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Table of content:
- How to identify low milk supply?
- How to increase milk production?
If you are reading this article then you are one of many women who face the bitter fact that breastfeeding has certain pitfalls you never think of until you bump into them. The truth is, while breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t mean that it’s trouble-free. You just have to embrace this fact and breath out. You are not alone here! 😉
Now, the most common problem that occurs during the first three months of breastfeeding is low milk production. Is that really so? Or is this just a fear of new moms on their way to established lactation? Let’s get all this straightened out.
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How to identify low milk supply?
I have to admit that low milk supply was my major concern I had to deal with at the outset of my breastfeeding journey. I started feeling let downs only by the end of the first month of nursing and thought of it as a bad sign. My baby was constantly crying – another scary alarm for me. Imagine how much pressure that was for a new inexperienced mother who was convinced that a newborn should eat and sleep most of the time.
I had two ways out:
- I could start giving formula to my child and eventually stop breastfeeding.
- I could continue breastfeeding as much as possible (I mean the demand breastfeeding) and pray for this to work.
Need I say which one I’ve chosen? 🙂 The truth is I wanted to breastfeed so bad that I was ready to accept the challenge of overcoming low milk supply. That time I didn’t know yet that low milk supply wasn’t my problem. Yes, I didn’t have a land of milk but my baby obviously got enough. And there’s only one reliable method to identify this. We’ll talk about it later on. So what I did is I falsely believed the misleading signs of low milk supply. As many women do. And at this point, many women actually give up breastfeeding and switch to the formula. This transition pays off only in 5% of the time. No kidding. That is why it is crucial to know how to identify low milk supply and if you really do have troubles with milk production, know how to use methods to increase your milk supply. So first and foremost, make sure you really have low milk supply. Before you create a panic over it.
Luckily, there is a tremendously low percentage of women having real troubles with milk production. Quite often, first-time mothers think they do, but in the reality, it’s not even close to that.
But here’s the good news: if low milk production is really your problem, it is 100% manageable. It just takes time and patience. With the benefit of hindsight, I have unraveled 4 efficient methods that really work in terms of increasing milk supply.
So how can you identify if low milk supply is your problem?
The only reliable factor to pay attention to when it comes to low milk supply is the weight gain of you child
How much should my baby gain while breastfeeding?
There are plenty of different charts available in the net. But the funniest thing is that they all differ from one another. I have always trusted the world health organization (WHO) in this matter. According to WHO, the minimum weight gain for the breastfed baby is 500-600 grams a month. Of course, this numbers correspond only to first 3-4 months of baby’s development. Imagine, if the baby continues to gain 600-800 grams every month – he will eventually grow into a very heavy little child! 🙂 The formula for the weight gain is pretty simple: your child should double its birth weight by 6 months and triple it by a year.
Mistake #1: Thinking that your child should gain 800-1000 grams a months while breastfeeding
Mistake #2: Weighting your baby once a day, or before and after breastfeeding (which is even worse)
Mistake #3: Thinking that your baby is cranky at your breast because he doesn’t get enough milk (actually, there are plenty of other reasons for the baby to act a little cranky ;))
Mistake #4: Thinking that you have low milk supply because your baby is asking for breast more often than usual
Try “Wet-Diaper” test
This test is quite informative because it shows how much fluid your baby gets. So what you should do is you actually get the diaper off and lay your baby on clean sheet. The idea here is to count how many wet sheets you change in the process of baby’s diaper-free time.
During first two weeks of the baby’s life, he doesn’t pee much, you have to know that. It is considered to believe that the baby pees as many times as many days he is. For example, your baby’s one week old, so he has to pee 7 times a day.
When your baby’s a little older, 10-12 wet sheets a day show that there’s nothing to worry about. You have enough milk. Try to relax and enjoy breastfeeding and the magic of bonding with your child 😉
Why mothers think they don’t have enough milk (most common misconceptions for low milk supply)
- “I don’t feel let downs while breastfeeding”. For one thing, not all breastfeeding mothers feel these let downs during nursing. Those who do, have to realize that they will not always be felt extremely intense as they did during first couple of weeks after delivery. What is more, the further you go with the lactation, the less let downs you feel, the softer your breast becomes – and this is a good sign! It means your lactation is establishing well.
- “I can’t pump enough milk. All I have are some drops”. Oh, that one! The biggest concern of mine, frankly. I was so worried I couldn’t pump. I got upset that low milk supply was my problem, which wasn’t. There’s one undeniable truth, remember it and don’t ever think otherwise: there’s no such pump existing that can extract as much breast milk as your baby does by sucking it. A skin-to-skin contact that you get with the baby always works towards milk production and its release from the breast. Always.
- The baby asks for breast more often than usual and spends more time nursing. Believe me, the baby has many different reasons other than not getting enough breast milk to do so. For babies of several days or months old being at the breast sucking is something more than just eating. Did you know that first three months of baby’s life are jokingly called “Fourth trimester of pregnancy”? Do you know why? Because your baby has just been born. You carried him for 9 months. This symbiosis you had. Your womb and its warmth was the only thing your baby knew existed. Now he gets into our world that has temperature differences, mercury pressure, air we breathe, abundance of flavors, water, wind etc. And your breast is the only thing that resembles his sweet home of your womb. It smells familiar (like amniotic fluid). It feels safe. (Again, skin-to-skin contact with the mother). Your breast and you are the world to your just born child. This is another reason why breastfeeding is so damn important! It provides the safest entrance of your baby to the outer world. To our world. So why is he asking for breast frequently and spends a lot of time at it? For the feeling of shelteredness. For communication with you. For your warmth and love. For comfort. For falling asleep. And for many-many other reasons that have nothing in common with your worries about low milk supply. So relax and enjoy the breastfeeding process. 😉
- The baby cries after breastfeeding. Again, many reasons. For one thing, he could be in discomfort from excessive gas in his belly (due to unformed gastrointestinal tract of the baby of this small age). Or, he is hot, or cold. He wants to burp, etc. Many reasons! Some mothers panic that their child is cranky after breastfeeding and they give formula, thinking that this crankiness is the result of unsatisfied hunger. What they get after is the baby falling asleep for 2-4 hours, which proves their point – low milk supply. Yet, I will break this myth and prove you wrong! Read on 🙂
- My baby cries after breastfeeding but sleeps after formula = I don’t have enough milk. Don’t forget that breast milk is unique food, easy to digest, perfect for the baby. It is fully digested in 1-1.5 hours. Formula, on the other hand, is heavy for the baby’s GIT. So the baby’s stomach needs more strength and 3-4 hours to digest the formula. Now where does a small organism take that much power? Right, from the sleep. That is why small babies usually sleep after eating formula.
