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48 Must-Know Breastfeeding Terms

48 Must-Know Breastfeeding Terms

New to the breastfeeding world? Welcome! It’s a place like no other. Everyone’s journey through breastfeeding is different but there’s one commonality: we all end up speaking the same language by the end of it. 

That’s right. Breastfeeding has its own lingo all its own. Take a look at some of these common terms — they’ll soon be part of your own vocabulary. 

A is for areola

The areola is the round area that surrounds your nipple. The areola is important for establishing a good latch — your baby latches onto the areola as well as the nipple to pull milk out of your breasts.

Alveoli: Alveoli are the sacs found in the mammary gland that produce and store milk. 

B is for breast pump

Used for expressing breast milk via section. Breast pumps can be manual or electric, double or single, hands-free, or hospital-grade. For a mother exclusively pumping, the breast pump is the most important piece of equipment.

Baby-led weaning (BLW): An approach to introducing babies (six months or older) to food that bypasses purees and mashed foods. The approach encourages babies to feed themselves rather than having adults feed them.

Breast crawl: You’ve seen the videos of this! When a newborn is placed on their mother’s abdomen or chest following birth, they have the ability to crawl up to the breast and initiate the first breastfeeding.  

C is for colostrum

The first stage of breast milk and a breastfed baby’s first meal, colostrum is thick and creamy and high in protein, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and immunoglobulins. Colostrum is produced in small quantities, but it provides everything that a newborn needs. Colostrum lasts for several days following a baby's birth before being replaced by transitional milk.

Clogged milk ducts: Clogged ducts occur when milk ducts are blocked and milk can’t freely flow. If left untreated, clogged ducts can cause mastitis. Also referred to as plugged or blocked milk ducts.

Cluster feeding: A period when your baby has a high demand for feeding. Typically occurs before a growth spurt.  

D is for duct

Specifically, milk duct. Milk ducts are the pathways for storing and transporting milk from the alveoli to the nipple. 

E is for exclusive breastfeeding

When a baby receives only breast milk for the first six months of their life or until solid foods are introduced. Breast milk can be provided via nursing, pumping/bottle feeding, or a combination of the two. Often referred to online as EBF.

Engorgement: Engorgement occurs milk production exceeds milk removal. Engorgement can cause your breasts to feel sore, swollen, and can make it hard for your baby to nurse. If not addressed, engorgement can result in mastitis.

Expressed breast milk: Milk that is removed from the breast via pump or hand expression rather than via nursing.

Exclusive pumping: When a mother provides breast milk for their child solely by pumping rather than nursing. Moms may choose to exclusively pump for medical reasons, returning to work, or other personal reasons. Learn more about how exclusive pumping can work for you.

Extended breastfeeding: When a toddler continues to breastfeed past the age of 1 year.

F is for flange

The flange is an important part of your pumping kit. The flange, also known as the breast shield, that fits over your nipple, forming a seal around your areola. This creates a vacuum to full milk through your nipple.

Foremilk: Foremilk is the milk a baby gets at the beginning of every feed.  

G is for galactagogues

Galactagogues refer to foods, herbs, and medicines that may help increase your milk supply. Popular galactagogues include things like oats, broccoli, leafy greens, nuts, and ginger.  

H is for hind milk

Compared to foremilk, hind milk is the milk that comes at the end of a feed. Hind milk is thicker and richer in fat. 

Hand expression: Also called manual expression, hand expressing is a milk removal technique where you use your hands to remove milk from your breasts. Hand expressing can be particularly useful for getting rid of clogs, weaning, and, of course, pumping milk when you don’t have a pump. 

I is for immunity

Breastfeeding provides exceptional immune benefits for babies. It contains antibodies to fight infection from early colostrum on. These antibodies also allow mothers to pass some level of protection from previous illnesses she’s had and those she has while breastfeeding. Breast milk has nutrients like lactoferrin that help stimulate and support the immune system.

Inverted nipple: When nipples retract into itself, this is known as an inverted nipple. While entirely normal, inverted nipples can make nursing more difficult. 

IBCLC: Stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultants. IBCLC certified lactation consultants can provide invaluable resources and support for breastfeeding mothers, helping identify and address breastfeeding problems. 

K is for kangaroo care

Also known as skin-to-skin for premature babies. Kangaroo care can help parents bond with their babies, regulate the baby’s heart rate and temperature, and support feeding and milk production.  

