Lactation and breast care post pregnancy

Although breast development begins around puberty, development of mammary function is only completed in pregnancy. During the first half of pregnancy, the mammary ducts proliferate and group together to form large lobules. During the second half of pregnancy, secretory activity increases and the alveoli become distended by accumulating colostrum. After 16 weeks of pregnancy, lactation occurs even if the pregnancy does not progress.

The ability of the mammary gland to secrete milk during later pregnancy is called lactogenesis, stage 1. During this time, breast size increases and fat droplets accumulate in the secretory cells. The onset of copious milk secretions after birth is lactogenesis, stage 2, and usually occurs from day two or three to eight days postpartum. During this time, the milk goes through a maturation process to match the infant’s needs. Without the hormone prolactin, lactation would not occur.

During pregnancy, prolactin helps to increase breast mass but does not cause lactation because it is inhibited by the hormone progesterone, which is made by the placenta. The inhibiting influence of progesterone is so strong that lactation is delayed if any of the placenta is retained after birth. Prolactin levels rise and fall in direct proportion to the frequency, intensity, and duration of nipple stimulation from the infant’s suckling. During the first week after birth, prolactin levels in breastfeeding women fall about 50 percent. If a mother does not breastfeed, prolactin levels usually reach the levels of the nonpregnant state by seven days postpartum. After milk “comes in” or rapidly increases in volume, lactation is no longer driven by the hormone prolactin. It shifts control to a milk removal driven process, i.e., sucking stimulus. Thus, the initiation of lactation is not driven by breastfeeding, but breastfeeding is necessary for the continuation of lactation.

Colostrum is thick and creamy yellow as compared with mature milk, which is thin and bluish-white. Compared with mature milk, colostrum is richer in protein and minerals and lower in carbohydrates, fat, and some vitamins. The high concentration of total protein and minerals in colostrum gradually changes to meet the infant’s needs over the first two to three weeks until lactation is established. The key component in colostrum and breast milk is immunoglobulins or antibodies that serve to protect the infant against infections or viruses. Breast milk also facilitates the development of the infant’s own immune system to mature faster. As a result, breast-fed babies have fewer ear infections, diarrhoea, rashes, allergies, and other medical problems than bottle-fed babies. Human milk is rich in proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, hormones, enzymes, growth factors, and many types of protective agents. It contains about 10 percent solids for energy and growth and the rest is water, which is essential to maintain hydration. This is also why a breastfed baby does not need additional water. Infants can digest breast milk much more rapidly than formula and, therefore, do not get constipated. On average, it takes about 30 minutes longer to digest formula as opposed to breast milk. Breastfed babies have better cheekbone development and better jaw alignment.

Besides the benefits of the contracting uterus, the process of producing milk burns calories, which helps the mother to lose excess weight gained during pregnancy. After all, that is why pregnant women put on extra fat during pregnancy—energy storage for milk production. Breastfeeding is also related to a lower risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. For every year of life spent breastfeeding, a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer drops by 4.3 percent and this is on top of the 7 percent reduction she enjoys for every baby to whom she gives birth.

Additionally, there is the convenience. Breast milk is always with the mother. Mothers do not have to store it. It is always at the right temperature. It is free. It does not require sterilization. In fact, it prevents diseases and has protective factors resulting in healthier babies and decreased healthcare costs. It saves money as there is no need to buy formula, bottles, and nipples.


It is best to begin breastfeeding immediately after birth as it is an infant’s natural instinct to nurse then. Regardless of the baby’s initial suckling behavior, this interaction stimulates uterine contractions, promotes colonization of harmless bacteria on the nipple, and helps to protect the infant from pathogenic bacteria. It is an important time to nuzzle. Women breastfeed for a longer duration if feedings are started early. The first several feedings have an imprinting effect. It is recommended to continue feeding about every two to three hours. It is important to remember that all babies are different; some need to nurse almost constantly at first, while others can go much longer between feedings. There are babies and mothers who have no trouble breastfeeding, while others may need some assistance. Once the baby begins to suck, the mother makes sure that the entire dark area around the nipple (areola) is in the baby’s mouth. This helps stimulate milk flow and allows the baby to get enough milk. Nipple soreness can be a result of the infant not getting a good grasp of the entire areola. A newborn needs to be fed at least eight to 12 times in 24 hours. Since breast milk is so easily digested, a baby may be hungry again as soon as one and one-half hours after the last feeding.

Mothers need to be comfortable when nursing; therefore, loose, front-opening clothes and a good nursing bra are essential. They need to explore different positions for breastfeeding to determine what is best for them. The cradle hold works well in bed or sitting in a comfortable chair. The football hold is excellent if the woman had a cesarean section.

  • Common problems in breastfeeding mothers.
  • Engorgement: Breasts that are too full can prevent the baby from suckling because they cannot be grasped. Expressing milk manually or with a breast pump can alleviate this problem.
    Sore nipples: Transient soreness can occur during the first week postpartum and is usually temporary. Air drying the nipples and rubbing colostrum or breast milk into them provides relief. Prolonged, abnormal soreness lasts longer than a week postpartum. Discontinuing use of soap on breasts while bathing and applying purified lanolin to nipples and air drying them helps.
    Infection: Soreness and inflammation on the breast surface or a fever in the mother may be an indication of breast infection (mastitis). If it is just starting, the mother should drink lots of water and nurse frequently on the affected breast. Antibiotics may be necessary if the infection persists.

Lactation consultants work at almost every hospital where babies are delivered. First-time mothers can request the lactation consultant to visit her. The mother should make a note of the lactation consultant’s phone number should problems be encountered after mother and infant go home.

There are no rules about when to stop breastfeeding. A baby needs breast milk for at least the first year of life and it is preferred that no solid food be given for at least the first six months to prevent allergies. As long as a baby eats age-appropriate solid food, the mother may nurse for several years.

Dr.Ruchi Tandon, is a Gynecologist, practicing in leading hospitals in South Delhi, namely, max smart superspeciality hospital, saket, Apollo hospitals, with over 13 years experience in handling lactation and Pregnancy.

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