Updated: Dec 2, 2019
Milk flow is the result of a series of phases that take place during pregnancy which prepares the body for breastfeeding. Starting with the early growth of the mammary gland, followed by milk production and it's ejection after nipple stimulation.
How does breastfeeding work?
The mammary gland is composed of small sacs that produce the milk and ducts that secrets the milk. Milk accumulates in the little dilations of this ducts between feeds. The ducts are stimulated to contract themselves in response to baby suction. Milk is made from fats, proteins, sugars, and water, among many micronutrients and defensive substances.
Some hormones are necessary for successful breastfeeding. During pregnancy, Prolactin levels rise and Prolactin is responsible for the enlargement and development of the milk-producing part of the breast. Its secretion is controlled by a gland in the head called hypophysis that works as the orchestra director of the body hormones. Darkening of the areola also occurs during this period as a part of the preparation, and it's believed that it helps the newborn to recognize the nipple easily.
The other important hormone is Oxytocin that has functions of contraction and bonding. It's secreted with nipple stimulation and induces the ejection of milk and is also related to mother feelings and emotions.
What causes low milk supply and what can you do?
When faced with the issue of low milk supply, many products are available and they all claim to help milk flow. But usually, none of these claims is sustained. In fact, some conditions that can occur after giving birth like the damage of the hypophysis gland on the head can lead to irreversible low milk supply as the hormones that help this process are lacking. In other maternal conditions like stress and fear, oxytocin levels might be low, thus restraining milk ejection.
The ejection of milk is also known as the “let down reflex,” and it's better stimulated by direct nipple suction, so constant and direct nipple suction is the best treatment to increase milk supply, an empty breast will also work as a signal to increase milk production. In some cases when direct suction is not possible the use of a pump could be helpful.
Less often it is recommended to drink plenty of water to keep enough supply for milk production, but no other liquids are directly associated with this increment. Maternal diet and some supplements may help to assure adequate nutrient supply for milk production, but the use of herbs and other compounds are not needed and could deviate from effective practices as relaxation and constant suction.
Mothers with low milk supply are often bombarded with natural remedies that won't always work, and while a warm cup of tea will favor relaxation. Its mixtures won't solve the issue. The natural solution for low milk supply doesn't come in the form of a pill or an infusion; it involves knowledge, dedication, persistence, and assistance to find the possible cause and to correct it when possible.
Are you experiencing other problems while breastfeeding, like sore nipples?. Don't worry, we have you covered!