“My milk never came in”

or “My milk was late”

I hear it all of the time, and it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

Let me be clear, it’s not that I’m annoyed this mama thinks her milk isn’t in or that it’s late. It annoys me that society, sex education, childbirth education, her doctor, whomever has failed her completely.

To make a long explanation short: Your milk is in. It was in when you gave birth, it was probably in whilst you were pregnant. It. Is. In.

Now to make a long explanation long!

Essentially, milk has three phases, all of which are completely valid and necessary for the time when they are produced.

The three phases are:

Transitional Milk

Mature Milk

Colostrum is milk. It has always been milk, it will always be milk. This is where people get confused, I think. Because colostrum doesn’t have the word milk in it, then it must not be milk. It is.

Let’s get historical real quick, colostrum is derived from the Latin word “colustra/colustrae.” This literally describes the first milk from a cow after calving aka colostrum aka milk.

Colostrum begins to be produced during pregnancy. Some women notice leaking whilst they’re pregnant, others don’t. Neither signifies quality/quantity of production or supply. Don’t worry if you leak, don’t worry if you don’t leak.

Can you keep the colostrum you leak whilst pregnant? Yes! You can. Just catch it and freeze. It won’t be a lot maybe a few milliliters if that. With that said, you should never intentionally express colostrum without having baby monitored. The reason for this is because nipple stimulation can cause your uterus to contract and can cause fetal distress.

Now that we’ve cleared up that colostrum is milk, when your baby is born there is no reason for you to say or for any of your care providers, family members, friends etc to say “your milk isn’t in.” We’ve cleared up that, yes it is indeed “in.”

What next?
Latch! Get that baby to the breast as soon as you can!

So how does transitional milk come in? What about mature milk?

Colostrum is produced during pregnancy like I said. The hormones surging through your body whilst pregnant tell your body to produce colostrum. What happens once baby is born and you’re no longer pregnant? How does your body know what to do?

Mamas, Mother Nature is not dumb!

Let’s get into it!

Here’s where I have mama’s tell me, “Well maybe I had colostrum, but I never produced mature milk.”

Here’s a quick response to that statement that will tell me and you almost everything we need to know:

Was your placenta detached and delivered?

If you said yes, and you should say yes because you cannot walk around for weeks or months with retained placenta, then your transitional milk (not mature) began production.

Mother Nature is brilliant and decided, “I’ll go ahead and make colostrum readily available at birth because colostrum is perfect for a newborn, it’ll protect their gut which will help with their immunity and also help them poop out meconium, and get rid of excess bilirubin… What about after colostrum? Hmm.. A-ha! Mom and baby don’t need the placenta anymore, so once that’s detached, I’ll have that signal to her body to begin making transitional milk! This milk will come in a few days, maybe a week after birth, to give the colostrum plenty of time to protect the newborns gut, remove excess bilirubin and make sure baby’s poops are flowing! This transitional milk will be full of antibodies and will help baby’s tummy acclimate to mature milk!”

That’s right, once your placenta is detached your body has gotten the signal to kick production up a notch! Transitional milk will start to produce.

Before transitional milk even has a chance to flow, this is where a lot of mams are “done dirty.” She will have so many people telling her, “your milk isn’t in,” “You need to supplement” whatever it is. Please kindly education them, that colostrum is milk and if they aren’t going to provide you with factual information, they can graciously leave your room. Furthermore, do you know how tiny a newborn’s tummy is? Why is colostrum high in protein? Because Mother Nature isn’t stupid! Protein helps us feel full, it also helps build muscle, and furthermore, any excess protein turns into fat which our bodies can use too. Newborn tummies are only ~7mL (a breakdown 7mL=.029 cups, .4TBS, 1.4 TSP). It is tiny. Newborns cluster feed for a reason, and it is so necessary that you allow them to cluster feed. With tummies that small they’re going to want to nurse often, that does not mean you’re doing anything wrong or that your milk is in. It means your baby is normal and has a 7mL tummy and needs to eat.

Do not allow anyone to tell you days after you give birth that “your milk isn’t in.”

This is why that saying is so problematic: mamas stop latching and start supplementing because they think they’re not making milk.

