I remember being pregnant with our oldest child, our daughter. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t breastfeed. It seemed like the natural thing to do. I was breastfed, my mother was breastfed, my mother’s mother was breastfed and on down the line as far as I know.
Lots of well-meaning women who already had children often told me, “Don’t worry dear, breastfeeding is natural.” It really never occurred to me to worry, about it. If it was so “natural”, it should come easily, right? Well, as many new mother’s find out, breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally.
Nursing is a skill, for both mother and baby, and there is a bit of a learning curve to it. Plus, if you have no one checking in on you and your little one, there is no one to reassure you that you are doing well or helping you overcome any problems you may be having. This sometimes means that first-time parents find nursing to be too hard and decide to bottle feed instead.
I find this to be so unfortunate for so many reasons, but mostly because breast milk is the ONLY perfect food out there for your child. We have not ever been able to duplicate it and it is always the right balance of nutrients for your child at that given moment. It is changing all the time. It is different from morning to night, from week to week (sometimes from day to day), and from a warm August afternoon to a cool October morning. That being said, most moms who decide to breastfeed often struggle with some part of it. One of the most frequent questions I have heard personally and professionally from mothers of many nationalities residing in several different countries is, “How can I make more milk?”
This is a very legitimate question. However, before I can answer it, it is important to mention that several women erroneously assume that they have a low milk supply. This is probably the chief worry for new mothers and it is often a needless one.
Women often assume they have a low-milk supply for one of the following reasons:
1. Baby is suddenly fussy.
Babies can be fussy for no reason at all. Sometimes there is a reason, like trapped gas in their tummies or teething pain. In many cases, this happens in the evening, but it can happen at any time of day. You may not find out the reason for new fussy periods before they pass.
2. After nursing, baby will still drink from bottle if it is offered.
Some babies have a strong need to suck and will suck on nearly anything you give them. Other babies respond to their full indicator less strongly than their peers and may eat as long as you feed them. This doesn’t mean they are actually hungry.
3. Baby is nursing frequently or increasing the length of feedings.
There are some babies who will want to suck at times for reasons other than hunger. Breastmilk also digests faster than formula, which leads to more frequent feedings. Some babies also just want to breastfeed for a feeling of closeness. Don’t give formula or bottles during this time because that will defeat the purpose. Your baby is providing extra stimulation so that your milk supply will increase.
4. There is a decrease in the length or frequency of feedings.
Babies often do this as they grow and mature because they often become better, more efficient nurslings.
5. Breasts feel softer and less full.
Many mothers experience very hard or full breasts in the early days of nursing. As time goes by, the frequency and quantity of feedings determine your milk supply in a more precise way and your body starts to only make the amount of milk your baby actually needs. The early hardness or fullness is often caused by oversupply, because your baby hasn’t established regular feedings yet.
6. Breasts leak less, stop leaking, or have never leaked milk.
This is most often due to the reasons cited in number 5. However, some mothers never leak and some mothers continue to leak. This seems to be different from person to person.
7. No longer feels a let-down sensation, or never felt one before.
Again, this can be due to the reasons listed in number 5 and varies from person to person.
8. When pumping, very little or no milk is expressed.
This is probably the chief reason most new moms I come across give to support their fear of not having enough milk. However, pumping and nursing are very different skills and processes. A pump, even a very pricey and well-functioning one, does not stimulate the breast the same way your child does. It also does not create the same hormonal response.
Really none of these things in and of themselves signal that a baby is not getting enough milk. If your child has an adequate number of wet diapers daily and is gaining weight on a symmetrical curve (meaning their length/height and weight are around the same percentage on the growth chart), this is an indicator that your baby is getting enough breast milk. This being said, there are cases when your baby is losing weight or not gaining at the rate your health professional would like. In this instance, your baby may not be getting enough milk.
Low milk supply may be caused by one of the following:
1. Baby is feeding a bottle.
Simply put, breastfeeding is all supply and demand. Every time you give your baby a bottle, that is one less time your child sends that demand message to your body, which is also a message, letting your body know it can make less.
2. Pacifiers are used to soothe.
Pacifiers were invented to fill a need. However, they can interfere with your babies latch when nursing and they can also be used when the baby actually really needs to nurse to increase your supply.
3. Baby likes bottles more.
Milk comes out of a bottle easier and more quickly than from the breast. While this may be easier for some babies, they can also develop a preference for it, not wanting to nurse from the breast when they are tired or not feeling well, causing your body to produce less.
4. Nipple shields are being used.
While these shields are helpful in certain situations, they can inhibit nipple stimulation causing supply issues.
