like rich creamy milk and is sometimes quite yellow in colour. Until your milk comes in, this contains antibodies and provides all the food your baby needs.
When Will My Milk Appear?
The change from colostrum to milk begins on about the third day, and is known as transitional milk. It becomes full breast milk after two weeks. Don't worry if the milk looks very thin or appears blue-white in colour - this is perfectly normal.
It takes about three to four days for your milk to come in. It can happen sooner or even a little bit later. You will notice that your breasts feel full (and possibly uncomfortable), which is a sign that your milk is coming in.
The Science Bit
The hormone that tells your body to make milk is called prolactin. The levels of this hormone in your body have been rising throughout your pregnancy. However, the hormones from your placenta (in particular the hormone progesterone) stop your body from responding to prolactin. This means you can't make a milk supply until your baby has been born and the placenta hormones have left your body after you have delivered it.
As you wait for your milk to come in, you may find your breasts hurt and are sore to touch. There are a number of things you can do to alleviate these pains until your milk is fully in:
- You can offer your baby your breast as soon she's born, and then as often as your baby wants to feed. This will have a dual effect - it will make sure your baby gets plenty of colostrum, and it will also stop you getting sore nipples (so long as your baby is latched on correctly). You can use a nipple cream to help keep your nipples free from cracks and soreness until breastfeeding has been firmly established.
- You can also take paracetamol to help with aches and pains you may be feeling in your breasts. You might find that a warm shower before feeding also helps and applying ice or heat packs can provide a bit of comfort.
If your breasts leak a little milk, particularly when your baby is crying, you can wear breast pads in your bra to absorb any leaking milk. Be sure to change them frequently to avoid creating conditions of warmth and moisture in which bacteria can breed.
Is There Any Reason for My Milk Not Appearing?
You'll start making milk even if you don't breastfeed your baby or express your milk. To begin with, your body makes milk automatically in response to the hormones in your bloodstream.
However, you'll need to feed your baby often and latch her on well every time to maintain your milk supply. If your milk takes longer than four days to come in, it could be because you've had a caesarean birth. It might take longer - between two and five days for your milk to come in. Until then, your baby will be perfectly happy and well-fed on your colostrum. Another possibility is that fragments of the placenta have been left in your body after the birth. These can interfere with prolactin, the hormone that makes milk. It's likely that you would have continued heavy bleeding if there's leftover placenta. If this is the case make sure you talk to your doctor so that the leftover placenta can be found on an ultrasound scan and removed.
Although uncomfortable and somewhat painful, waiting for your milk to come in will pass in a very short space of time. Try and ease the pain as best you can, make yourself comfortable until the milk starts flowing!