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Understanding the Breastfeeding Process

Before you can begin to understand how breastfeeding works, you need to know the main structures of the breast. Grab a piece of paper, draw a breast and see how you go at labelling these 5 structures!

How did you go? Most mums average getting 2-3/5 before they start their breastfeeding journey. It’s all a learning process and this is a good start. 

For effective breastfeeding, 3 things must happen:

  • Milk Production
  • Milk Release
  • Milk Transfer

This blog is going to focus on ‘Milk Production’.


So how does your breast produce milk and how does breastfeeding work?

Once your pituitary gland has released Prolactin and Oxytocin, your baby then removes the milk from your breast via a simple ‘Supply and Demand’ system, which you will learn about shortly.


Understanding the breastfeeding process

Breastfeeding is the most remarkable system that was designed by nature specifically for our babies.

It is regulated by an incredibly powerful ‘Natural Feedback System’ that exists between you and your baby and is a really important concept to understand. This feedback system determines the quantity of your milk and the quality of your milk.

Quantity of your milk:

  • Is controlled by a Demand/Supply system
  • Your baby will have regular growth spurts during their first 12 months and this is nature’s way of supporting the needs of your rapidly growing baby

The more milk your baby takes, the more milk you make. You will make just the right amount of milk to meet your baby’s needs

Quality of your milk:

Breastmilk is a dynamic fluid, so the composition of your milk changes constantly as it adapts to your baby’s needs. It will change from:

  • The beginning of the feed to the end of the feed
  • Morning to night
  • Day to day
  • Week to week
  • Month to month
  • A hot day vs a cooler day, by increasing the water content in your milk
  • When your baby is unwell or you or your baby have been exposed to bacteria or a virus, by increasing the immune properties in your milk


Doesn’t nature just blow your mind sometimes with how clever it is!


Baby-led feeding/Demand Feeding – a key to successful breastfeeding

A healthy newborn has the remarkable ability to completely regulate their own milk intake when they are allowed to feed on demand. So it is really important to follow your baby’s cues as to when they are hungry.

  • Newborns are biologically programmed to breastfeed 8-12 times in 24 hours
  • Every baby will have a slightly different feeding pattern. Some will cluster feed and some will feed like clockwork, every 2-3 hours

(Cluster feeding is when babies demand a few feeds close together, followed generally by a longer stretch of sleep. Cluster feeding is not ‘snacking’ however so it is important to ensure that your baby is feeding effectively at each feed and getting a full feed).

Tip: If you want to know why newborns feed so frequently have a read of my blog on ‘Normal Feeding Behaviour of a Newborn’.

What is a Full Feed?

 A full feed is making sure that you offer your baby both sides every feed (or the same side again if you have been advised by a breastfeeding professional to ‘block feed’).

Watch your baby not the clock:

  • Don’t limit the time your baby is on the breast. This is to ensure that your baby receives all the fat and calories that they require so let your baby continue to feed until they seem full and satisfied – if you limit the length of time your baby is on the breast, your baby may not get enough of the nutrient-rich hind milk
  • Most babies will take themselves off the breast when they are feeling full and satisfied, however some babies don’t. If your baby stops sucking effectively and is requiring a lot of stimulation to continue sucking than break the suction and remove your baby from the breast


TIP: It is normal for your baby to comfort suck for a short period towards the end of their breastfeed and this is an important part of their feed.

How to encourage a full feed:

  • Always offer both sides at every feed. I refer to the second side as a ‘Dessert option’ so always offer it. Your baby may take just as much on this said as their first side, only a few minutes or may not be interested at all and has received all of their required nutrients for this feed from their first side. Start on this side first at the next feed and if necessary, hand express or pump to relieve any fullness.
  • Every mother’s milk is different so you cannot predict a time that your baby has received enough hind milk (fat and calories content in your milk vital for growth and brain development). Some babies will need to feed for longer to get the amount they require so you need to trust the natural feedback process that exists between you and your baby – the key is that your baby is feeding effectively


Create a ‘Feeding Ritual’:

A feeding ritual can help you to manage your baby’s feeding and to encourage a full feed. It is just as important as a sleep ritual will be as your baby gets older.

It is a repetitive cycle of F, A, S. (Feed, Activity, Sleep). From the first feed in the morning through to the last evening feed when it changes to just F, S and you no longer include activity.

  1. Feed first side
  2. Wind
  3. Change nappy
  4. Offer second side
  5. Wind again
  6. Activity time/floor/playtime (appropriate for age)
  7. Observe for tired signs/appropriate wake period for the age and stage of your baby – pre-sleep ritual – settle – Sleep

The ‘A’ period of time is much shorter for newborns and will get progressively longer as your baby gets older and is able to manage a longer wake period. Around 6 months of age, this ritual will not be as important.

So, to recap:

  • The breastfeeding process is a remarkable one that you can trust – designed by nature specifically for our babies
  • Allow your baby to breastfeed on demand – follow their cues as to when they are hungry
  • Encourage your baby to have a full feed every time they breastfeed by offering them both sides
  • Don’t limit the time your baby feeds – let your baby feed until they seem full and satisfied
  • Create a feeding ritual


All the very best with your breastfeeding journey. If you would like some support or advice at any time please don’t hesitate to give me a call and we can have a chat. 

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