Milk production of dairy cows has increased markedly during recent decades and continues to increase further. The evolutionarily conserved direction of nutrients to the mammary gland immediately after calving provided the basis for successful selective breeding toward higher performance. Considerable variation in adaptive responses toward energy and nutrient shortages exists; however, this variation in adaptability recently gained interest for identifying more metabolically robust dairy cows. Metabolic challenges during periods of high milk production considerably affect the immune system, reproductive performance, and product quality as well as animal welfare. Moreover, growing consumer concerns need to be taken into consideration because the public perception of industrialized dairy cow farming, the high dependency on feed sources suitable for human nutrition, and the apparently abundant use of antibiotics may affect the sales of dairy products. Breeding for high yield continues, but the metabolic challenges increasingly come close to the adaptational limits of meeting the mammary gland's requirements. The aim of the present review is to elucidate metabolic challenges and adaptational limitations at different functional stages of the mammary gland in dairy cows. From the challenges and adaptational limitations, we derive perspectives for sustainable milk production. Based on previous research, we highlight the importance of metabolic plasticity in adaptation mechanisms at different functional stages of the mammary gland. Metabolic adaptation and plasticity change among developing, nonlactating, remodeling, and lactational stages of the mammary gland. A higher metabolic plasticity in early-lactating dairy cows could be indicative of resilience, and a high performance level without an extraordinary occurrence of health disorders can be achieved.