When Will My Breast Milk Come In? Stages And Signs

When will my breast milk come in
When will my breast milk come in

For most new mothers who are starting their breastfeeding journey, wondering “when will my breast milk come in?”  is totally normal. By understanding the timing and signs of mom’s breast milk arrival after giving birth, mothers can significantly feel calm and well prepared when it comes to breastfeeding. Here are all you need to know about the timing and signs that your milk is on way, plus reasons and solutions for delayed onset of lactation.

When will my breast milk come in?

stages of breast milk
stages of breast milk

Breast milk comes in three different stages, including colostrum, transitional milk, mature milk — and breast production actually starts before even giving birth, according to Taniqua Miller, M.D., an Atlanta-based OB-GYN 

Stage 1: Colostrum

Colostrum actually is produced at around the second and third trimester of pregnancy which is the first rich of nutrient milk that your body makes. Most mothers are not aware of this stage as it is not easy to leak or express until your baby is born. 

Colostrum is a thick, yellowish color that is highly concentrated and full of necessary nutrients for your baby on their first day of life. Although there are only a few drops of colostrum milk at each of those breastfeeding on the first day, it serves a valuable purpose and gives your beloved baby a large amount of significant nutrients. Colostrum is rich in 2x protein, antibodies, white blood cells; lower in fat and no sugar which are highly suitable for a baby’s small stomach and digestive system. In addition, it has laxative-like properties that help pass meconium and fight jaundice. Therefore, just a tiny amount of colostrum is enough to protect your baby from infections and illnesses, boost your baby’s immune system and provide them with all the nutrition and liquids they need. 

Stage 2: Transitional milk

Changing hormones and baby’s sucking will stimulate increased blood flow to your breasts. This not only boosts milk production but also alters its composition during your baby’s first month. The next stage is called transitional milk and can last up to two weeks postpartum

After giving birth, many new mothers are curious about when their milk will “come in”. This typically refers to the transitional milk  which usually appears around 2-5 days postpartum. Although for as many as 25% of mothers, it may take longer than three days.

Transitional milk is more similar in appearance to whole milk. A famous women’s health expert, Sherry Ross, MD, refers in her book She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health that transitional milk is thinner and whiter with richer protein, fat, and carbohydrates than colostrum1.

Stage 3: Mature milk 

The final stage in lactation – mature breast milk – arrives after the transitional milk stage. Mature milk starts with foremilk which is thinner and expressed in bluish color. Foremilk looks like skim milk that has lots of nutrients but not much fat. As the breastfeeding goes on, mature milk will gradually change to a thicker and creamier in texture milk known as hindmilk. This mature milk is what your baby will continue to consume until you decide to wean, ensuring they receive all the necessary fats and nutrients throughout their development. 

What signs to expect? 

There are some common signs that show your milk is coming in

  • Breast engorgement: One of the most noticeable common signs is an increase in the breasts size and heaviness. Moms will feel your breasts become larger, warmer and heavier. 
  • A tingly pins-and-needles sensation during breastfeeding: “Milk comes in” can be a little bit painful and discomfort at your breasts, especially nipples. According to Amanda P. Williams, M.D., MPH “The changes in breast fullness can cause pressure and even pain for some moms, the breasts and nipples can feel warm and sensitive to the touch”. However, you do not need to worry much. This is a completely normal sign. A tingly sensation mainly happens because of the contraction of the milk ducts, making it easier for the milk to come out.
  • Longer breastfeedings: you’ll notice that your baby stays at the breast longer. Babies will take larger gulps with clear swallowing sounds. Sometimes, mothers even see milk dribbling from the corner of the baby’s mouth.
  • A change in milk texture and appearance: As the milk changes from colostrum to mature milk, your milk will get thinner and more blue-white in color.

Delayed onset of lactation

Typically, breast milk will come in approximately the 2-5 days postpartum. However, in some cases, mother’s milk does not increase as expected. This is known as delayed onset of lactation (DOL). 

