Breastfeeding: How Your Baby Gets the Milk Out of Your Breast

Babies have one action in common: the urge to suck. Some women might feel that a baby's natural ability to suck means she'll know how to breastfeed right away too. Yes, sucking is a natural motion, and your baby will do it automatically once she's on the breast, but she'll need you to guide her to the best place on the breast to access the most milk and to not cause you any discomfort. Plus, while sucking is important and comforting for your baby, what you really want to ensure is that she's drinking and swallowing. Her placement for a deep latch helps tremendously with this.

So how does your baby drink and draw the milk out of your breast? Believe it or not, she does most of the work during nursing. Of course when you have a let-down, your body helps her along with the free-flowing milk, but for the most part it's her sucking action that draws the milk from your breast.

How your baby draws milk from your breast

  • The milk gathers in the "sinus" areas of the milk ducts in your breasts, which are behind the areola, filling up between feedings. The sinuses are flexible areas of the milk ducts and located just behind the areola. During let-down and nursing sessions, these expandable areas fill with milk.
  • To capture all of the milk, and especially the milk in these storage areas, your baby needs to open wide and take a big mouthful of your breast, as opposed to sucking on just the tip of your breast, or the nipple, like she would suck on just the tip of a bottle. If she's sucking only on the tip, she probably isn't feeding effectively—and she might be causing pain for you. A good latch has her opening her mouth wide, reaching out her lower jaw and tongue and allowing you to put her mouth deeply around your nipple and areola to form a seal.
  • Your baby then uses her tongue to "milk" your breast. The wave-like muscular motions of her tongue and the pressure from her jaw help create suction on the sinus area of the ducts. This is what causes the milk to flow from your breast and into her mouth. It's why you want a good, deep latch, because the more breast tissue your baby has in her mouth near her tongue, the more milk she'll be able to access.
  • When the milk flows from your breast, it's coming out of about 9 to 15 nipple pores. Picture water flowing from a showerhead rather than from a hose, which is more like a bottle's nipple with one hole.

As your baby gets older, her sucking will become faster, stronger and more efficient.

Tips for success

  • Make sure your baby is latched on deeply to access the most milk and make you the most comfortable.
  • To help prevent discomfort, break the latch with your finger before taking your baby off your breast.
  • You can help the milk flow by compressing your breast to squeeze more milk into your baby's mouth. This is especially good for newborns, who often fall asleep while nursing.

Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001.

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Heather Kelly
Heather is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
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