This page focuses on the anatomy of the breast, if you want more detail on the lactation process and how it works, you can read our page on breast milk production and/or stages of lactation. Hormonal processes of lactation discussed here.
Breast milk travels from the cluster of alveoli (the alveolus), also called "milk producing cells", "glandular tissue", "mammary glands" or "milk glands", then into the milk ducts and then out of the nipple openings.
The breast normally has about 15 to 20 of these structures. There is fat also that surrounds these.
Oxytocin is the hormone released, that is responsible for the ejection of milk. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for the milk production. The breast milk is continuously made.
The baby needs to take in the entire nipple and a large part of the
areola in order for a good latch and good milk transfer. The nipple
should touch the soft palate in a baby’s mouth.
With a good latch like this one, a mother is less likely to have sore or broken nipples; the nipple is protected by the soft palate.
This latch will also ensure that a baby is stimulating the areola (dark part around the nipple), which triggers the Oxytocin hormone, therefore, promoting increased milk flow.
A mother's nipple will elongate to about twice its normal length when drawn into a baby’s mouth.
The alveoli (milk producing cells)
These are made up of milk gland cells around the end of a milk duct. The gland cells produce milk and with the help of myoepithelial cells, the milk is ejected into the milk duct, which then travels down to the front of the breast.
Milk is produced during and between feedings. The first amount of milk that comes out, is called foremilk, the milk further back in the alveoli and milk ducts is called hindmilk, which is richer in fat content as most of the fat globules have collected there as the milk passed through. This is why it is so important that a mother allows her baby to breastfeed on one breast, until it seems "empty", so that her baby can receive the substantial hind milk too.
All women have different nipple sizes, but some women find it more difficult to breastfeed, if they have
flat or inverted nipples.
Nipples have several openings, through which the milk will flow.
Breast growth during pregnancy
A mother that might have struggled with a low milk supply, with her first baby, will usually have an increased milk supply with her second child. This is due to breast tissue increasing and maturing via a process called lactogenesis ( enabling milk secretion ) and mammogenesis (maturation of glands and ducts). This is especially true, if the mother breastfed for at least two months the first time around.
Remember that the size of your breasts, have absolutely nothing to do with the amount of breast milk produced.
Other pages on “breastfeeding problems” in connection with breast anatomy and physiology.
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