When you breastfeed for the first time there are many doubts and questions that arise. The biggest question many new mothers have is, how to increase milk supply?
Our society is obsessed with raising doubts about the mother’s milk supply every time the baby cries. Hearing remarks like “oh the baby cries because you are not making enough milk for him” are commonplace. My first advice is, to pay no heed to unwanted advice and second is educate yourself on breastfeeding. Babies cry for different reasons varying from feeling uncomfortable, cold, hot or gassy etc. Not every cry indicates hunger. Then, is low milk supply a real or perceived issue?
REASONS FOR LOW MILK SUPPLY
In rare cases, some women are unable to make enough milk or sometimes even unable to lactate. But these cases are few and need to be determined after proper medical evaluation and consultations. Taking advice from friends and family on this issue is futile, when in doubt first visit an expert in the field. Many hospitals have in-house lactation consultants, set a meeting with the lactation consultant as soon as the baby is born. Let them come in and guide you through the process of the latch and other issues that arise.
Sometimes it’s not possible to make appointments and go for appointments in the doctor’s office, in such cases I recommend taking an online self-paced breastfeeding class. You have handy notes from class available to you on your computer, tablet, or phone helping you troubleshoot breastfeeding problems quicker.
When not a medical problem most low milk supply issues stem from the following reasons;
- Incorrect latch: Check babies latch on the breast at each feeding. Incorrect latching on can lead to a fussy baby that is not getting enough milk. The more milk that is removed from the body the more that is made. If milk is not being effectively removed this can cause slow down in milk production. In my post on breastfeeding tips for new mothers, I talk about how a correct latch should look along with a few videos explaining how to latch baby on the breast.
- Sleepy baby: In the newborn phase (first few weeks), babies need to feed every 2-3 hours. If you have a particularly sleepy baby wake baby up for a feeding session. This is important in order to help your body establish proper milk supply.
- Top up with formula or offering a bottle of the formula: Unless advised by a doctor on looking at babies overall weight gain and other vitals that formula is absolutely necessary for the baby, avoid formula. There is no need for ‘top up’ after a breastfeeding session or alternate feeds with formula. All these steps disrupt the normal breastfeeding relationship. Your body will not be able to get the correct hunger signals from the baby if the baby is intermittently given formula leading to a low milk supply. I see this advice to ‘top up’ given to new breastfeeding moms by well-meaning relatives and close family members. Do note if your baby is growing well on your milk you don’t need to ‘top up’ with formula.
- Growth spurt: This is a common phase in infant development when the child is growing rapidly and requires more milk than usual. during growth spurts, most mothers experience low milk supply. Do not panic. I will explain the necessary next steps to increase milk supply further on in this article.
WHEN SHOULD YOU WORRY ABOUT LOW MILK SUPPLY?
The key indicators to check if the baby is getting enough milk are, baby weight gain and pee count (at least 6 pees a day). As long as baby is on track with growth milestones you are doing good.
Weight gain especially is the best evidence that your baby is getting enough milk.
Do you feel your milk supply is low in spite of a good latch and regular breastfeeding sessions? then it is time to meet a doctor. There are some cases of mothers facing medical issues that inhibit breastmilk production or affect supply. These cases should be medically evaluated. The doctor can help you decide if you should supplement with formula.
For all the other reasons causing low milk supply, follow the 10 steps below;
HOW TO INCREASE MILK SUPPLY NATURALLY?
- Breastfeed more often
The first and most important step is to breastfeed at frequent intervals. The more baby sucks the more milk will come. The body uses the signals from the baby to match the supply. In a period of low milk supply stay clear off formula feeds and pacifiers. Basically, anything that keeps the baby away from your breasts. Your body needs to receive the signals from the baby to increase the milk supply. Sure enough in a few days, you will see more milk coming in, in response to babies growth spurt.
Such periods of low milk supply are extremely exhausting for mothers. Try and gather help from family so all you need to do is focus on breastfeeding.
- Pumping after breastfeeding
Many experienced breastfeeding moms recommend a good way to get the body jumpstarted to increase milk supply is to pump milk after a feeding session. It’s another way to signal to your body about the increase in demand so that your body can amp up milk production. This technique has worked for me during periods of growth spurts helping my body catch up to the demand faster.
- Eat foods that promote milk production
Eating a balanced diet helps support breastfeeding. Some of the best foods to increase milk supply naturally are;
- Fennel seeds
- Brewers yeast
- Nuts and Seeds
Try to incorporate these foods into your daily diet. At the same time, I want you to note that there is no need to go overboard buying too many special teas, lactation cookies or methi ladoos (Indian breastmilk boosting snack). Adding a few of these lactogenic foods in a practical manner is enough. Your main focus should be on eating a balanced diet rich in nutrients like iron, and calcium. Which means more of whole grains, nuts, and seeds, legumes, and lentils with a little bit of poultry and fish. If you are a vegetarian or vegan mother talk to your doctor about Vit B12 supplementation.