What happens when you stop latching? Let’s kick it back to Mother Nature

“How do I make sure her body knows to keep producing? With colostrum, the pregnancy is what signaled it. The placenta has detached and that signals her body to start producing transitional milk, but how do I make sure she keeps producing? Hmm…Latching! If the baby is nursing on cue, that will signal her body to keep producing milk! And when baby is of natural weaning age years later, the lack of latching will signal her body to stop producing! Brilliant!”

That’s right. The simple act of your baby latching and nursing and removing milk is what signals your body to keep producing milk! This is the simple theory of supply and demand! If something is demanded it will be supplied! The same goes for your milk. If you demand the milk, by latching or pumping, your body will continue to supply it. You will never be “empty.” A lot of mamas think “well she drank me empty.” Nope, that’s not how it works. It might slow at certain times of day, but again this is normal and for a biological reason. You are never empty if you are nursing on cue (or pumping on an appropriate schedule).

If you are told, “supplement,” and you are not pumping or latching, you are telling your body, “Hey, I don’t need milk. Please stop production. Everyone is laid off, not severance pay, nothing.” Latch latch latch.

When does mature milk happen?

Mature milk is what everyone mislabels. They think mature milk needs to be right away after baby is born, or that it comes in a few days later. That’s not the case, and again, it’s for very good reason.

Mature milk can come in around 2 weeks after delivery! That might sound shocking if you think colostrum isn’t milk and don’t know about transitional milk. Now, you do know about them both so you can rest easy know that mature milk is meant to come in at a later date and that colostrum is exactly what your babies needs after birth and transitional milk helps baby’s tummy ready for mature milk.

So why the different milks?

Well we’ve gone over it a bit, but lets dive a little deeper.

The reason Mother Nature is a genius and has colostrum after birth and not mature milk is because baby is also still developing and growing outside of the womb. That high protein colostrum is essential to help baby grow and develop. It also makes sure that the weight baby loses after birth is regained effectively.

Mature milk is 90% water. Can you imagine a tiny little newborn only have mature milk? A 90% water, 10% carbs, fats, and protein?

That’s not going to help a tiny little baby grow and develop like it needs to, but it’s perfect for an older baby who has already gained that weight back, has dropped the water weight that was helping hydrate them. Now mature milk will help them stay hydrated as well as give them the necessary carbs, fat and protein to grow and have energy to learn all the amazing new things in the world!

Have you made it this far? Congratulations! Hopefully now you can feel confident in your body and Mother Nature’s design.

Since we’re at the end, let me make something clear because I know people will hop on and go warrior mode on their keyboards.

Do some women have difficulty with production? Yes. Do some women have real and legitimate reasons that they aren’t producing milk? Yes.

I don’t know any woman who hasn’t had at least one hiccup in breastfeeding…Not one. We all have our difficulties, but the statement I hear most often “well my milk just didn’t come in” tells me that they were grossly uneducated about breastfeeding and production, at no fault of their own.

So what are some legitimate reasons a mama might not be able to breastfeed?

Insufficient glandular tissue, or hypoplasia, this is really an issue that needs more support. IGT can happen to any size breasts, what we look at is the placement, shape and symmetry of the breast when trying to determine IGT. Another thing to note is one “warning” sign of IGT is not much if any change of the breast during pregnancy.

IGT can make it difficult to breastfeed, however some moms with IGT have successfully breastfed (that might look different to many women).

IGT can also be from a previous breast surgery where a lot of milk ducts were removed or severed. Things like mastectomy, or cosmetic surgery can affect production.

Another issue, which is more common that IGT is I would say (though again, it needs more attention so there might be more mamas with IGT than we know), is hormonal issues. A retained placenta and thyroid issues are the top of this list, though hormonal birth control can also cause issues breastfeeding.

Finally, and this sort of falls into the main post of mama’s not being educated properly, things like, scheduled feeds, extended separation, not latching, undiagnosed oral ties, and supplementing can all mean that your breastfeeding journey is not going to get off to a good start.

The amount of mamas who medically, legitimately, cannot breastfeed is guessed to be around 2-5%. It’s very low. I’ve never had a mama who actually cannot breastfeed. It’s simply misinformation passed on to her by outdated doctors, nurses, LC’s and the well placed, but again inaccurate advice from their moms, aunts, grandmas, friends, whomever.

I hope this has helped ease your mind just the slightest!

Keep calm and latch!

-Kaylan Cordell

Certified Lactation Consultant

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