The most common concern I hear from mothers is they believe they are not making enough milk for their baby. They worry about a low milk supply.
When you are a breastfeeding mom it can be hard to know if your baby is getting enough to eat when you can’t see how much milk you are giving your baby.
You may wonder if your breast size determines your milk making capacity, if your breast’s don’t feel full – do they have milk in them or if your baby is still fussy after a feeding . . are they still hungry?
Today we are going to break down how your body makes milk and how to ensure a healthy milk supply!
Understanding Your Milk Supply
Supply vs. Demand
In order for your body to make milk – MILK HAS TO BE REMOVED!
Biggest tip right there for a healthy milk supply. If you are removing milk/colostrum form the breast frequently enough your body will assume you do not need it and will slow down it’s production.
When you are putting your baby to the breast frequently following his or her hunger cues your body will respond to that stimulation and removal of milk by making more milk.
How often should your baby eat?
You want to make sure your baby is offered the breast at least 8 – 12 times in a 24 hour period. More often if they are showing hunger cues (we will get to that in a minute).
What does that mean?
That means you should be offering the breast about every 2 hours during the day and about every 3 hours during the night.
Night feedings are supper important!! There are some babies that will sleep through the night in the first few weeks or months (if your baby doesn’t sleep through the night right away this is VERY normal, it may be a while before this happens.)
You must wake them up to feed. The level of milk making hormones is HIGHEST during the nighttime hours. That’s why a lot of times you will wake up with very full breasts or have your most productive pumping sessions during the morning.
This will change after a few months and your baby can sleep for longer stretches without affecting your milk supply.
There are three phases a baby will go through to show you they are hungry.
Early hunger cues are quietly stirring around, turning their heads side to side, opening their mouths and smacking or licking their lips
They are starting to get a little more hungry when they begin to stretch and stir around, putting their hands to their mouths and trying to suck on their fists.
They are REALLY hungry when they begin to cry and turn red, at this point it may be more difficult to offer the breast and have a successful feeding.
Try to identify their early hunger cues and offer a feeding then.
Feeding on Demand
I cannot count the times I have had a well meaning family member tell a new mom to make sure they get that baby on a feeding “schedule”.
This could not be further from the truth. This alone is a major factor in having a low milk supply.
Your baby will adjust to a schedule after the first few weeks
However in the first few weeks (6-8 weeks) it is SUPER important to let your baby feed on demand.
Why? In the first couple of weeks your body is trying to figure out how much milk to make for your baby. It can be difficult but not impossible to overcome a supply issue if you are not nursing enough in the beginning.
What if I overfeed my baby?
It is very difficult to overfeed a breastfed baby but very EASY to underfeed a breastfed baby.
How to Increase your Supply Quickly.
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Before I tell you how to increase your supply you need to know:
What will TRICK you into thinking you have a low milk supply:
- How much you are getting when you pump.
- If your baby is cluster feeding.
- Your baby still wants to nurse after a full feeding.
If you still believe you are not making enough milk and need to increase your supply follow these 6 steps:
#1. Skin to Skin
The very first thing that will help increase your breast milk production is putting your baby skin to skin! Why?
Skin to skin contact between mama and baby helps stimulate the production and release of Prolactin and Oxytocin. These two maternal hormones are responsible for milk production and release.
So the more your baby is next to your breasts the higher your milk making hormones will be!
#2. Increase Milk Removal
We already talking about how milk is made, so the more milk you remove from the breast the more milk will be made.
Try to increase the frequency and duration of the feedings you offer your baby or add in extra pumping sessions during the day.
If you are offering the breast to your baby at least every 2 hours during the day try to offer every 1.5 hours a couple of times a day or increase the feeding time at the breasts 10-15 minutes per feeding.
#3. Breast Compression
During a feeding make sure to use good breast compression to remove milk from the milk ducts.
If your baby has stopped drinking or is becoming lazy while feeding, grasp the breast with a “C” hold (as if you are grabbing a big hamburger) with the thumb on top of the breast and other fingers below. Make sure the fingers are at least 1 ” from the nipple and areola.
Gently compress and release to help move your milk to your baby more easily and encourage them to continue feeding.
This will also help empty the milk ducts more fully and in turn, make more milk!
#4. Nursing Vacation
Take 2-3 days off from EVERYTHING.
Get in the bed with your baby and do nothing but
One of my favorite breastfeeding courses breaks down exactly how you take a nursing vacation with your baby step-by-step!
We all want an excuse to Netflix and chill, so girl, grab your comfortable PJs and favorite snacks and relax!
#5. Power Pumping
If you don’t have a whole weekend or couple of days to devote to a nursing vacation then POWER PUMPING may be for you!
Power pumping IS A TIME COMMITMENT! Plan to spend at least one hour per day pumping. To get the most out of power pumping you can repeat this a second time during the day.
The idea is to mimic the cluster feeding of a baby.
Frequent milk removal = more milk production!!
This is last on the list for a reason. This should be THE VERY LAST thing you try to increase a low milk supply, AFTER you try the other 5 methods above.
Any time you are taking a galactogogue supplement it will be most effective in combination with increased breastfeeding/pumping frequency and milk removal.
Affordable products to increase your low milk supply:
Foods to increase a low milk supply:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach
- Brewers Yeast
Breastfeeding moms need at least 500 extra calories daily to help support breast milk production.
Drinks to increase a low milk supply:
- WATER WATER WATER
- Sports drinks (Beware of sugar content)
- Coconut water
- Barley water
- Beer *in moderation*
Common Misconceptions about Your Milk Supply
Some myths may lead you to believe you are incapable of making enough milk for your baby.
In fact, there are only a small percentage of women who cannot make enough milk for their babies.
Most of the time a low milk supply, or perceived low milk supply can be quickly fixed through the tips above and by dispelling common misconceptions.
There is STILL milk in the breast even if they do not feel full!
This is a good thing! It means your body will be triggered to make more. The more full your breast feel the less your body is stimulated to make more milk.
Breast size DOES NOT indicate how much milk your breast can make.
I have first hand knowledge of this one. I am barely an A cup on a good day but have been able to nurse both of my younger children successfully.
My sister is a DD cup and she also nursed her children successfully.
When we pumped (at work or home) we both got about the same amount of milk from using the electric pump.
You breasts WILL NOT feel full after your supply regulates.
After the first 6-8 weeks when your supply regulates and your body figures out how much milk your baby needs, your breast will return from their porn star status and go back to being slightly fuller than they used to be.
It doesn’t mean you are making less it just means your supply has regulated.
Formula can affect your supply if you are supplementing.
Always seek professional help before supplementing with formula. Formula is not evil HOWEVER it can and will affect your milk supply. Why?
Formula is digested more slowly by a baby. Many parents tend to give way too much formula, then the baby’s belly gets over distended, they are SUPER full and will not eat for a long time.
Then when it “should” be time for them to nurse, they are uninterested. This means your breast are not getting the stimulation they need, less milk is removed and then less milk will be made. Its a vicious cycle.
How to Get Help When Breastfeeding.
There are several options you may want to try when you need to seek out professional help with breastfeeding.
My first recommendation would be to enlist the help of a local IBCLC. There is a good chance the hospital you delivered at has one. You may even be able to find an IBCLC that will come to your home!
The next option would be taking a breastfeeding course. Ideally you would take this before your baby is born but it is still beneficial after your baby arrives and can give you more confidence that you are doing things right.
Finally there are several websites that offer a ton of breastfeeding information to new moms and experienced moms alike! Even when you are a seasoned pro at breastfeeding you are still going to experience new things and have questions at some point.