In a previous article, we talked to you about lactation. Today, we're going to give you some advice on how to help or stop your milk coming in.
How can I help my milk flow?
The first milk secreted by the breasts is called colostrum. It is produced in the middle of pregnancy (around 12-18 weeks) and in the first few days after birth. Even if your baby only feeds on this first milk - i.e. when you decide to exclusively offer the "welcome feed" - the value of this precious liquid is indisputable. In fact, this thick, yellowish substance has many benefits, including nutrients that boost your baby's immune system and help him fight infection. Around 2 to 4 days after birth, you'll notice that your breasts are fuller. This phenomenon of secretory activation is often referred to as "milk flow". Your milk adapts to your baby's needs. Its composition then changes, and colostrum becomes transitional milk, preceding mature milk. Every time your baby feeds, your body knows it needs to produce more milk for the next feed, and a host of studies have shown that the earlier a feed is offered at birth, the more abundant the milk secretion will be. This factor - if combined with skin-to-skin contact right from the birth room - is considered one of the best ways to allow lactation to take hold. If, for whatever reason, your baby doesn't latch on to the breast, you can collect your colostrum in a teaspoon and give it to him. We also know that the more the baby suckles during the first few days, the more milk secretion is stimulated, which helps to avoid severe engorgement, as the blood flow combined with interstitial oedema at the moment when milk is produced in greater quantities can result in pain and a particularly unpleasant sensation of breast tension. As you can see, the best way to prevent this complication is to feed as often as possible or, failing that, express colostrum by hand. Ask the maternity ward staff to ensure your comfort. If you're comfortable, you'll be able to put your newborn to the breast yourself and see him or her effortlessly. You'll also release precious oxytocin, which will help your milk flow more easily. If you have the slightest doubt about your baby's ability to suckle properly, or if you encounter any difficulties, don't hesitate to talk to your midwife or a lactation consultant if there is one at the maternity hospital. Some people around you may ask how often your baby feeds, and for how long. Keep in mind that one of the most pragmatic ways to identify whether your baby is getting enough milk is to pay attention to his diapers. Babies should have their first meconium bowel movement within the first 24 hours of life. Some babies pass meconium in the delivery room. You can expect your baby to have eliminated his meconium by D3. Finally, it's a good idea to stay well hydrated with water throughout the day, drinking no more and no less than you're thirsty for, especially after giving birth and before your milk comes in, but also throughout breastfeeding, as milk is mainly made up of water.
How can I stop my milk coming in?
If you don't want to breastfeed or no longer want to breastfeed, we'll take care to help your lactation dry up gradually, avoiding engorgement, and you may need to run warm water over your breasts during a shower to encourage the flow of milk that is produced in spite of everything. Some mothers massage their breasts or pump just enough milk to keep their breasts supple in the days following birth. Some mothers will need to take an analgesic or even an anti-inflammatory to relieve discomfort and pain. There is weak evidence that certain pharmacological treatments are superior to no treatment in stopping lactation symptoms in the first week after delivery. It's also worth noting that the side effects of this type of medication call for caution. If the situation requires it, a drug treatment, a lactation inhibitor with the best benefit-risk ratio, should be prescribed. Finally, we would like to remind you that this article has been written to give you some advice on how to help or stop your milk coming in, but nothing can replace the advice of a health specialist. First and foremost, therefore, we advise you to discuss your situation with your lactation consultant or midwife.
- Article reviewed by our IBCLC lactation consultant, Carole Hervé
What is lactation? Read our article here