5. Sleepy baby isn’t eating enough.
This is often the case in the first few weeks, but babies younger than 12 weeks really should be woken every two hours during the day and every four hours at night to nurse. Going all night without nursing can cause supply issues.
6. Schedule issues.
Whether mom is nursing less because she is headed back to work, pumping infrequently because of her work schedule or only nursing at specific times in order to establish a better routine for baby, it can all lead to a low milk supply.
7. Ending a feeding session before baby is ready.
For a good supply and for your child’s optimum health, you should always let your baby end the feeding by pulling away from the breast or by falling asleep and rolling away. If you end the feeding for her, you are missing that important hind milk that contains valuable fats that keep your baby full between feedings and help her maintain a healthy weight and growth pattern.
8. Feeding on only one side per session.
Feeding on only one side is fine when your baby is a few months old and your supply is well established, but in the first few weeks and months, both sides should always be offered.
9. Baby’s health.
Prematurity, along with a host of other health problems, can leave baby with a weak or immature suck or latch, causing them to be unable to remove milk efficiently, leading to a diminished or dried up supply.
10. Mom’s health.
Smoking, hypothyroidism, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, previous breast surgery, or other medical health issues can make it difficult or impossible for mom to breastfeed on demand and can inhibit milk supply.
How To Increase Your Breast Milk Supply Naturally
If you truly are suffering from low milk supply, the following are 10 ways you can do to increase your breast milk production without involving any medication:
1. Increase the frequency and duration of nursing sessions.
Instead of nursing every two hours, offer the breast every hour and let your baby decide when to stop nursing.
2. Have all sucking occur at the breast.
Even if baby needs supplementation, give it with a spoon or cup, so the only sucking that happens is at the breast.
3. Use the switch nursing method.
This involves nursing baby on one side and then as soon as his speed slackens, moving him to the other side of the breast. Doing this two or three times increases the amount of actual milk he gets before falling asleep.
4. Double nurse.
Similar to switch nursing, this involves letting your child fully nurse from each side. Then rouse her, sit her upright and interact with her for about ten minutes. Burp her and then offer her both breasts again. Both switch nursing and double nursing stimulate milk ejection reflexes, increasing the quantity and quality of your breast milk.
5. Nurse baby skin to skin.
Being close to your skin will not only encourage baby to nurse more often, it will allow you both to feel more relaxed. Undress your baby down to his diaper and nurse him against your bare chest. When you are at home together, carry him or wear him in a baby carrier directly against your skin to promote frequent feeding.
6. Breastfeed on your side.
If all else fails, retreat to bed with your infant to nurse. Lying in bed will help both you and your baby relax as you probably both associate it with sleep. Being relaxed helps increase milk-producing hormones, increasing your supply.
7. Adjust your schedule.
If it’s not working, change it. This is better said than done for many of us, but if breastfeeding is important to you, it matters little if baby falls asleep exactly at 11 a.m. every day. Adjust your schedule as much as possible to allow for relaxed, uninterrupted frequent feedings.
8. Imagine having enough milk.
This sounds simple. Before and during nursing, imagine your infant being satisfied at the breast. Picture streams of milk shooting into her mouth and settling in her belly. This can greatly help the milk ejection reflex, increasing your supply.
If you need help with visualisation, this hypnosis download can help.
9. Contact a lactation counselor.
A breastfeeding counselor can help to assess your baby’s latch and the efficiency of their nursing sessions. Sometimes, fixing a latch is all it takes to get things back on track.
10. Try adding galactogogues into your diet or drink regimen.
What are galactogogues? If you have found yourself struggling with low milk supply, you may have wished for a magical food that could give you a robust and bountiful milk supply. Galactogogues, also known as lactogenic foods, may be just the key. Many cultures around the world believe that the food and drink a nursing mother consumes greatly affect the quality and quantity of her milk supply.
For instance, there are several herbs, like parsley and spearmint, that are known to reduce your milk supply when consumed in large amounts.
We know that other foods can actually enhance milk production. Some examples are barley, carrot, corn, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, lettuce, onion, peanut, sesame, sweet potato, yam, lotus, fig, date, coconut, elderflower, almond and hops.
If you are interested in a book that outlines the benefits of a ‘lactogenic’ (milk-producing) diet and includes recipes for snacks, meals, teas and drinks that can help increase milk supply, look no further than Mother Food by Hilary Jacobson. It is the only book I have found that focuses explicitly on using foods and drinks to naturally increase milk supply in the same way that mothers have been doing for hundreds of years.