One of the most common concerns of breastfeeding mothers is whether they are producing enough milk for their babies. Of course every mother only wants what is best for her baby. We want our babies to be content, well fed, and to be gaining weight and growing at the appropriate rate, and certainly not to be “starving”!
So what should you do if you feel that your milk supply is not enough for your growing baby, or possibly less than you had before?
Please take careful note of the following points, as this is often where breastfeeding problems creep in unnecessarily:
Know that often mothers think that their milk supply is dropping, when in actual fact their breasts are really becoming ‘better’, or more efficient at making milk more continuously! Do not expect the very full feeling of engorged breasts to continue after the first week or so – unless baby suddenly sleeps through or you miss a couple of feeds. Engorgement does not last indefinitely, yet mothers often think that the extreme fullness of the beginning is normal for always, and assume that they are ‘losing their milk’ when in fact all is normal and all they need to do is to continue to feed the baby on cue. Then all should remain well! (New mothers usually experience engorgement anytime during day 2 to 6 after birth, with day 3 to 4 being the most common for the milk to ‘come in’.)
Know that if your milk supply really is decreasing for whatever reason, this is usually totally reversible! You can generally increase your supply by doing the right things. Each mom and baby pair is unique and has various factors at play, but there are also certain ‘breastfeeding rules’ that apply to almost every mom and baby. So follow these, go with the flow, and the problem of insufficient milk-supply should be history.
Here are certain things that can boost your milk supply: (doing the opposite may cause a decrease, so while you are reading this, try to ascertain where your problem could have started)
Know that it is normal for your breasts to feel softer after the initial full feeling of engorgement. This does not necessarily mean that you’re producing less! The flow is usually better and more continuous because the excess blood and lymph fluid that made up part of the engorgement have subsided!
Eat & drink enough! Your body needs nutrients to make milk. Try to eat and drink something healthy and nutritious each time baby feeds. Have a healthy “snack table” already stocked up and within easy reach where you usually feed. You don’t have to stand in the kitchen and cook all the time! Raw nuts (not peanuts) or sunflower seeds are packed with protein and good fats. That, together with raisins or dates, or various fruits like bananas or grapes make good mini-meals. The most nutritious foods are often the ones that don’t need preparing! (and I’m not talking about junky fast-foods here!) Read one of my previous articles here on “What To Eat While Breastfeeding”. See which of those foods you can add to your snack-table. You will not gain excess weight if you eat the right healthy foods. You will simply be ‘recycling’ some of the food you eat in order to produce milk for your baby – what a lovely guilt-free prospect!
Feed baby ‘on cue’ – Your baby knows when he or she is hungry. Look at the clock for interest, and not to tell you what to do when. Your baby’s own ‘routine’ will morph and change as they grow. Do we put ourselves into strict eating/feeding routines? No we do not! We are constantly eating or drinking or nibbling on something, and we’re not even growing! (or perhaps that’s why some of us grow side-ways 😉
Leave baby on one breast until he/she comes off on their own, then always offer the other breast. Babies know how much watery fore-milk and how much rich hind-milk they need on each side, and whether they would like more milk from the other breast or not. The old-fashioned 10-minute per side rule just does not practically work for most moms. The clock and your baby are totally unaware of each other’s existence!
Know that babies often “cluster-feed”. Breastfed babies tend to have a few feeds one after the other, and then a long gap or two, and then a few feeds closer together again. This is especially true for that late-afternoon/early-evening period when they are “stocking up their little pantries for the night-time stint”. Sometimes you are hungry enough to want to eat horse, and other times you hardly want to eat anything. Babies are the same. Let them do what their little bodies need to do (obviously within reason, for instance: do not let a jaundiced, sleepy baby go for hours on end without feeding. Always make sure baby is gaining well..) Try not to let a breastfed baby go for longer than 3 hours without feeding during the day, but if they want it sooner, by all means go right ahead and feed. It is very normal for breastfed babies to want to feed after 2 hours or even sooner, since breastmilk digests in about one and a half hours. But within a 24 hour period breastfed babies need less milk than formula-fed babies because breastmilk is so perfect.
To increase supply, do “switch-nursing”. This means to go back-and-forth between each breast during a feed. This can be up to 10-12 times per feed! It sends a strong message to the breasts to increase milk production. Did you know that according to recent breastfeeding research: the ‘emptier’ your breasts are when you breastfeed, the faster they start to produce more milk, and the richer that milk is?? That explains why, while I was advising a mother of fully breastfeeding triplets, her breasts always looked soft and ‘empty’ to me (even to the point of looking ‘wrinkled’, yet her three babies were each gaining between 350g to 500g per week – and she was demand-feeding these contented babies!
Listen to your baby’s swallowing. You can start to learn what a good feed sounds like. During active feeding it should sound like an “uh” sound for every 1-2 sucks. This swallowing sound will also increase and decrease during the feed depending on where in the feed you are, and whether your milk has just let down (again) or not. But there will also be periods of ‘non-nutritive’ suckling during the feed, which is normal and necessary to help stimulate milk supply. Let your baby suckle! Simply stroke baby’s head if it looks like they’ve fallen asleep, which usually gets them suckling again.
By the way: it is not easy to hear the “uh” swallowing sound before your milk comes in during the first few days, so don’t stress! The teaspoon or two of Colostrum that your baby gets per feed during those first couple of days is more than enough for your baby’s marble-sized tummy at that time! 5ml of Colostrum is equal to 30ml of artificial milk (formula) or mature breastmilk, so no need to feel that there isn’t enough! Let nature take its course and don’t interfere unless medically indicated.
Be careful of taking certain cold and flu’ medicines. Certain medications can drastically slow down or stop milk production. Let your doctor or pharmacist know that you’re breastfeeding. Or boost your immune system by increasing your vitamin C, fruit and vegetables in your diet (especially leafy greens). At the first sign of a cold, cut dairy (which makes a lovely mucous bed for the bugs to grow) as well as sugar (which depresses your immune system for up to 5 hours). If you do this, you will probably find that you may not even need medication as you’ll help to starve the problem before it gets out of hand.
Slow down! Stay home more. Get enough rest/sleep! Take the phone off the hook & keep visitors at bay when you’re tired! You and baby are your first priority. Take care of you first! Ask your hubby to help be the ‘gate-keeper’ of your family.
Don’t give up breastfeeding! Get qualified to help. Go with the flow and enjoy your baby!
(C) Yulanda Ridge
About the author:
Yulanda Ridge, IBCLC, RLC
(International Board Certified Lactation Consultant)
Yulanda has been helping moms and babies since 1995 with regards to breastfeeding. A married mother of 3 with some nursing background, Yulanda currently works as a Lactation Consultant in Private Practice.