Nursing moms often face anxiety about their milk supply, particularly first-time moms. With no concrete way to assess how much milk their breasts produce and the constantly changing needs of a new baby, they may wonder: is my baby getting enough milk?
Thankfully, most of the time, the answer is yes. If not, this article will cover everything you need to know about how to increase your milk supply.
A Woman’s Body Is Designed To Meet a Baby’s Needs
Before diving into ways to increase milk supply, it’s important to point out that most women’s bodies can provide their babies with enough milk. Unfortunately, evidence shows a negative perception of milk supply, such as stress over whether milk production is sufficient, can lead to early cessation of breastfeeding.
Feeling unsure is a part of the breastfeeding journey for many women initially, but learning to trust in your body and your baby’s instincts can help immensely. On the other hand, if you notice signs of inadequate milk supply in your baby or you feel something is off, bring it up to your pediatrician immediately.
Signs Your Baby Isn’t Getting Enough Milk
First, it’s essential to determine if your baby isn’t getting enough milk. If you spot any of the following signs, it could be a sign your baby isn’t getting what they need from your breasts.
- Baby is not gaining weight steadily, losing weight (after initial loss in the first two weeks that is normal), or remaining underweight.
- Infrequent diaper changes (less than six wet diapers per day).
- Signs of dehydration include dry lips, no tears when crying (if they are older than two weeks), and sunken fontanelles (the soft spot on the top of the baby’s head).
- Baby is constantly fussy and unsatisfied after nursing.
If you notice these signs, you must immediately get your pediatrician’s help.
Signs That DON’T Mean Your Milk Supply is Low
Nursing moms often misinterpret healthy and natural baby behaviors as signals that they aren’t producing enough milk. The following signs are not cause for worry about milk supply:
- A baby who wants to nurse constantly is not a cause for concern. This is known as cluster feeding and is the baby’s natural way of boosting your milk supply when they are going through a growth spurt.
- Babies who seem only interested in one breast during each feeding; some simply have a favorite. Try to keep them rotating between both to prevent uneven milk production between the breasts.
- Baby falling asleep at the breast. This is normal behavior as babies get full and comfortable during nursing sessions.
- Soft breasts before a feed are not a concern; as your milk supply adjusts, they will be less full and uncomfortable (thank goodness).
- Baby fussing during a feed could be a sign of colic, an allergy to something you’re eating, gas, or a dirty diaper- always assess their discomfort before assuming it’s milk supply.
- Low output from your breasts with pumping or hand expression is not necessarily a problem, as the baby is significantly better at expressing milk than any machine or hand.
Causes of Low Milk Supply
There are a few causes of low milk supply; most can be addressed with awareness and support, while a few cannot.
Poor Latch or a Shallow Latch
If your baby does not have a correct latch, they will not be able to get enough milk from the breast efficiently. This can lead to sore nipples and a frustrated baby.
If a nursing mom attempts to feed their baby on a strict schedule rather than on demand, this can lead to supply issues, particularly in the first few months of feeding.
Stress or Anxiety
When under stress, your body releases certain hormones, reducing milk production. Too little sleep, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition can also contribute to mental health issues that indirectly affect milk supply.
Smoking, drinking, and other unhealthy lifestyle choices can be problematic for a mother’s milk production.
Feeding with formula or solid food (before 4 to 6 months) can alter the baby’s feeding patterns and lead to a sudden drop in your milk supply.
Drugs like birth control pills or decongestants can interfere with the natural hormone production necessary for milk production.
Changes in hormone production can cause various issues related to breastfeeding and milk supply. This is possible with postpartum complications like a retained placenta (not common) or the return of a woman’s period after birth.
Hypothyroidism, hepatitis B or C, and diabetes can affect supply.
Minimal Glandular Tissue
Rarely women won’t have enough milk-producing tissue in their breasts. It’s important to note this is not determined by breast size.
Previous Breast Trauma or Surgery
Damage to breath tissue can also affect its ability to produce milk.
How To Increase Milk Supply
If you’re concerned about your milk supply, these tips can help.
Note: The first two tips are the most important and will significantly impact your nursing journey. The rest are things to try when you’re still frustrated and looking for other options.
1. Assess The Baby’s Latch
Ensure your baby gets a good latch on the breast- it should be deep and comfortable for both of you. If you need help assessing this (common), ask for help from an IBLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) or a La Leche League leader.
2. Feed On Demand
The best thing you can do for your milk supply is to let your baby decide when to nurse and how often they need to, including days and nights. This encourages milk production as the body will adjust based on your baby’s specific needs.
Other Tips for Increasing Milk Supply
In most cases, the first two tips will do the trick. If you want to try other options, here’s what women find most helpful.
- Get professional guidance: If you’re concerned about your milk supply despite a good latch, it’s a good idea to get the help of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). They can guide you in how to feed your baby best, including nursing positions, and offer personalized tips to boost your milk production. Plus, they can reassure you to help alleviate anxiety.
- Embrace skin-to-skin time: Nurse your baby skin-to-skin (diaper only, with a blanket if needed). This is a fantastic way to connect with your little one while stimulating milk production, thanks to the release of the “love” hormone oxytocin (important for breastfeeding). Other skin-to-skin time is also a great way to bond when not nursing.
- Pump or hand express after nursing: Once you feed your little one, pump or hand express to empty your breasts further to help increase your supply. (Warning: unless you plan to pump and bottle feed baby consistently- this can lead to an oversupply.)
- Stay well-hydrated: Hydration can help maintain milk production, so drink lots of fluids.
- Be kind to your body: Take time to rest and practice self-care. Eat a balanced diet that supports lactation, as your body needs specific vitamins and nutrients to produce milk.
- Ensure you’re getting enough rest: Don’t be afraid to ask for help or let go of that long to-do list as your body recovers postpartum and you establish a milk supply.
- Practice mindfulness: Having a baby is a significant life change. Many moms feel anxious when paired with postpartum recovery, sleep deprivation, and the unknown. Daily mindfulness with meditation and breathing exercises can help reduce stress, which in turn helps milk production.
- Avoid pacifiers and bottles: Your baby’s sucking instinct should be directed toward the breast for maximum stimulation of milk production, at least during their first six weeks of life. A pacifier or bottle can lead to nipple confusion and decreased milk supply in some babies.
- Take supplements: Certain herbs, vitamins, and minerals (like Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle, Brewers Yeast, Vitamin B, and Iron) might help increase milk supply. Evidence is limited, but some moms swear by them.
- Prescription meds: Your doctor may prescribe medications like Domperidone to increase your supply, but you discuss any associated risks with them first.
- Eat nutrient-rich foods that boost supply: Galactagogues, foods thought to enhance milk supply, can be incorporated into a mom’s diet. Milk-boosting foods include oats (such as oatmeal or lactation cookies), garlic, fenugreek, brewer’s yeast, almonds, and flaxseed.
Respecting Each Mom’s Breastfeeding Journey
Each mom has different life experiences and goals regarding whether they want to breastfeed and for how long. It’s important to support each other and honor every mom’s unique breastfeeding journey. If a mom faces supply issues, don’t judge her or make assumptions. Instead, offer words of encouragement and provide helpful resources if needed.
Nursing Moms Are Superheroes
Overall, being a nursing mom is a lot of hard work that can be worth the effort for building a strong bond with a healthy, happy baby.
It’s important to remember it takes time to establish a good milk supply and that plenty of support is available if you need it. Talk to other moms, join a breastfeeding group or the La Leche League, and ask for help from an IBCLC if required. Your little one will get all the milk they need with trust, patience, and perseverance.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.