Continues from previous page
Why is milk not produced during pregnancy?
It is because of the very high level of the hormone estrogen in circulation during pregnancy. This inhibits the action of the hormone prolactin, which is responsible for milk production.
How soon after delivery is milk produced?
Soon after delivery, levels of oestrogen fall quite dramatically. This allows the hormone prolactin, the levels of which are already quite high, to stimulate production of milk. By 48 hours after delivery milk starts to be produced and by the end of the fourth day, it is in full-flow.
Surely the baby cannot wait for forty-eight hours before starting to -feed?
No; he or she does not have to. Shortly after delivery, the breasts produce a protein-rich fluid called colostrum. The baby can be put on the breast within minutes or hours of delivery and can feed on this. The act of suckling should actually be encouraged from as early as possible, because it positively facilitates milk production.
Are there any other important hormones in the production of milk?
Yes. Apart from prolactin, several other hormones play a lesser but still important role in milk production. They include insulin, cortisol, oxytocin and even thyroid hormones. Even estrogen is important, in a negative way.
Estrogen levels need to be low to facilitate the production and maintenance of lactation. This is why the use of the combined oral contraceptive pill (which contains estrogen) and breast-feeding are incompatible.
So levels of the hormone prolactin have to remain high for milk production and breast-feeding to continue?
Surprisingly, no. After the first fourteen to sixteen weeks, the levels of this hormone fall to the non-pregnant level. However, as long as suckling is maintained, milk will continue to be produced.
Is there anything a mother should do to ensure adequate milk production?
Yes. Quite simply, she should ensure adequate fluid intake. The rest is sorted out by the interplay of the hormones in the body.