L is for lactation

Lactation is to the production and expression of milk from breasts. The lactation process actually begins before childbirth — milk production starts approximately halfway through a pregnancy. However, milk doesn’t come in until a few days after birth.

Lactation consultant: Trained professionals who provide breastfeeding support.

Lanolin: A soothing cream for use on sore or cracked nipples or to help lubricate nipples during pumping. 

Latch: When a baby breastfeeds, they latch onto a breast to form a seal around it to help draw out milk. Some babies may have issues with their latch that stem from lip or tongue ties.

Lecithin: Lecithin is a fat that is often taken as a supplement for breastfeeding moms. Lecithin may help with plugged ducts.

Let down: Letdown is the release of milk from your breast. Mothers experience their let downs differently — some have a noticeable, even painful sensation, while others don’t notice it at all. Some mothers may experience an overactive let down, which means that breast milk comes out of the breast very quickly. Overactive let downs can be difficult for babies, causing them to gag or choke on the milk.

Lip tie: A common breastfeeding challenge. Lip ties occur when the frenulum (tissue behind a baby’s upper lip) is too thick or stiff. This can make milk transfer difficult.

Liquid gold: Refers to breast milk. Breast milk is known as liquid gold because of the immense nutritional and immunological benefits it provides for babies. 

M is for mastitis

Mastitis is a breast infection that can occur in breastfeeding mothers. Mastitis typically occurs when milk flow in your breasts is obstructed. Common symptoms include redness, soreness, or hard spots in your breast. To resolve, nurse frequently, rest, and massage to help increase milk flow.

Milk ducts: Ducts that transport breast milk from the alveoli to nipples.

MOTN: Middle of the night feedings (or pumping).

Milk blister: Also known as a bleb. When a block duct appears on your nopple, a skin may form over the top of it, forming a bubble or blister.  

N is for nipple shield

A protective silicone shield placed over the nipple while a baby nurses. These can be used to help reduce nipple pain or assist with nursing issues. Nipple shields can help when babies are premature or too small to easily nurse; if a baby has a tongue or lip tie; if the mother has an overactive letdown; or if the mother has flat or inverted nipples. 

Nursing bra: Nursing bras are used to allow easy access to your breasts when nursing or pumping.  

Nipple shield: A nipple shield is a thin silicone cover that goes over the nipple to make it easier for a baby to latch. It acts as an extended nipple in the cases where a mother has flat or inverted nipples.

O is for oxytocin

Also known as the “love” hormone, oxytocin is released following birth and during breastfeeding. Oxytocin is important for creating a bond with your baby. It can also decrease pain and stress for moms and babies, as well as helps you recover from childbirth.

Oversupply: Some breastfeeding moms produce more milk than their baby needs. This is referred to as oversupply. Sometimes oversupply may be just enough to build a freezer stash of pumped milk, while other mothers have significant oversupply. When not managed carefully through sufficient milk removal, oversupply can cause problems like plugged ducts, engorgement, and mastitis.

On-demand feeding: When nursing a baby, most mothers are encouraged to feed their babies on demand. On-demand feeding requires paying attention to hunger cues from the baby, such as rooting, sticking tongue out, fidgeting, fussing, or crying.  

P is for prolactin

Prolactin is the hormone responsible for milk production. 

Pumping: Pumping is the means by which you can express breast milk for your baby. Moms chose to pump for a variety of reasons. 

R is for rooting

Babies are born with the instinct to find their mother’s breasts. The rooting instinct will look like they are nuzzling your chest. 

T is for tongue tie

A condition where the tissue connecting the baby’s tongue to the floor of the mouth is short and tight. This can restrict a baby’s breastfeeding ability as they may not be able to properly latch.

Tandem feeding: Refers to when a mother is nursing two or more children at the same time.

Transitional milk: The milk that follows colostrum. Transitional milk lasts for approximately two weeks and is high in fat, vitamins, and calories.  

W is for weaning

Weaning is the process of replacing breastfeeding with other sources of nutrition. Weaning looks different for each child. Some self-wean easily while others continue to nurse well into toddlerhood. On the other hand, some mothers may need to wean their child for medical reasons or because of supply issues. Weaning can involve some thought and planning. Learn more about what’s involved.