For many new moms, milk supply is a common worry. You wonder if your baby is getting enough to eat, if she is gaining the appropriate amount of weight and if your body could possibly be producing enough milk to nourish your growing baby. The reality is that most women make exactly what their baby needs. A very small percentage of women are unable to produce enough milk and require supplementation as the only option. The body has an amazing way of knowing exactly what your baby needs and adjusting its milk production accordingly. However, if you have been told that you may have a low supply or are concerned for any reason, there are several healthy ways you can give your supply a boost and ensure that your body is producing to its maximum potential.
1) Nurse, nurse and nurse some more: Our bodies produce based on demand. The more your baby nurses, the more your body will be signaled that it needs to produce more milk. If your baby is having trouble gaining weight, be sure to feed at least every 1.5-2 hours during the day and every 3 hours at night. Otherwise, it’s best to nurse your baby on demand especially as your supply is being established and you and baby are developing a healthy nursing relationship.
2) Use proper positioning and make sure baby has a good latch: How efficiently your baby breastfeeds is dependent upon an optimal position and a latch that allows for the maximum transfer of milk. Be sure to position baby close to you with his mouth and nose facing the breast and his hips turned towards you so that he does not need to turn his head. A baby who has a proper latch will have his tongue extended over his gums, lips flanged outward and will be covering your nipple and most of your areola with his mouth. If your baby is having a difficult time latching on and is unable to transfer sufficient milk, have a professional check for a tongue or lip tie. This is a common cause of a poor latch. A proper latch should not hurt.
3) Pump in between feedings: Particularly if you feel your baby is not emptying the breast, pumping in between nursing sessions can be a great way to increase your supply and also to store up some extra milk on reserve. To further signal your body to produce more milk, continue pumping 2-5 minutes after the last drop of milk is released and use a high pump setting if your nipples aren’t too sore.
4) Offer both breasts at every feeding: Although baby may favor one side or the other, be sure to offer both sides at each feeding to ensure that both breasts are signaled to produce more milk. Switch baby to the opposite breast if you notice him dosing off, losing interest or ‘comfort sucking’. You can even offer both sides several times per feeding to ensure maximum milk transfer and production.
5) Steer clear of pacifiers and bottles at least until your supply is established: To avoid nipple confusion and allow your body to establish its supply, avoid the use of bottles and pacifiers until at least 3.5 weeks of age. During the first 3 weeks postpartum, your milk supply is under endocrine control and is being established by the baby spending time at the breast. Studies have shown that a minimum of 140 minutes of active nursing per day is needed to achieve your maximum supply. Artificial nipples can interfere with this process. In the event that you must be separated from your baby during this period, be sure to pump when you would have nursed.
6) Take a ‘nursing vacation’: If you’re struggling with your supply, plan to spend a couple days in bed doing nothing but nursing your baby and resting. Not only will this allow baby to nurse often and trigger your body to produce more milk, it will also provide quality bonding and resting time for you and your babe.
7) Take care of yourself: Giving birth, whether naturally or via C-section, takes a toll on your body. Not only are you in need of time to recover physically but you are also adjusting to caring for another human being around the clock. Getting rest, sleeping when you are able, staying hydrated and eating a nutritious, balanced diet are all important factors in maintaining your milk supply. Breastfeeding women require an additional 300-500 calories and at least 8-10 glasses of water per day. As with most all things related to parenting, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be at your best for your baby.
8) Limit alcohol intake: Although you may have been waiting nine months to enjoy that glass of wine, it’s best to do so sparingly while nursing. One study that examined women after drinking 1-2 glasses of wine found that they had a slower let down and produced less milk overall following the alcohol intake.
9) When necessary, try a natural galactagogue: A galactagogue is any substance that promotes lactation. Some of the most common natural galactagogues used to increase milk production include fenugreek, Blessed Thistle, Red Raspberry leaf, brewer’s yeast and steel cut oatmeal. As with any medicine or herbal supplement, speak to your healthcare provider before trying any galactagogues to determine if that is the best decision for you and your baby.
10) Give baby only breast milk: When possible, avoid supplementation with formula. Breast milk is perfectly composed to meet the needs of your baby. When formula is used for supplementation, your body is not receiving the signal from baby to produce more milk. This is particularly important during a growth spurt when your baby is cluster feeding. Although it may seem like baby is not being satisfied because they are nursing so frequently, they are actually doing their part to boost your milk supply to meet their growing needs.
11) Massage the breasts: Massaging your breasts while baby is nursing or while you are pumping can increase the flow of milk. Start at the top of the breast massaging the milk producing glands firmly with your fingers in a downward circular motion. Gradually move closer to the areola as you massage, spending time focusing on each area of the breast. A warm compress can also help this process.
12) Seek support: The help of a lactation consultant can be invaluable as you build a breastfeeding relationship with your baby. A lactation consultant can help with troubleshooting to determine if there’s a problem with latch, position or a ties and can also be a source of comfort and reassurance that your baby is getting exactly what she needs. Other great forms of support for nursing moms include breastfeeding support groups, mom groups, and friends and family who have breastfed their babies. It is so important that you feel supported during this special and often challenging time in your life. Surround yourself with people who share your values and can help you uphold your wishes to breastfeed your baby.
Even if you can't nail all of these tips, remember that most women do produce enough breast milk for their babies. The perception that their bodies are not producing enough milk is one of the most commonly cited reasons by mothers who decide to wean or introduce solids early. Unlike bottles, which you are able to measure, it can be difficult to determine exactly how much milk your little one is drinking. Rest assured though that as long as they are wetting and soiling their diapers regularly, they are probably getting exactly the right amount of milk from you. Also, breast milk is digested more quickly than formula which leaves breastfed babies needing and wanting to nurse more often. This is perfectly normal and healthy!
At Health Foundations, our lactation consultants and postpartum nurses are here to assist you with any and all questions you have related to breastfeeding your new baby. If you are pregnant and just beginning your search for prenatal care, contact Health Foundations to schedule a free consultation with a midwife and a tour of our beautiful Birth Center. We are here to serve you at every stage.