When you first realize you’re going to be a mom for the first time, everything is exciting. At your first scan, there's nothing more amazing than hearing the heartbeat. As your due date approaches, you will have to make some decisions—one important one is whether to breastfeed or not.
Throughout your pregnancy, you will have relatives, friends and sometimes complete strangers giving you well-meant advice. Some of this advice can be very misleading at best. At this point, you may be panicking wondering if your breasts will be capable of breastfeeding and producing enough milk to satisfy your hungry baby.
Fact or Fiction?
There are so many myths around breast size and milk production. A prime example is that small breasts won't produce enough milk, and large breasts will produce a great deal. However, the size of your breasts has no impact whatsoever on the ability to produce breast milk.
If anything, it’s possible that having large breasts means the surrounding area of the nipple could be too big for the small mouth of a newborn baby, making latching difficult. But the size of a mom’s breasts does not always signify the amount of milk produced for her little one.
In order to understand what impacts our ability to produce breast milk, we’ll look at what the breast consists of and how, as moms, we provide the milk to breastfeed.
So let's start with the breast itself and its makeup.
Breast Anatomy and Milk Production
The breasts are made up of fatty tissue and usually grow during the gestation period (pregnancy) preparing themselves for the baby to feed. The size has no bearing whatsoever on the amount of milk produced, and larger breasts are not necessarily better for the production of milk.
When your baby is born, the estrogen and progesterone levels diminish dramatically and you release a hormone called prolactin. This hormone tells the glands in the breasts, called mammary glands, that they need to begin producing milk. The alveoli, on the instructions of the hormone prolactin, begin to collect the necessary ingredients of protein, fat and sugars present in your blood to manufacture milk for your baby.
The milk is deposited into the area around the nipple (the areola, the dark part) and into the milk ducts which lay under the nipple. As the baby suckles, milk is being produced to replace what they have drunk, thus providing a continuous flow.
Even in small breasts this occurs, and in essence, the more baby suckles the more milk mom will produce.
What Changes Do the Breasts Go Through to Produce Milk?
Your breasts are preparing for the new arrival from conception. A change in the structure of the breast and surging hormones means you’ll likely feel a difference even in the first trimester.
As the pregnancy develops and the placenta grows, it encourages the dispensing of of the hormones needed to kickstart the milk-producing cells in the breast. By the time you reach the second trimester, the milk ducts will have increased in number and size. Even if the baby decides to be born early, mom can still make milk to feed her little bundle of joy.
Can You Successfully Breastfeed If You Have Small Breasts?
As already mentioned, the size of your breasts have no impact on the ability to produce milk or breastfeed your baby. Breast size and density are inherited, and because of this, breasts differ in size and shape between women. A woman with small breasts can produce as much milk as a woman with larger breasts.
More important than the size of the breast is the nipple protrusion. Mothers with breasts that are small and have been unsuccessful at breastfeeding tend to blame their breasts as the problem of not being able to produce milk. This is not the case—there could be an underlying hormonal reason for the deficit, or if milk is present, it could be the inability of the baby to latch on to the nipple successfully. Breastfeeding may not be attainable due to a variety of reasons, such as prolonged separation after birth.
Does the Size and Shape of the Nipple Affect Milk Production?
The size and shape of the nipples do not influence the production of milk, but they can affect the ability of the baby to latch on successfully. If the infant cannot obtain a good latch then there is no stimulation to produce more milk.
Most nipple types do not affect breastfeeding, but there can be problems.
Some mothers’ nipples may be flat and hard to latch on to or possibly inverted and a problem for baby. Both of these can be rectified quite easily by seeing a lactation specialist who can recommend a solution.
What Factors Can Affect the Production of Milk?
There are many factors that can affect the production of milk. Some physical and, more surprisingly, mental influences.
If the breasts are emptied frequently, it stimulates the milk production, so the baby must feed often.
Influences that affect milk production from the mother include:
- An imbalance of hormones. For example, if mom suffers from thyroid problems, cysts on the ovaries or PSO (polycystic ovary syndrome).
- Inadequate breast tissue.
- Stress and anxiety.
- Surgery around the breast or the nipple.
- Not eating well.
- Taking drugs, medication or alcohol.
- Prolonged separation from baby.
Influences from the baby can be:
- Using a bottle in between breastfeeding.
- A sleeping baby that does not feed often enough to stimulate the milk flow.
- Baby that refuses the breast due to flat nipples, large nipples or fast flow.
- Unable to suckle strong enough due to premature birth or sickness.
All these factors can affect the body’s ability to produce milk.
There is a great deal of fiction around breast size and milk production, which causes controversy and stress for a new mom.
But, as time has evolved, there is enough research and evidence provided to prove that the size of the breast has no impingement on the ability to produce breast milk, and successfully breastfeed your new infant. There are other factors to keep in mind, but breast size is not one of them!