Glossary on your anatomy

There are a lot of new words to learn about in a short time. Here’s a list of the most common new words when it comes to your anatomy. 

Alveoli

These are the little glands in your breast that create breast milk. They are hollow on the inside and have milk-making cells on the outside. They group together in little grape-like clusters called lobules. There are about 15-20 spaced out (not evenly necessarily) around your breast. Your milk gets stored in the hollow space within your alveoli and then they travel down towards your nipple along tubes, or milk ducts. 

Areola

The areola is the darkened area around your nipple. During pregnancy your areola and nipple can become darker and larger. The little bumps around your areola are called Montgomery Glands, which also can become more visible as your body prepares for lactation.

Colostrum

The thick, sticky, clear to yellow, “first” milk that your body starts to make in the last couple of months of pregnancy. You tend not to make high volumes of colostrum, but you don’t need to – it is full of protein, vitamin A and immunoglobulins which protect your baby from disease and help them grow in the early first few days after birth.

Dyad

You might hear your health provider talk about you as a “dyad”. This is just a word to describe you and your baby as one unit together.

Feed

Usually called “a feed”, it refers to one session where your baby drinks a few ounces of milk. 

Foremilk

This is the milk that you express at the beginning of your feed. There’s an idea out there that suggests that your foremilk is watery and your hindmilk is creamy, and therefore your hindmilk is better for your baby. Like with most things in the human body, it’s probably not that simple. This idea came from a study in the 1960s, when they looked at fat content from one woman expressed with a breast pump. She had higher fat content in the second half of her pump, than in the first half of her pump. This may have been true from her, but this idea doesn’t translate to every person every time. More recent research is suggesting that fat content is correlated more with how quickly your baby or your pump can remove milk from your breast. Watch this space for more research. 

Galactagogue

This term sounds like it’s medical or scientific, but it’s not. It’s just a word that refers to medications, herbs, foods or drinks that are believed to increase milk production. It doesn’t mean that they do increase milk production. Some people swear by them, but unfortunately a systematic review of galactagogue studies found that there simply aren’t enough studies, or the studies that do exist are limited by small sample sizes, poor eligibility criteria and randomisation and can’t be validated. As a result the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has published a protocol saying that they cannot recommend any specific galactagogue. In addition to this, there are galactagogues that can do harm, so you should speak with your doctor about whether you should take them or not.

Hindmilk

This is the milk that you express at the end of your feed. There’s an idea out there that suggests that your foremilk is watery and your hindmilk is creamy, and therefore your hindmilk is better for your baby. Like with most things in the human body, it’s probably not that simple. This idea came from a study in the 1960s, when they looked at fat content from one woman expressed with a breast pump. She had higher fat content in the second half of her pump, than in the first half of her pump. This may have been true from her, but this idea doesn’t translate to every person every time. More recent research is suggesting that fat content is correlated more with how quickly your baby or your pump can remove milk from your breast. Watch this space for more research. 

Lactogenesis

This refers to the stages that your body goes through to start to produce milk. The word comes from Lacto, meaning milk, and Genesis, meaning creation. There are three stages, which start when you are still pregnant and your cells are making colostrum (the first milk), through to a transitional phase to when you are making mature milk. 

Lactose

Lactose is a sugar (carbohydrate) that is present in breastmilk. Because it’s a large molecule it needs to be broken down, and uses an enzyme called lactase to do this. Sometimes a baby might have trouble breaking down the lactose because they’ve had a lot of milk at once or for some other reason. If your baby seems like they have wind, green, foamy or frothy stools or pain digesting, it’s not necessary to stop eating dairy yourself, just seek help from your IBCLC or doctor. 



Letdown

Thankfully, a “letdown” is not about your feelings of disappointment when your workplace gives you less parental leave than you hoped for. It’s actually about the milk ejection reflex you have in response to oxytocin that is released when your baby feeds, you see or hear your baby, or your nipple is stretched. Your myoepithelial cells contract and push milk out along your ducts to your nipple. A letdown can feel like a small tingle or a sudden rush or wave - it is stronger for some people than others. During a pumping session, you may be able to see your milk start to flow faster when your letdown comes - anywhere from the first seconds to first minutes of pumping. You may even have multiple letdowns in a session. 

Milk Duct

This is the small tube that transports milk from your alveoli (grape-like lobules that make milk) down through your breast to your nipple. They are spaced out (although not always evenly) around your breast. 

Montgomery Glands

Montgomery glands are the little lumps (or tubercules) you can see around your areola. They usually become darker during pregnancy, and they secrete an oily fluid that both lubricates and protects your nipple from bacteria. If you’re in the shower in late pregnancy or after, you might notice water beading off your nipple from that oily fluid. Some people also secrete milk from their Montgomery Glands.  Weirdly, these glands are named after a man. But to be fair, he (William Featherstone Montgomery) did contribute quite the chunk of scientific research on the anatomy of the lactation breast, back in the 1840s. 

Myoepithelial Cells

These are the cells that enclose your alveoli (grape-like lobules that make milk) and your milk ducts, that contract when your body produces oxytocin.