In India, we offer methi (fenugreek) ladoos or dink ladoos to new breastfeeding mothers. While these ladoos are made with lactogenic ingredients like ‘methi’ and ‘dink’ the main component is ghee. Ghee should be consumed in moderation. Just because these ladoos contain methi does not mean you have them as a snack throughout the day. What you end up with is postpartum weight gain.
If you want the benefits of methi why not make a yummy methi sabzi (vegetarian side) instead of eating ghee ladoos.
Include green leafy vegetables in soups for breastfeeding mothers, desiccated coconut and flaxseed powder in lactation boosting cookies, smoothies, oats in oats porridge and smoothies. Reduce consumption of processed foods, aerated drinks, and foods rich in saturated fats.
Stress is also a contributor to low milk supply. Sometimes the fear of milk supply issues is propagated by well-meaning family members. Everyone expects the baby to feed and fall back to sleep, and when that doesn’t happen people assume its due to milk insufficiency. As I already mentioned babies cry for a number of reasons not every cry is a cry for milk. Sometimes they just need to be held or spoken too. They crave a warm body more than anything. So relax and don’t start panicking about your supply. Talk to another experienced breastfeeding mother or a lactation consultant to feel better about your progress. Most of us have self-made breastfeeding supply issues, seek a community of like-minded women, read blogs like this one and relax. It’s all good, I am repeating it once again, because I know you need to hear this mommy, if your baby is growing as per the growth charts its all good. You are providing for him.
- Skin to Skin
Talking about a warm body, skin to skin with a baby can help promote the production of prolactin and oxytocin in mother. Both of these hormones help boost milk supply. In a quiet room sit with your baby on your chest touching in a skin to skin manner. This type of quiet bonding with baby will help your milk supply and also has a calming effect on both mother and baby.
- Avoid formula
When you are trying to increase milk supply allow baby to spend more time at your breast and avoid formula in form of a feed or ‘top up’. Providing a formula for intermittent feedings leads to a drop in demand for breastmilk for your body to produce. When the signal to make milk (read your baby at the breast) is missing the body will dial down on milk production. Focus on breastfeeding baby for longer durations, offering both sides and pumping more milk after if needed instead of formula.
- Breast compression technique
Breast compression technique is a way of gently squeezing the breasts during a breastfeeding session that causes milk let down and increases milk flow. Breast compression allows for through emptying of breasts and stimulates milk glands to produce more milk in turn. Here is a video that beautifully explains what breast compression looks like.
- Drink fluids
The body is losing a lot of blood in the breastfeeding process. Make sure to stay hydrated in order to replenish lost fluids. I personally used hot homemade soups, smoothies and warm water to keep myself hydrated during those early breastfeeding months. One sign that your body craves more liquids is the constant feeling of thirst you experience as a breastfeeding mother. Keep a thermos of soup or water bottle by your nursing station as a reminder to sip on liquids.
- Eat small meals frequently
Eating small meals throughout the day is also a great way to get energy in a sustained manner helping in milk production. Instead of overeating at lunch and dinner, make healthy and filling snacks that prevent you from binge eating and keep the body nourished with nutrients. Look for superfood dense snacks and smoothies as a way to fill you up when you are feeling peckish. Include as much goodness in foods as you can in every meal to support the demands of breastfeeding. Here are some nourishing and filling recipes for you to try;
- Positive affirmations
This might sound silly to some, but positive self-talk and affirmations help. I used to say these two lines to my self whenever I felt like my milk supply was going down “I make enough milk to feed and nourish my son” and “My body is the tree of life, it pours abundant milk” When you say these affirmations look at your child’s face or if they aren’t around, look at their picture.
This is an exercise in inner confidence building. Every breastfeeding mother needs to know that she can provide- your age, body size, and shape do not matter when you feed your child. It’s important for mothers to triumph over inner incorrect messaging.
There you go, these are my tips to increase milk supply naturally. In my personal experience, each of these tips has helped me continue breastfeeding my son well past the first 2 years of his life.
Once the initial month or two is successful for a new breastfeeding mom there is hope for a long-term breastfeeding relationship. It is our duty as a society, doctors, healthcare professionals, and family members to support this precious breastfeeding relationship in its most vulnerable phase.
Next time a new mom comes to you for advice think before you speak, do encourage her, lead her to resources that can help if you don’t know much on the subject. This simple act on your behalf can help a mother and child have a successful breastfeeding journey.
What were some of the challenges you faced when first breastfeeding? How did you overcome those? Did you use any special tricks to increase milk supply that I haven’t touched on? Do leave a comment below, your experience can be a learning for another breastfeeding mom.
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