This Is How Your Body Really Produces Breast Milk

It's no secret — breast milk is a magical substance. From fighting infections to reducing the risk of asthma, breast milk has benefits for infants that just can't be beaten (via WebMD). There are even health benefits for mothers, too. If you're able to, you might consider breastfeeding your infant.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, and then a combination of safe, complementary foods and breastfeeding for at least two years. While these recommendations vary slightly by different health organizations, most suggest that breastfeeding for the first six months is beneficial for both baby and mother, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. The WHO also recommends letting your baby feed on demand during this time, which means letting them breastfeed at any time, day or night. They also stress the importance of breastfeeding within the first hour of an infant's life.

Breast milk benefits

Breast milk has the perfect blend of vitamins, protein, and fat, according to Healthline. However, breastmilk will change over time. For instance, when babies are first born, breast milk is rich in colostrum, a thick, yellowish fluid very high in protein. It's also loaded with antibodies that help protect your baby from viruses and bacteria. It can even help promote healthy weight gain and prevent obesity. Exclusive breastfeeding may reduce your baby's risk of ear infections, colds, allergies, diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It also has the potential to increase their brain development, leading to a higher IQ.

There are benefits for mothers, too. Women who breastfeed are less likely to develop postpartum depression, anemia, and urinary tract infections (via Cleveland Clinic). Later in life, they may have a lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Breastfeeding also increases a healthy bond with your baby and reduces stress around the baby's health, boosting positive feelings like confidence and reducing stress.

How it all works

Luckily, the body knows how to produce breast milk as soon as a baby is born and even starts preparing before the baby arrives (per Verywell Family). During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone rise to increase the breast's milk ducts and milk-making tissue. More blood flows to the breasts, and by the second trimester, the body is already beginning to produce colostrum. Once the baby is born, estrogen and progesterone drop while the hormone prolactin rises, which signals to your body to begin creating milk. This stage may last until the eighth day when full milk production sets in.

In addition to prolactin, the hormone oxytocin plays a large part in breastfeeding, according to Verywell Family. While prolactin tells the body to produce the milk, oxytocin is responsible for telling the body to release it (via WHO). The oxytocin reflex is stimulated when the baby is suckling and when the mother touches, smells, sees her baby, thinks about them, or hears them crying.

Since all of these functions work together to create a positive feeding and bonding experience for both mother and baby, WHO reports it's important that the mother feels relaxed, supported, cared for, and is in close contact with her baby during the breastfeeding phase.