How Breastfeeding Works: A Wholistic Guide

women breastfeeding her baby standing up

Breastfeeding is a natural and beautiful way for mothers to nourish their babies, providing them with essential nutrients and a strong foundation for healthy growth and development. For many new mothers, the process of breastfeeding may seem mysterious and challenging at first.

As a breastfeeding mother and with my experience working with Certified Lactation Consultants, I know firsthand what breastfeeding is like and how it works. Let’s explore the remarkable process of breastfeeding and delve into the various aspects that make it a unique and fulfilling experience for both mother and child.

How Does Breastfeeding Work?

Breastfeeding works through a hormonal cascade triggered after childbirth. Prolactin stimulates milk production, while oxytocin causes milk ejection during nursing. Frequent nursing establishes supply and demand, providing the perfect nutrition and bonding for the baby.

mother laying on bed breastfeeding

The Anatomy of Breastfeeding

To understand how breastfeeding works, let's start with the anatomy of the breast. The mammary glands within a woman's breast are responsible for producing milk. These glands are made up of clusters of tiny sacs known as alveoli. I like to think of the alveoli as the body’s “refrigerator” for your milk.

When a baby suckles at the breast, it stimulates nerve endings, which send signals to the mother's brain to release hormones that initiate milk production.

The Hormonal Cascade

Breastfeeding is regulated by a complex interplay of hormones. During pregnancy, high levels of estrogen and progesterone suppress milk production. After childbirth, when the placenta is delivered, the levels of these hormones drop significantly, and a hormone called prolactin rises.

Prolactin stimulates milk production, and as the baby feeds, the hormone oxytocin is released, causing the muscles around the alveoli to contract, facilitating milk ejection or "let-down."

The First Milk: Colostrum

In the first few days after giving birth, mothers produce colostrum, a thick, yellowish liquid that is rich in antibodies and essential nutrients. Colostrum provides vital immune support for the newborn and helps establish a healthy gut microbiome. Although it is produced in smaller quantities compared to mature milk, colostrum is perfectly designed to meet the newborn's needs during the initial days of life.

Supply and Demand: Milk Production

As a baby begins breastfeeding, they initiate a process known as "supply and demand." The more the baby feeds, the more milk the mother produces. The breasts operate on a feedback mechanism, ensuring an adequate milk supply to meet the baby's growing demands. Frequent and effective nursing sessions are crucial during the early weeks to establish a robust milk supply.

Breast Milk Composition

Breast milk is often called "liquid gold" for a good reason. It is a living, dynamic substance that adapts to the baby's changing needs. The composition of breast milk evolves over time, transitioning from colostrum to mature milk. It contains the perfect blend of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals essential for the baby's growth and development.

The Magic of Skin-to-Skin Contact

Skin-to-skin contact is a powerful practice that promotes bonding between mother and baby. When a baby is placed on the mother's bare chest, it triggers instinctual behaviors that lead to successful breastfeeding. The warmth and scent of the mother's body stimulate the baby's rooting reflex, encouraging them to find the breast and latch on.

Many hospitals and birthing centers encourage skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth in order to facilitate a successful start to breastfeeding. This is known as “The Golden Hour” where mom and baby bond and initiate the first latch.

Latch and Positioning

A proper latch is crucial for successful breastfeeding. A good latch means that the baby is positioned in a way that their mouth covers a significant portion of the areola, not just the nipple. This ensures that the baby can effectively extract milk and prevents discomfort or nipple damage for the mother.

To position your baby for breastfeeding, you should have their belly face towards you to allow their spine to be aligned. There are many different positions that will allow comfort for you and your baby, so try out a few to see what works best for you! The cradle hold is a popular position that allows you to support both your baby and your breast.

So, What Happens When You Breastfeed?

Once you and baby are in a comfortable position, wait for baby to give you a wide open mouth and insert your nipple with as much areola as possible into her mouth. As your baby begins suckling, oxytocin helps initiate the “let-down” reflex, which is a fancy way of saying that your milk begins to flow out of your breast and to your baby.

Milk is released from the “refrigerator”, through the milk ducts, and out of the nipple. The more milk baby drinks, the more milk your body will produce!

My Experience With Breastfeeding

My experience has been a bit of a rollercoaster, as it is for most new moms. The first few days were the hardest as both me and my baby girl, Isabella, were learning how breastfeeding works for the first time. I used a nipple shield to begin with because it helped my baby to latch.

However, every day we got better and after a few weeks we didn’t need a nipple shield anymore. Before I knew it, breastfeeding became routine and my little girl started gaining healthy weight and growing up before my eyes! Breastfeeding has been a magical experience, certainly not without it’s challenges, but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.


Breastfeeding is a remarkable journey that provides countless benefits to both mother and baby. It is an opportunity for nurturing, bonding, and ensuring optimal health for the little one. Understanding how breastfeeding works can help new mothers feel more confident and empowered as they embark on this beautiful and natural experience.

Remember, every breastfeeding journey is unique, and seeking support from lactation consultants, support groups, or online communities can be incredibly valuable in overcoming any challenges and making the most of this extraordinary journey.

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Author, Founder @ Latch Luxe

Stefanie Statler

Stefanie Statler is an author and the founder of Latch Luxe, with a loving husband and daughter. She is a dedicated advocate for breastfeeding mothers and understands the challenges and joys of motherhood firsthand. Email me at

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