Anatomy of Breastfeeding

Anatomy of the Breast

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Sore. Swollen. Sensitive. Your breasts can change a lot during pregnancy and in the first few weeks of your baby’s life. Surely, your changing body can cause you to feel countless emotions: surprised, scared, excited, depressed, uncomfortable, or all of the above. You are not alone! One thing that helps? Learn about what is happening to your body. Knowledge is power, mama! So let’s dive into a quick lesson on the Anatomy of Breastfeeding 101.

Table of contents

Breastfeeding Anatomy Diagram

A visual always helps! So, here is a diagram of breastfeeding breasts. Below, we’ll further discuss each part of the breastfeeding anatomy listed. 

Breastfeeding Anatomy Diagram

Anatomy of Breastfeeding: Nipple

Firstly, lets talk about the nipple. The nipple can extend and also become firm, allowing your baby to latch on to feed (1; 3). Once your baby has a good latch, milk flows out of small openings in the nipple, called nipple pores. Most women have 4-9 nipple pores (1; 3). 

Nipples have hundreds of nerve endings, so they are extremely sensitive (2). When your baby sucks, these nerves send a message to your brain to make milk (3). These nerves can also make breastfeeding extremely painful if your baby is not latched on properly. Your baby should not be latched on to your nipple only, but should have a deeper latch. If you’d like to learn more about achieving a good breastfeeding latch, then click here.

Anatomy of Breastfeeding: Areola

Next, lets talk about the areola or the dark circular area around the nipple. The areola enlarges and darkens during pregnancy. Significantly, it helps your newborn baby visually find the breast (1). In order to get a good breastfeeding latch, your baby will need to grasp a large portion of the areola with his mouth (3).

Montgomery Glands

Montgomery glands are small bumps on the areola. These glands release oils that protect, lubricate, and cleanse the nipple (1; 2; 3). The scent of these oils also help your baby find the breast (1). Use gentle, unscented soaps and water to clean your breasts. In general, other soaps may dry out your breasts or reduce the scent for your baby (3). Additionally, breast creams and oils are usually not needed. They may also cause a scent or taste your baby does not like (3). 

Anatomy of Breastfeeding: Lobules

In short, lobules are where the magic happens! The lobules are the milk-making part inside of the breast (1). Each breast has 15-20 lobules that branch out like spokes on a wheel or petals of a daisy (2). 


Each lobule contains clusters of alveoli, or milk-making and milk storage cells. 

Myoepithelial Cells 

These special cells line each alveoli. When they contract, they squeeze the alveoli and eject milk into the milk ducts. This describes what happens when you  have a “milk letdown”. 

Anatomy of Breastfeeding: Ducts

Alveoli and lobules are connected by a system of milk ducts. Milk ducts transport milk from the lobules to the nipples (1; 2). 

Milk ducts can become clogged. If you need help with clogged milk ducts, then click here.

Some women have more milk ducts than others. If you have more milk ducts, then you will have a greater milk storage capacity. However, that doesn’t mean that you produce more milk overall. Say Mom A has a breast milk storage capacity of six ounces, but Mom B only holds two ounces.  But don’t compare!  Both Mom A and Mom B can still make the same amount of milk in 24 hours.  Consequently, Mom B will need to nurse more often.  So don’t let any book or friend tell you how often you should be nursing your baby.

Anatomy of Breastfeeding: Breast Tissue

The surrounding breast tissue contains nerves, blood vessels, and fat (1). This tissue determines your breast size. Breast size does not impact how much milk you produce. 

Anatomy of Breastfeeding: Hormones

During Pregnancy

The following hormones cause your breasts to change during pregnancy to prepare for breastfeeding (4):

  • Estrogen – Causes milk ducts to form
  • Prolactin – Prepares glands to produce milk
  • Progesterone – Increases the number and size of lobules

Producing Milk

Once you start breastfeeding, two key hormones play a role in producing milk (5):


After the placenta is delivered, your progesterone hormone levels go down, and your prolactin hormone levels go up. This hormone tells your body to initiate milk production. After that, anytime your baby sucks on your breast, the nerves in your nipple send a message to your brain. Your brain then releases prolactin. Prolactin tells the milk-producing cells (alveoli) to make milk (5). 


When your baby starts sucking, your brain also releases the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the muscles around the alveoli to contract. Milk is then released into the milk ducts. From there, milk travels through the ducts and out through the nipple pores (5). Bon appetit, little one! 

Knowledge is Power, Mama!

The Breast Cancer Foundation says that the more you know about your body, the more you are able to do the following (4):

  1. Make informed decisions
  2. Have a better dialogue with your doctor
  3. Be aware of anything unusual

Though it might be new or weird or even scary, your body is transforming into a powerhouse! You will be able to provide all the nutrients your new baby will need to develop.  After learning about the anatomy of breastfeeding, we hope you know one thing—your body is amazing! Click here to learn more about the superpowers of breastfeeding.

Kopa Birth’s online childbirth classes allow you to prepare for a natural childbirth in the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class to learn more about preparing for natural childbirth. 


  1. CAPPA: Childbirth & Postpartum Professional Association. (2016). Lactation Educator Manual (Ninth Edition).
  2. Cleveland Clinic. (2020, October 14). Breast Anatomy. Retrieved January 5, 2020 from
  3. Lauwers, J., Swisher, A. (2021). Counseling the Nursing Mother: A Lactation Consultant’s Guide (Seventh Edition). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
  4. National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Breast Anatomy. Retrieved January 5, 2020, from
  5. Simkin, P., Whalley, J., Keppler, A., Durham, J., & Bolding, A. (2016). Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide (Fifth Edition). Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.

Meet Katie Griffin

I’m a registered nurse, Lamaze certified childbirth educator, and the mother of 7. I help women realize their dream of a natural, intimate, and empowering hospital birth.

You may also like

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes Sore. Swollen. Sensitive. Your breasts can change a lot during pregnancy and in the first few weeks of your baby’s life. Surely, your changing body can cause