Making enough milk for your baby is a common concern among breastfeeding mothers, and understandably so. No mother wants to feel like they are starving their baby! As we remember from a previous post, women are able to produce milk because we are mammals and that is what breasts were designed to do. If you missed it, you can read more about the anatomy of milk production here. Before I discuss some tips for increasing milk supply, it is important to address some common misconceptions that may lead women to believe their milk supply is dropping when in reality it is just fine.
- Infant weight loss. Many new mothers would come in my office horrified that their babies lost weight after birth, assumed they were not producing enough milk, and gave the baby a bottle of formula. It is normal for babies to lose weight after birth. It can take a baby about two weeks to return to their birth weight, however I know women whose babies took a little longer and they were still able to continue breastfeeding without issue. If your baby continues to lose weight passed two weeks old, talk about your concerns with your baby’s doctor.
- Bowel Movements. Weight gain and bowel movements are two of the surest ways to tell that your baby is getting enough milk during the early weeks. Remember that every baby is different, but generally a breastfed baby will have at least three poopy diapers per day during the first couple weeks of life. Some babies will have many more while some babies may have less.
- My breasts don’t feel full. You may notice when your baby is around 6-8 weeks old, your breasts do not feel as full as they once were. Many women mistakenly confuse this as their supply dropping, when it is actually very normal. Your body has adjusted to the needs of your baby by this time and this is why your breasts may feel softer. Your baby also becomes much more efficient at emptying your breast and may only nurse for five minutes and be done.
- My baby isn’t satisfied after feeding. If your baby doesn’t seem happy after nursing-just keep nursing! As long as the baby will take the breast, keep offering even if the baby only sucks for a few minutes at time and comes off fussing, offer the breast again and again. If you give in and give a bottle, this will tell your body you don’t need it to produce the milk the baby is demanding.
- Growth Spurts. Growth spurts can be exhausting if your baby constantly wants to eat. However, this does not mean that your milk supply is dropping; it only means that your baby is growing! Keep nursing as frequently as your baby wants and your body will pick up on the cue to produce more milk for your baby. While growth spurts can happen at anytime, some common time frames for growth spurts are around two to three weeks, six weeks, and three months.
If after reading the above list and you still think you have a low supply, here are some tips for ensuring your supply doesn’t continue to drop, and ways to build it back up.
- Effective latching. Not only can a bad latch cause discomfort for mama, but it may affect your milk supply in the long run as well. Working on a good latch from the beginning is important in ensuring that the baby is removing milk from the breast efficiently and thus triggering more production. Looking for a wide-open mouth where the baby gets a good mouthful of the breast will help ensure the baby is triggering a strong milk release. I will talk more about what to look for in a good latch in a later post.
- Breastfeed on both breasts. This may be a given, but if you are only nursing on one side per feeding and you begin to notice a drop in supply, this is a likely culprit. Start offering both sides at each feeding and continue to switch sides as long as your baby is wanting to nurse.
- Frequent emptying of breasts. If you think your milk supply is dropping, the most important thing to do is to keep nursing. If you supplement your baby with formula this will only cause your supply to drop even more by limiting the stimulation to your breasts that they need in order to produce more milk. Offer the breast for as long as your baby will take it and as frequently as every 1 to 2 hours or more. Once your supply has built back up your body should regulate back to the needs of your baby.
- Pumping. Pumping your breasts after every time you nurse or in-between feedings can be helpful in boosting supply by adding extra stimulation to your breasts. I’m going to be honest here and say I’m not a happy pumper. I don’t like it. I would much rather have Alice nurse straight from me than fool with putting my pump together and washing all of those parts. However, pumps are a great resource for boosting and maintaining supply if you are away from your baby. Also, it is important to know that seeing how much milk you are pumping is not an accurate indicator of how much milk you are actually producing. Your body will produce more milk with the baby latching on compared to exclusively pumping.
- Galactagogues. Galactagogues are medications, herbs, spices or foods that are believed to increase milk supply. Although, research studies suggest that galactagogues do not add significant change in milk supply, many mothers have expressed positive outcomes after their use. Some of these include: Fenugreek, fennel, milk thistle, red raspberry leaf tea, oatmeal, brewers yeast, and flax seed to name a few. I would suggest having a consultation with a lactation consultant before running straight to a magic pill, as you would not want to cover up an underlying issue of low supply. Also, as always talk to your doctor before trying any herbs or supplements as some may interfere with the adsorption of other medications you may be taking.
After utilizing the above practices of increasing milk supply, having a consultation with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and your doctor still deems it medically necessary to supplement with formula, there is no reason to stop breastfeeding completely. There is also no reason to believe that you will never return to exclusive breastfeeding. Always offer the breast before ever giving your baby a bottle, do a lot of skin-to-skin, and offer the breast frequently, allowing the baby to nurse as long as they desire. You may even consider feeding the supplement through a syringe or off of a spoon so your baby doesn’t refuse the breast altogether after getting used to the flow of a bottle.
With the right information and support, most women can establish and maintain an adequate milk supply. Do not be alarmed if you feel like your supply is dropping. More often than not, what you are feeling is simply your body adjusting to the needs of your baby. If there is truly an issue don’t rush to the formula isle without first seeking the help of a lactation specialist. Remember to relax, trust that your body knows what to do, be sensitive to your baby’s hunger cues, and never hesitate to ask for help when you need it!