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What are the Signs Your Breast Milk Is Coming In?

Medically Reviewed by Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Here's what to watch for when you can't tell if your milk is coming in.

Are you waiting for 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 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. The truth is, 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 baby eat in the meantime?

No stress! Your body is equipped with exactly what a newborn needs. During this stage, your breast milk is concentrated into a fluid called colostrum. It’s packed with everything your baby needs to grow and thrive — a kind of concentrated baby superfood.

A Common Concern

It can take up to 5 days after birth for colostrum to turn into mature breast milk. Before that, it’s very normal for you to feel your newborn isn’t eating enough. It’s something many moms worry over!

I thought it would take a lifetime to start seeing a full supply, and wore myself out checking my son for signs of dehydration.

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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! Keep in mind every new mom will have a different timeline. If you find yourself ahead or behind what I describe below, don’t panic.

That’s one of the beauties of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood — no experience is ever quite the same.

Day 1

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.

Day 2

You’ll notice your baby becoming more clingy, and start to spend more time on the breast. This is how your body gets the signal it’s time to begin producing more milk. This phase may last for a few days.

Day 3

I 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.

Day 4

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 may have problems latching onto overly full breasts.

Emptying your breasts as often as possible encourages milk production in this phase.

Day 5

Now your baby starts to feed regularly, for longer periods of time. With this signal, your body kicks into production mode. This is when a routine begins to develop — and just in time!

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Differences in Colostrum and Breast Milk

Differentiating 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 he or she 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 on, the process for your milk to come in may take longer.

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, 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.
Headshot of Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

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 during this period can happen for any number of reasons. Milk let-down, sore or cracked nipples, and other causes 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.

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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, the more you empty out, and the better your breasts will feel (and the better your milk supply will be).

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, pumping briefly before bringing baby to breast helps. Or consider reverse pressure softening.
Headshot of Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

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.

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4. Make Yourself Comfortable

Your early breast pain may be from strong milk let-down, 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 main cause for 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 4 bowel movements per day about the size of a quarter or larger. They should be yellowish by day 4 or 5, and will be non-formed and may look watery. Expect 5 nice, heavy wet diapers each day.
  • Check 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, 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!

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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, look out 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.

Headshot of Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Medically Reviewed by

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC is a writer, editor, and board-certified lactation consultant for two busy pediatric practices. She is a former La Leche League Leader, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and Certified Infant Massage Instructor.