When does breast milk come in?


It’s one of the big questions for parents of newborns who want to breastfeed: When does the milk come in, and how can you be prepared for breast milk production?

Here’s a secret: As an IBCLC, or board-certified lactation consultant, I don’t actually love the phrase “when does the milk come in.” Instead, I like to say, “when does the milk increase in volume?” Your body actually begins making milk around week 16 to 20 in pregnancy! After you give birth, once you birth the placenta and the baby starts suckling at the breast or you begin pumping, you’re stimulating the breast tissue. That’s when the milk starts to increase in volume.

Stages of breast milk production

Early milk is called colostrum, or “liquid gold,” as you might have heard. This type of milk lasts for the first couple of days, and then typically around day three to five, the milk starts to increase in volume.

The more that you are keeping your baby skin-to-skin, nursing every couple of hours around the clock, or stimulating the breast with pumping, the higher the chances are that the milk will increase in volume a little bit faster. As the milk increases in volume, it transitions from colostrum—that early milk—to transitional milk, and then later, mature milk.

Engorgement and breast milk production

During this time, while the milk is increasing in volume, most people (but not all) will go through a period called engorgement. Your breasts might feel very hard, and your skin might feel stretched.

You might see a little bit of shininess and experience warmth and tenderness in the breasts. This is often one of the trickiest times in the breastfeeding journey.

During this time, it might be kind of hard for a baby to latch on because your breasts are so firm and full from increasing the milk volume. 

Ways to ease engorgement from breast milk

Ideally, you want to stimulate the breasts as much as you can, whether that’s by nursing, pumping, or massage. Massage has actually been shown to increase breast milk supply by up to 50%, so the more massage that you can do, the better—remembering to always be gentle with yourself. 

There’s a technique called reverse pressure softening, which helps move the fluid back toward the chest wall, that can be helpful to give the baby a softer surface to latch on. Expressing milk from the breasts by pumping or manual pressure can also help.

Finally, taking a warm shower can help: Just let the water cascade over the breasts and apply gentle massage to express milk and relieve engorgement. 

Like I mentioned, this is not a fun time for a lot of parents. But it doesn’t last forever! In most cases, engorgement eases up after about 24 to 48 hours.

Meet the author

Hali Shields is the founder of Figgi, a holistic telehealth platform for pregnancy and postpartum. She has worked in maternal health for 14 years and holds credentials as an IBCLC (lactation consultant), national board certified health and wellness coach and certified doula. 


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