What is Lactation?

Lactation can be defined as the process of milk secretion from the mammary glands of a female after childbirth. It is the process after which a woman is capable of feeding her milk to her child. The milk produced in the mammary glands of a woman provides nutrition and immunity to the young newborn. At the same time, having milk in the mammary gland is not enough but maintaining it is also important. The stage that maintains milk production and requires prolactin and oxytocin is called Galactopoiesis. 

Relation of Pregnancy with Lactation 

Lactation is a process that cannot take place in a woman’s body without pregnancy. Therefore, there is a deep association between pregnancy and lactation. 

Preparation for Lactation

Generally, a female is ready to produce milk during the fifth or sixth month of her pregnancy. During the latter stages of pregnancy, a female enters the first stage of lactogenesis. At this stage of pregnancy, a woman’s bread makes a thick, yellow fluid known as Colostrum which is extremely nutritious and beneficial for the baby as it is highly rich in immunoglobulin A that boosts the immunity of the newborn. It prevents any pathogens from touching the baby’s body and also prevents food allergies. This fluid is also termed as the first milk of the baby.  

Lactation Process

The process by which milk is formed in a woman’s breast is called the Lactation process. This process takes place in the following steps as mentioned below -

  • The breast starts to grow during the period of pregnancy due to the impact of ovarian hormones and placental hormones. It continues to get larger even after childbirth.

  • A certain amount of milk is produced in the breast during this period.

  • There is an increase in milk secretion after the delivery.

  • The milk is secreted from the mammary gland itself during the process of lactation. 

Hormones Responsible for Lactation 

Certain hormones that are responsible for the process of Lactation. Let's have a look at them -

  • The hormones involved in the process of lactation are Estrogen, placental lactogenic, progesterone, prolactin, and oxytocin

  • This hormone helps in increasing the size of the breast during pregnancy which is caused by the growth of the breast tissue.

  • A hormone known as the placental lactogenic hormone is higher in our body during pregnancy as this hormone helps in stimulating the growth of the nipple, areola, and breast tissue.

  • Progesterone is a hormone that helps in increasing the size of the breast tissue along with boosting the milk production in the body. The progesterone hormone level tends to decrease during the post-pregnancy period which helps in stimulating milk production.

  • A hormone that helps in differentiating the cells that perform their specific functions is called Prolactin

  • The alveolus is a hormone that is responsible for producing milk after the baby’s birth. This hormone becomes active mainly because of the prolactin hormone. The prolactin hormone is produced once exposed to cortisol hormone.

  • Once the nipples are regulated, the hormone oxytocin is released causing the alveoli to contract which helps in squeezing the milk out into the duct system. The entire process is called a Let Down However, this process starts only when the nerves of breasts are stimulated. 

Things to Avoid During Breastfeeding 

It is said that at the time of pregnancy and lactation, what a mother eats or drinks, is automatically being consumed by the baby as well. Therefore, this being the crucial time, a mother needs to look at the things she consumes. Certain things should be avoided during breastfeeding. This includes-

  1. Minimizing of caffeine consumption

  2. Being careful with drugs

  3. Resist the tendency of losing weight by consuming supplements

  4. Alcohol consumption and smoking should be completely stopped

Nutritional Needs During Lactation 

Lactation is known as a very crucial time for both the mother and the baby. Therefore, to keep a watch at what we consume is very important. Taking the right amount of nutrients will make the mother and the child healthy. Let’s have a look at the nutrients a woman needs - 

Important Nutrients During Lactation 


Recommended Intake During Lactation 





Vitamin A(ug)




Folic acid(ug)








Vitamin B12(ug)


Can Lactation Happen without Pregnancy?

Yes, an artificial lactation can happen without pregnancy. There are three hormones which mainly play a vital role in stimulating the milk that is produced in the mammary glands of a lactating mother. If anyone consumes medicines among these three hormones in the form of supplements, then there are chances that a woman would produce milk in her mammary glands without pregnancy.

At the same time, there are certain other situations where lactation can happen without pregnancy. These include:

  1. Side effects of drugs/medicines.

  2. Health disorders.

  3. Nerve irritation in the breast region.

  4. Overproduction of prolactin hormone in the brain.

Properties of a Lactating milk 

  1. After maturation, the milk varies as compared to the milk in an initial stage of lactation. The milk produced at the time of lactation is well established.

  2. Colostrum is the milk that is produced in the initial stage of lactation

  3. The composition of the milk changes gradually after childbirth. Transitional milk is changed from colostrum within four-five days from the childbirth.

  4. A matured milk is produced in mammary glands after 14 to 15 days of childbirth

  5. Slowly, after the demand for milk is reduced by the baby, termination of lactation takes place. 

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