Breastfeeding mothers often wonder when the milk comes in. If you are worrying about whether your breastfed baby will get enough to eat in those first few days, or whether your milk will take too long to come in, rest assured that most new moms produce just the right type of milk when the baby needs it.
The First "Milk" Is Colostrum
Immediately after birth -- and sometimes during pregnancy's final weeks or months -- your breasts start producing colostrum, the first type of milk you will feed your baby. While many women think of colostrum as separate from their milk supply, it is a concentrated type of milk. In some women, colostrum is thick and yellow, while other mothers produce thin, white colostrum. Colostrum is lower in fat and higher in immune factors than the milk that follows. It flows more slowly than your later milk, giving your baby a chance to learn how to suck and swallow without being overwhelmed by a fast flow.
When Mature Milk Comes In
For most first-time mothers, the white fluid that most moms consider real milk comes in about three to four days after giving birth. Mothers who have had previous babies take less time -- about two to three days -- to start producing milk. However, these estimates are averages and there are exceptions. For the first 10 to 14 days, this milk will be thin, like skim milk. After milk production is established, the fat content increases to be closer to whole milk. You will probably notice a feeling of fullness in your breasts and notice more rapid sucking and swallowing from your breastfed baby when your milk comes in.
Establishing Your Milk Supply
While colostrum production is driven by hormones present before and just after birth, your full milk supply works on a supply-and-demand system. The more often your baby nurses, the sooner your milk will come in and the more milk your breasts will produce. During the first few weeks, if your breasts remain firm after a feed, you might want to pump any excess milk to ensure that the breasts are as empty as possible.
If There's a Problem With Supply
If your breasts don't produce genuine milk by 72 hours after birth, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant about your options. Once your milk comes in, as long as your baby continues to nurse, generally, you won't lose your milk. You might not be able to tell whether your milk has come in by sensation alone, since some women don't experience engorgement. If you are unsure, gently cup your hand around your breast close to your chest and lightly squeeze the breast while sliding your hand forward, to see if milk comes out. You can also watch your nursing baby for signs of active sucking and swallowing.