High levels of estrogens and progesterone antagonize prolactin’s effect on the mammary glands, and it’s only after the placenta has been removed and the levels of estrogens and progesterone has decreased that prolactin effectively stimulates milk production in the alveoli. However, I’m also aware that many hormones cause the maturation of the breasts and mammary glands during pregnancy—is anything produced then? When does lactation really occur—before birth or after birth? I ask this because I’ve heard things about milk leaking out of breasts during pregnancy, and there’s also the fact that the breasts seem very heavy and laden with milk during parturition.

  • $\begingroup$ See prolactin.. $\endgroup$
    Dec 12, 2015 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG - don't forget estrogens, progesterone, adrenal corticoids, insulin and growth hormone... it ain't just prolactin. $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2015 at 5:57
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse I was just giving a hint.. Not answering the question because I feel it is a bit broad. Hypothalamic control etc is also important. $\endgroup$
    Dec 12, 2015 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG It's not too broad at all. Geez, we get questions about why we didn't evolve wheels, wings, etc. This one is a walk in the park comparatively. $\endgroup$ Dec 12, 2015 at 6:06

1 Answer 1


Stage I lactation occurs from midpregnancy onward; stage II is the onset of substantial milk secretion associated with having given birth.

In humans, stage I occurs at approximately midpregnancy... the gland is sufficiently differentiated to secrete milk, but secretion is held in check by high circulating plasma concentrations of progesterone and, possibly ...estrogen.

You ask,

...is anything produced then?

Yes. The mature primed breast produces colostrum, containing sodium, chloride, immunoglobulins, lactoferrin and other substances.

I’ve heard things about milk leaking out of breasts during pregnancy...

Not at all common that I know of. I'm sure one can manipulate the breast to get a small amount of milky discharge, but that's a big leap from leaking. More common (again, that I'm aware of) is galactorrhea associated with early oral contraceptive pills, prolactinomas, and other conditions.

the breasts seem very heavy and laden with milk during parturition.

The breasts mature during pregnancy in preparation to make milk; that's why they get bigger. They can get even bigger when they are actually full of milk. It may not be as obvious in a human, but in milk animals (goats, cows, etc.), well, a full udder is pretty obvious.

Different researchers divide lactogenesis into a different number of stages; this is a simple two-stage approach.
Lactogenesis: The Transition from Pregnancy to Lactation


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