How to increase milk production?
Again, I remind you that the only reliable factor to pay attention to when it comes to low milk supply is the weight gain of you child. Supposing, you’ve weighted your child and it turned out that he gained less than 550 grams a month (or 125 gr. a week). In this case, you do have low milk supply. But don’t worry. I reassure you, there are quite efficient methods to increase breast milk production.
I will give you 4 primary ways together with 4 expedient methods to increase your milk supply. Here’s an interesting fact, the expedient methods won’t work without the major ones. So make sure you follow the instructions. 😉
Four primary ways to increase breast milk production
- Make sure the latch is right. Why is this so important? Because the baby needs to suck the milk out of the breast effectively, since milk production works in ‘demand-supply’ mode. The more baby’s sucking, the more milk is extracting. If the baby’s latch is incorrect, it means that he won’t suck out enough milk, thus less milk will come in next time you breastfeed. That’s why your priority is to make sure the latch is right. Watch the video, or meet the lactation consultant. Use anything that can help resolve this problem.
- Breastfeed on demand. How does this work? You give the breast to the baby slightly before he shows some signs of hunger (turning his head to the sides, pulling his tongue out in search of the nipple or crying). The best time to give breast is when you see that your baby starts to awaken but he is not quite waken up yet.
- Start nighttime breastfeeding. Prolactin, responsible for milk supply, is the night hormone. The peak hours for its production are 3:00 – 8:00 a.m. So make sure you breastfeed at least once during these hours. If you do have issues with milk production, my advice is sleep-sharing with baby. This will ease the problem of lack of sleep you might have from getting up to nurse your baby. Sleep-sharing is a wonderful alternative for breastfeeding for as many times as needed during the night. And it is also beneficial for the baby’s brain and mind development (hopefully, I will write an article about this soon).
- Learn to relax. Again, it’s all about that tricky hormonal stuff. This time I’m talking about oxytocin, the hormone responsible for milk’s extraction out of the nipple. You need to learn to relax. This may sound weird, but most often new moms just forget how to relax. Try to recall what works for you. It can be certain type of music, delicious food, different flavors, watching a movie, listening to your favorite book (since reading a paper one is next to impossible). Anything that works for you!
Four expedient methods to increase milk supply
Please note that the following methods do not work alone (without the four major ones), so use them together.
- Pump in between nursing (or right after breastfeeding). For you hormonal system this kind of pumping is a little trick, as if your baby is sucking more than usual. This one doesn’t work magic. You will not get a land of milk the next time you breastfeed. It works over several days practice. So be consistent.
- Use supplementary feeding system while breastfeeding. How to do this? The system has the catheter that you fix on your breast and into the baby’s mouth, thus he will be sucking your breast even if there’s not enough milk in it because he will get the milk from the catheter and you meanwhile will get “the cause-and-effect link” for stimulating your breast, meaning the baby’s sucking, the hormonal system’s working on milk production. Demand brings supply, remember? 😉
- Use skin-to-skin contact when breastfeeding. This method promotes your hormonal system to work efficiently. And it does work magic. 😉 Just try!
- Provide yourself with herbal lactagogues. Though the evidence base of herbs that ‘increase milk supply’ is pretty low, it’s worth a shot. Last time I checked, the placebo effect worked wonders. 😉 I drank Yogi Nursing Support Tea for increasing milk production. But there are actually plenty of them over the counter. Try different. Stick to whichever you like. My two personal favorite are Yogi Tea and Organic Mother’s Milk Tea. I also drank special Calcium and Folate enriched formula for lactating mothers. I can’t say that it really worked but I was just driven by its taste. 😉 What important is the beverage you drink or food you eat should be hot to warm you up and help to relax, which in its turn will help in oxytocin production and milk extraction. There’s also this herb called Fenugreek. Its major function is cleansing blood. As you know, milk is produced from the blood. I personally didn’t try it but maybe it’s worth a try.
Hopefully, these methods will help you to increase breast milk supply and you’ll be back on track of breastfeeding in no time!
I would like to add just one thing. If you really want to breastfeed – you will. No matter how difficult the way to established lactation you will have to pass. I had the toughest times ever yet now, when I’m on my seventh month of breastfeeding, I really enjoy the process. It is easy and natural. All the difficulties took the back seat.
But before you say that you want to breastfeed so much, ask yourself if you really do. And fairly admit if you don’t. There’s nothing wrong in that. It won’t make you a bad mother, if you don’t breastfeed. The choice is always up to you. And nobody has the right to judge you for that. Do what you think is best for you and your child. Your baby needs a happy mama, not the constantly stressed out one.
The article is based on the information about low milk suppy provided by Nina Zaichenko (lactation and babywearing consultant, conscious parenting coach) and checked by my personal experience.
What about you? Have you struggled with your milk supply? Share your experience in comments. What methods helped you to increase milk production?
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