Reasons of delayed onset of lactation

Delayed onset of lactation can be due to these reasons below: 

  • This is your first baby: Since the body has not previously undergone the process of milk production, mother’s breasts need more extra time to adjust to hormone changes and learn how to make milk efficiently as well. With your second baby, your milk will likely arrive sooner.
  • Cesarean delivery: the use of anesthesia, Pitocin, or a lot of IV fluids during a C-section can delay the arrival of your breast milk2.
  • Losing excessive blood during or after delivery 
  • Obesity: if you were overweight before pregnancy or gained too much during pregnancy, it can delay breast milk production3
  • Diabetes: For mothers with diabetes, milk production may start later due to factors like hormonal imbalances, higher rates of c-sections, premature births, and separation from the baby at birth.
  • Thyroid conditions: Thyroid issues, such as hypothyroidism or PCOS, also slow down your ability to produce breast milk4.

What do I need to do if my milk is delayed?

First and foremost, moms should ask doctors or other reliable medical professionals for their lactation consultation. They will help you identify any medical issues, such as thyroid, testosterone, prolactin, etc that are causing the delay and develop a strategy to boost your milk production. They’ll also monitor your baby’s progress and conduct weight checks to determine if any additional supplementation is needed.

Another best way to encourage faster milk production is to continue breastfeeding your baby frequently, at least every two to three hours, including overnight. You should also try different methods of expressing milk, such as hand expressing or using a breast pump. Doing this helps maintain the necessary levels of prolactin, a hormone essential for milk production in the mother’s body. Do not forget to check that your baby has a proper latch, as incorrect latching can slow down the stimulation of making milk. 

In addition, make sure to drink plenty of water and get enough rest. Breast milk is 90% water, so increasing your water intake can boost your milk supply. It’s recommended that breastfeeding mothers consume about 3 liters of warm water each day. Also, getting more sleep can help your body make more milk because it relaxes you and helps release the right hormones for milk production.

How often should I breastfeed my baby?

During the first weeks after birth, it’s recommended that you breastfeed your newborn “on demand,” which generally means every one and a half to three hours. As your baby grows, the frequency of feedings may decrease, settling into a more regular schedule. Some babies might need to nurse as often as every 90 minutes, while others may stretch it to every two to three hours.

How can I relieve breast engorgement?

To ease breast engorgement, encourage your baby to nurse more often. If your baby isn’t feeding enough, you can pump to help. Before breastfeeding, gently massage your breast or use a warm towel to make it easier for your baby to latch. Moms can additionally apply a cold compress between feedings.

Conclusion

To sum up, as the baby begins to nurse, the milk transitions through several stages—colostrum, transitional, and finally, mature milk. For most mothers, milk production will increase in quantity and start to change from colostrum to mature milk between days 2 and 5 postpartum with some following signs: breast engorgement, longer feeding times, and changes in milk’s appearance, etc. If you are experiencing delayed onset of lactation, just stay calm and try your best to follow the step by step useful method above.

Sources
  1. Sherry A. Ross MD. She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. ↩︎
  2. Lothian JA. The birth of a breastfeeding baby and mother. J Perinat Educ. 2005 ↩︎
  3. Bever Babendure J, Reifsnider E, Mendias E, Moramarco MW, Davila YR. Reduced breastfeeding rates among obese mothers: A review of contributing factors, clinical considerations and future directions ↩︎
  4. Bever Babendure J, Reifsnider E, Mendias E, Moramarco MW, Davila YR. Reduced breastfeeding rates among obese mothers: A review of contributing factors, clinical considerations and future directions ↩︎

Lynn Campbell
Lynn Campbell

Lynn Campbell brings decades of experience as an editor for top newspapers, magazines, and websites. She learned to use credible sources and spot pseudoscience. Lynn is a writer, editor, copy editor, and researcher who has worked as copy chief at SPIN, ELLEgirl, and Kinfolk magazine, among many others. She has managed copy and research departments and served as a managing editor, deputy editor, staff writer, parenting editor, and advertising manager. Lynn also served as the copy chief for several books, including the New York Times best-seller The Kinfolk Home. She earned a Bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Georgia. As a mother, Lynn combines her professional expertise with her parenting experiences to offer valuable insights to her readers.

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