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A List of Breastfeeding Terms Everyone Should Know

For the first-time mom, breastfeeding can seem a little daunting. There may be expectations that everything will just flow smoothly and mom and baby will instinctively know what to do — this is often not the case.

If you or someone you know is breastfeeding, here are a few terms that will be helpful to know.

Anatomy of the Breast

  • Alveoli – These are the milk-producing cells in the breast. During pregnancy, they grow in size and number.
  • Areola – The areola is the darker-colored circle surrounding the nipple. Most of the areola should be in the baby’s mouth during feeding; not just the nipple.
  • Milk Ducts – The milk ducts are narrow tubes that help direct milk from the alveoli to the nipple.
  • Nipple – The nipple is the part of the breast where milk leaves a mother’s body. The infant’s tongue will compress the nipple and areola, causing breast milk to flow out the nipple’s opening.

All about the Milk

  • Colostrum – Colostrum is the first milk produced by the breast, which begins to form during the second trimester of pregnancy. During the first few feedings, the baby will drink this colostrum. Although only a small amount is produced, it is extremely concentrated and rich in antibodies. It may be clear or golden-colored and tends to be thicker than mature breast milk.
  • Expressing milk – Expressing milk refers to the process of removing milk from the breast by hand or with a pump.
  • Foremilk – This is the term used to describe milk at the beginning of a feeding. It may appear more watery and contain a bit less fat than milk later in the feeding.
  • Hindmilk – The hindmilk refers to milk flowing near the end of the feeding. It tends to be more concentrated and higher in fat content than the milk earlier in the feeding.
  • Milk Supply – This term refers to how much milk is produced in one day.

The Process

  • Cluster Feeding – If a baby feeds several times fairly close together, the baby is cluster feeding. This often occurs during a growth spurt and will naturally boost a mother’s milk supply to meet the demands of a growing infant.
  • Latch – Latch refers to the way in which a baby attaches to a mother’s breast. Successful breastfeeding begins with a proper latch. It will help ensure the baby gets enough milk and increases a mother’s comfort during the feeding. If a baby is incorrectly latched onto the breast, sore nipples can occur. Over time, an improper latch can also reduce a mother’s milk supply or cause blocked ducts.
  • Let-down Reflex – When a baby latches on to nurse and starts sucking, this stimulates the release of a hormone called Oxytocin. When oxytocin is released, it causes milk to begin flowing into the milk ducts. Some women experience a tingling sensation in the breasts as the milk is “let-down.”
  • Positioning – In order to successfully breastfeed, finding the position that works best for both mom and baby is key. Common breastfeeding positions are the cradle hold, the cross-cradle hold, the football hold, and the side-lying hold.
  • Weaning – When you begin to transition from breastfeeding to bottle feeding or other forms of nutrition, the process is called weaning.

Potential Problems

  • Blocked (or Plugged) Ducts – A blocked duct occurs when the milk ducts become obstructed. Milk backs up behind the plug causing distention, tenderness, and sometimes even a lump.
  • Engorgement – Swelling of the breast tissue is known as engorgement. This occurs in the first few days after childbirth. As milk production picks up, the breasts can become extremely hot, swollen, and tender. Engorgement can also occur with missed or incomplete nursing sessions.
  • Mastitis – An infection in the breast tissue is called mastitis. Symptoms include fever, body aches, and chills along with painful, red, swollen breast tissue.

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