Breast Anatomy: Can It Affect Breastfeeding?

    Many mothers worry about their breastfeeding capability because of uneven size or shape of breasts. But can it affect breastfeeding?
    Let’s understand breast anatomy to find out what affects breast milk production.

    Breast Anatomy: How Breasts Make Milk?

    breast anatomy
    Alveoli make and store breast milk. Oxytocin hormone squeezes alveoli to secrete this stored breast milk.
    1. Alveoli are tiny bags arranged like a bunch of grapes in breasts. They make and store milk.
    2. Little ducts carry this milk to large lactiferous ducts. Each breast has around 20 large milk ducts delivering milk to areola.
    3. Areola is the dark skin around nipples – this is where the baby has to suck to get milk.
    4. Fat and muscles fills most of the breast – they give size and shape to breast. They have no role in making milk.

    Most mothers having unequal size or shape of breasts have normal numbers of alveoli – they can breastfeed successfully. Even mothers having fewer alveoli can breastfeed with some help.
    The number of alveoli increases greatly during pregnancy. If a mother can feel her breasts change during pregnancy, she is ready to breastfeed.

    Want to know more? Check this short presentation on breast anatomy.

    Breast Changes In Pregnancy: Are My Breasts Ready To Make Milk?

    Hormones released during pregnancy prepare the breasts by making new alveoli and milk ducts. Mother can also feel these changes:

    • Breasts grow and feel heavy,
    • Stretch marks and veins can be seen over the skin,
    • Areola grows larger and darker,
    • Tiny bumps appear over areola – Montgomery glands,
    • Nipples tighten up,
    • Some milk may leak from breasts.

    Should I Worry If I Do Not Feel Breast Changes?

    Breast changes differently in every pregnancy. Some mothers have these changes early in pregnancy while others have late changes. But eventually (almost) all mothers will have breast changes.
    Consult with the obstetrician if you have small breasts or breast scar of surgery or injury and do not feel breast changes.

    Does Having Small Breasts Affect Milk Supply?

    Fat fills most of the breasts. Mothers having small breasts have less fat, but a good number of milk-making alveoli. So you can make enough milk for your baby even with small breasts.

    When to consult your obstetrician?

    • If the flat gap between your breasts is more than 4 centimetres.
    • If you did not feel breast changes during pregnancy.

    Also consult with your baby’s doctor who will check baby’s milk intake and give Lactation Aid if needed.

    How To Breastfeed With Unequal Breasts?

    Some mothers have unequal breasts even before pregnancy, and it is normal. Breasts may become unequal if a breastfeeding mother feeds more often from one breast. Unequal breasts do not affect milk supply and breasts will return to their original size when you wean the baby.

    Tips to balance unequal breasts:

    • Breastfeed with smaller breast first and then shift to larger breast. After breastfeeding stimulate the smaller breast with a breast pump for extra 5 minutes.
    • Feeding from smaller breast first may leave your larger breast filled with milk as it is making more milk. Pump out extra milk after each feeding to keep your breast healthy.
    • If you have pain feeding from one breast, consult a lactation counselor.
    • Consult the baby’s doctor if you doubt your breast milk production. Doctor will check baby’s milk intake.

    Know that some difference in size of breasts is normal while breastfeeding. If you and your baby can breastfeed comfortably, all is well!

    Can I Breastfeed After Breast Surgery Or Injury?

    Surgery or injury of breasts can damage milk-producing alveoli affecting milk supply. But serious damage to alveoli is rare. Most women can breastfeed with some help.

    How to breastfeed after breast surgery?

    • Feel the breast changes during pregnancy. It will tell if your breasts are ready.
    • Get your breasts checked for milk supply after delivery. Your doctor or lactation counselor may advise galactagogue to increase milk supply.
    • If your milk supply is too low, your baby’s doctor will give Lactation Aid (Tube Assisted Breastfeeding) to help you continue breastfeeding while ensuring your baby gets enough milk.

    How Can I Breastfeed With Very Large Breasts?

    Mothers with large breasts may find latching tricky. Here is what you can do to breastfeed with large breasts.

    • Sit comfortably in an upright posture.
    • Take a few pillows and support baby weight over pillows.
    • Position your baby with one hand and hold your breast with another hand in a ‘C’ shape to help your baby grasp the areola.
    • Once latched, check for the signs of good attachment – baby’s mouth wide open, lower lip turned out, chin touching your breasts, areola inside mouth of the baby.
    • Wear a fit cotton bra to support your breasts. Bra should not be too tight.
    • Get early help with a lactation counselor to understand breastfeeding positions.
    • Get your baby’s milk intake checked by baby’s doctor.

    Tips to get a good breastfeeding latch.

    Learn how to treat inverted nipples at home.

    Further Reading
    1. About Breastfeeding and Breast Milk
    2. Infant and young child feeding (WHO)
    3. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk

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