How Breastfeeding Works

Successful breastfeeding requires an unbroken connection between baby, breast and brain.

The suckling action of a baby (or expressing by pump/hand) stimulates the breast, and this in turn sends signals to the brain for the body to release the milk needed for that feed, and to produce more for the next feed. That is the simpler explanation but it is also the one that ties into the theory of “more demand for breast milk = more supply of breast milk“.

how-breastfeeding-works-1There are two hormones that are released by the pituitary gland in the brain during breastfeeding:

  1. Oxytocin: This is the hormone responsible for the release or “let down” of breast milk from the mammary glands (where milk is produced) to the ducts in the breast and out of the nipple. Some mothers can feel the “let down” effect at the beginning of a feed but it is easiest to identify during an expressing session when milk appears to shoot out of the nipple.
  2. Prolactin: This is the hormone responsible for the actual production of breast milk.

These hormones are released in large quantities when the breast is stimulated, which is why it is important to put the baby on the breast as soon as possible after delivery, and to also breastfeed a baby regularly in order to maintain production.

Therefore, if the connection is broken in any way, then milk production will be negatively affected. For instance, if a mother is frequently away from the baby for long periods of time without expressing, then the production hormones will be released less often and milk supply will decrease.

It would therefore not make a significant difference what a mother eats or drinks to increase supply because breast milk production relies heavily on the demand = supply equation, where demand is sucking/expressing stimulus, and supply is largely dependent on the hormones released when the breast is stimulated.

Bottom line: breastfeed your baby as often as baby wants, and as often as you can so as to maintain milk supply. If you’re away from your baby for prolong periods then express the breast milk in order to keep the connection going.