Are you waiting for your breast milk to come in after having your baby?
Many women don’t realize their breasts aren’t producing ample amounts of milk at the time of their baby’s birth, and this misunderstanding can lead to confusion and concern.
If you’re waiting for your breast milk and are unsure of what to look for, don’t worry! There are a few simple ways to know when this miracle of life is starting to take place.
Where Is My Milk?
After my son was born, I expected my breasts to be gushing milk. But even though milk production begins in the second trimester, we don’t start to see the liquid we expect until a couple of days after our babies are born!
So what does your baby eat in the meantime?
Your body is equipped with exactly what a newborn needs. Your breast milk is reduced to a fluid called colostrum during this stage. It’s packed with everything your baby needs to grow and thrive — a kind of concentrated baby superfood.
A Common Concern
The First 5 Days
I didn’t have a clue what to expect during the first few weeks with my newborn. Google was my best friend! Every new mom will have a different timeline. If you find yourself ahead or behind what we describe, don’t panic.
That’s one of the beauties of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood — no experience is ever quite the same.
Your colostrum will be ready for your baby immediately after birth. The sooner you can get your baby to latch and get their first few drops, the better! It’s normal for babies to eat small amounts frequently.
You’ll notice your baby becoming more clingy and starting to spend more time at the breast. This constant suckling signals your body that it’s time to begin producing more milk. This phase may last for a few days.
We recommend you continue demand-feeding your baby every couple of hours. If your baby is having trouble latching, consider hand expressing your colostrum and using a syringe to help increase the demand for your milk supply. Be sure to get help from a lactation consultant if you’re worried that your baby isn’t latching well.
You may start to feel your breasts enlarging and growing more tender as your milk volume increases. This is when most women start seeing a visible change. Your baby may also begin to act fuller after eating, but they may have problems latching on to overly full breasts.
Empty your breasts as often as possible to encourage milk production in this phase.
Your baby should be starting to feed more regularly and for more extended periods. With this signal, your body kicks into production mode, and you begin to develop a routine.
Differences Between Colostrum and Breast Milk
Recognizing the difference between colostrum and breast milk is easy — if you know what to look for:
- Colostrum: Golden in color at the start, and doesn’t come out at the same volume as breast milk. Think teaspoons, not ounces. It may also be clear, which is why many women worry their baby isn’t getting enough food.
- Breast Milk: Starts out as a thin half-and-half mixture of milk and colostrum. Look for changes in milk color. Mature milk will be white, cream-colored, or even bluish. Your baby will also need to feed less frequently because they will feel fuller longer (1).
The more your baby nurses, the sooner your milk production will kick in, creating enough volume to sustain your baby as they grow. If your baby has trouble latching, it may take longer for your milk to come in.
The Sensation of Milk Coming In
When your milk comes in, your breasts will begin feeling heavy and full. You may find yourself craving better support, such as a nursing bra. A little bit of tenderness is also normal during this time.
Some women experience leaking around this time, while others don’t. When I had my first baby, I woke up in the middle of the third night to a soaked bed and rock hard breasts. Feeding frequently helped tame the fullness and the leaking.
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
If you experience intrusive pain during breastfeeding, it may be a sign of an underlying issue. Talk to your doctor if the pain persists.
You should also notice you can hear or see your baby swallowing more often once your milk comes in, maybe even gulping with let-downs.
Four Methods To Soothe Breast Tenderness
Breast tenderness can happen during this period for many reasons. Milk let-down and sore or cracked nipples can all cause mild to intense discomfort — but don’t stress. There are solutions available to help you feel better in no time.
1. Mind Your Nipples
Sore nipples are something many breastfeeding mothers suffer from. Mild soreness tends to develop in the first few days after giving birth and can last through the first week. Practice getting a good latch with your baby to lessen the stress on your nipples.
If your nipples are cracked, scabbed, or blistered, this is a sign that something is wrong with your baby’s latch, and you should get help from a trained lactation professional.
2. Empty Your Breasts
Even if your baby isn’t eating very much in the first few days, continue having them latch on and practice. You want to encourage as much stimulation and let-down as possible. Once your milk comes in, your breasts will empty more frequently, making them feel better and improving your milk supply.
Engorgement can be a painful experience, so consider pumping between sessions if you don’t have a big eater.
If your breasts are too hard for your baby to latch, it helps to pump briefly before bringing your baby to the breast. Or consider reverse-pressure softening (2).
Editor's Note:Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
3. Invest in a Nursing Bra
Giving your breasts additional support can reduce tenderness and save you time and effort while feeding your baby. Nursing bras come in many styles, so if you feel you need compression to combat tenderness, shop around for one that suits your needs.
4. Make Yourself Comfortable
Your early breast pain may be from a strong milk let-down reflex when your colostrum begins to turn into mature milk. This pain fortunately is brief but can be very distracting while you nurse. Try laying on your side or leaning back into a reclining position — it may help you focus on staying relaxed.
Are You Producing Enough Breast Milk?
One of the biggest concerns nursing mothers have is whether they can produce milk at all. It can be disconcerting with all the horror stories out there, especially if things don’t seem to go well right away.
While poor latching is the leading cause of most breastfeeding problems, there are some other signs to look out for that could indicate your milk supply isn’t where it needs to be.
- Check baby’s diaper: Your baby should have at least four bowel movements per day about the size of a quarter or larger. They should be yellowish by day four or five and will be non-formed and may look watery. Expect five nice, heavy wet diapers each day.
- Check your baby’s weight: Most babies gain 4 to 7 ounces a week during the first few months of life. If your baby isn’t gaining weight, it may be a sign they aren’t eating enough. Increase the frequency of feedings, and improve your baby’s latch.
- Check baby’s mood: Fussiness in babies happens for many reasons, but if it happens after feedings consistently, it may be because they’re still hungry. You can put them back to the breast or top off with pumped breastmilk (or formula, as needed).
If you notice any of these signs or changes in your baby, make sure to talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant. They can help you develop a plan of action to put you and your baby back in good health.
Making the Best of It
If you’re a new mother and you think your breast milk has not come in yet, there’s no need to worry. Nursing is a personal, natural process, and no two women experience it the same.
As the days go on, watch for signs of your milk coming in. Heavy breasts, an actively feeding baby, and changes in the color and texture of your milk all point to success.
If these don’t seem to be happening for you, you have options. Consult with your doctor or a lactation consultant to see what’s best.