The anatomy of the female breast during breastfeeding

The beauty of the female breast is that the size and shape of it has nothing to do with your ability to feed your baby.

All female breasts are made up of fatty tissue, supporting tissue and special glands that produce milk. They also contain blood vessels and lymph vessels.

Each of your breasts has 15-20 lobes that contain several smaller lobules and small clusters of so-called alveoli that drain the breast of milk. The milk is then transported to the nipple via milk ducts. The nipple and the surrounding areola usually come in a shade ranging from pink to brown and sometimes become larger and darker during pregnancy. This is likely nature’s way of helping your baby recognise the nipple when you breastfeed. To make it easier for the baby to make its way to the breast, the milk glands also release a fragrance that is comparable to the smell of the amniotic fluid in the womb.

Does breast size matter?

Regardless of breast size, women typically have a similar number of milk glands, large breasts just contain more fatty tissue. Some women also have more storage capacity in their breasts than others. The only difference is that if you have smaller storage capacity, your baby may need to feed a little more frequently. Often, one breast has a higher capacity than the other and your baby might feed longer on that side. This too is perfectly normal.

The anatomy of breastfeeding

From the time your breasts start to develop during puberty until you hit menopause, they are constantly evolving. The shape and weight of your breasts even vary during different times of your cycle. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the anatomy of your breasts evolves even further. From the fourth to sixth months of pregnancy, your mammary glands start to produce colostrum, the nutrient-packed liquid that your baby will feed on for the first few days after birth. Once your baby is born, your body releases more of the hormone prolactin, which prepares the breast for lactation and kicks the production of real breastmilk into gear.

Breastmilk production

For the first few weeks, your body produces breastmilk automatically, but after that it’s the baby’s demand that dictates the pace of production. At peak production, your breasts can produce up to one litre of milk per day. And if you wonder what happens to all that milk once you wean your baby, the answer might surprise you. Researchers recently discovered that the milk-producing cells are actually cannibalised by other cells. Exactly how the remains from this massacre leave the body is not fully known, but most of the milk-producing tissue is eventually replaced by connective tissue

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