How breastmilk production really works

Breastmilk production is the subject of many breastfeeding myths. There is a common misconception that a mother’s breasts are like big bottles that constantly fill with breastmilk by some magical process separate from baby and mom. Babies then feed on tap from this ever-full reservoir. However, the truth is more complicated. Rather than “supply and demand,” breastfeeding actually works by a method of “demand and supply.” A mother will produce only the amount of breastmilk that her baby wants.

A mother’s body is very efficient since there is no point in producing more breastmilk than the baby actually wants to consume! Mom will only produce the amount of breastmilk that her baby demands. It is true that hormones drive the production of very early breastmilk, called colostrum. However, in order to keep producing breastmilk, your baby needs to keep sucking from the breast. The overall level of milk production varies based on the baby’s amount of sucking and how much milk is actually removed. The amount of breastmilk a mother produces is tied to her baby’s genetics – since genetics determine growth rate and metabolism.

Over time, a mom’s body will increase or decrease the amount of breastmilk it produces in order to meet the baby’s exact needs. The key is to create a process, routine, and familiar environment for the baby to latch on correctly, reduce stress, and enable them to feed comfortably. This is one reason why having a breastfeeding sanctuary where mom and baby can relax and be comfortable can be important.

How Milk Production Works to Maintain a Good Supply

In the first days after birth, when milk ‘comes in’ your breasts may feel quite full, perhaps even too full! Over the next days and weeks though, it is normal that this feeling of fullness decreases. However, one of the biggest concerns of new nursing moms may be that their breasts never feel full and that they are subsequently not producing enough milk for their baby. This concern can be very stressful and that worry in turn affects the amount of milk being produced. Ironically, one of the ways to ensure a good milk supply is to not to worry about having a good milk supply. Understanding the way that breastmilk production works may also help to reduce stress.

Keep these basic principles in mind:

  • The more you breastfeed, and the more efficient the baby is in emptying the breasts, the more milk your body produces.
  • Your body will produce milk in response to stimulation of the breast.
  • Milk production speeds up in response to an empty breast.
  • Milk is being produced at all times, so the breast is never completely empty.
How to Keep Breastmilk Supply Up in order To Meet Demand

The most important thing to remember about breastmilk production is that it all depends on the baby’s demand. If your baby is growing appropriately, then you are providing enough milk. So keep breastfeeding. We advise not introducing formula until the baby is at least six months old, if at all. Remember: for the first six months of life, breastmilk is nature’s “perfect food” that delivers all the nutrients and immune protection that your baby needs!

Stimulate production by emptying breasts by nursing more often and/or adding pumping sessions between nursing sessions. Pump after breastfeeding if the baby does not adequately soften both breasts.  Feed on both sides and switch when the breast is soft to ensure that the baby gets hind milk – this milk fat, which steadily increases from beginning to end of each nursing session, is great for the baby’s brain development.

Finally, try to take good care of yourself so you can take good care of your baby. Take time for yourself every day. Relax and try to get some sleep. Drink lots of water and eat a balanced diet of nutritious food.

And remember, you are not alone! You have many options for breastfeeding support. If you are concerned about your breastmilk production, talk to your doctor, your paediatrician, or a lactation consultant.


Medela offers breastfeeding accessories and breast pumps to mothers in Quebec and around the world. A long-time champion of breastfeeding, Medela is the only company to develop products based on the latest research by leading breastfeeding experts and feedback from breastfeeding mothers. As a result, Medela pumps are the number one choice for healthcare professionals, healthcare facilities and mothers around the world. Only you can provide what’s best for your baby. Medela can help.

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