One of the most common reasons mothers cease breastfeeding earlier than they wanted to, is because they feel they don’t have enough milk for their baby. Here are some ideas to help you work out if your supply really is low and some suggestions that will help you make more milk, if it is low!
In the early weeks/months, you and your baby are getting to know each other. You work together to build your milk supply. Feeding your baby whenever he needs it will help him get all the milk he needs to grow and develop. It is important to remember that every baby is different. Yours won't be the same as your sister's or your neighbor’s baby.
Whilst most mothers can produce plenty of milk to meet their baby's needs, sometimes there are genuine low supply issues (such as insufficient glandular tissue) and no matter how hard a woman tries she cannot increase her supply any further.
How breastfeeding works
During pregnancy your breasts change and develop to be ready to make milk for your baby. Milk is there even when your baby is born prematurely. The amount usually increases greatly a few days after birth (the milk comes in). The first milk in the breasts after the birth and, often before, is called colostrum. This thick, yellowish milk is more concentrated than mature milk. It is rich in protein and antibodies that help to protect your baby from illness. Your baby only needs a small amount of food in the first few days after birth. The amount of colostrum in your breasts is enough to meet his needs. Mature breast-milk, which is thin and bluish-white in appearance, gradually replaces colostrum over this time.
When he sucks at the breast, your baby stimulates tiny nerves in the nipple. This causes the release of hormones into your bloodstream. One of the hormones (prolactin) activates the milk-making tissues. The other hormone (oxytocin) causes the breast to push out or let down the milk.
Did you know that our Minuet Breast Pump features a specially designed massage pattern that mimics the fast, fluttering suckling that a baby does to stimulate your milk-flow (letdown).
How do I know if my baby is getting enough breast-milk?
If your baby shows the following signs, then it is likely that you do have enough milk.
- At least 6 very wet cloth diapers or at least 5 very wet disposable diapers in 24 hours. The urine should be odorless and clear/very pale in color. A very young baby will usually have 3 or more soft or runny bowel movements each day for several weeks. An older baby is likely to have fewer bowel movements than this. Strong, dark urine or formed bowel motions suggest that the baby needs more breast-milk and you should seek medical advice.
- Good skin color and muscle tone. Does she look like she fits her skin? If you gently ‘pinch’ her skin, it should spring back into place.
- Your baby is alert and reasonably contented and does not want to feed constantly. It is however normal for babies to have times when they feed more frequently. It is also normal for babies to wake for night feeds. Some babies sleep through the night at an early age while others wake during the night for some time.
- Some weight gain and growth in length and head circumference.
How to make more milk: Demand = Supply
To build your supply, the following ideas may help.
- The quickest and most successful way to boost your supply is to pump more often. Your breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis. How often and how much milk is removed from the breast are the main factors that determine how much milk will be made. In other words, the more often the milk is removed from the breasts (by baby or breast pump), the more milk the breasts will produce.
- You can increase the frequency that you empty your breasts to start signaling your body to produce more milk. Some moms have seen a great response to adding an evening or early morning nursing or pumping session. Make sure you’re nursing or pumping at least 8 times a day. If you’re exclusively pumping your breast milk for your baby, double pumping (pumping on both sides at once) will yield more milk and decrease the amount of time you spend pumping.
- Another way to boost your supply is to breastfeed and then pump. Sometimes your breasts may not feel completely “empty” after nursing, so add a pumping session right after your baby finishes eating. This will stimulate your body to produce more and start increasing milk supply – even if it’s just a little bit. Every drop counts!
- Taking good care of yourself can also impact your breast milk supply, and potentially increase breast milk production. Try keeping healthy snacks and bottles of water stashed by your bedside table, or the chair or couch where you most frequently nurse. Find time to relax and focus on yourself – take a bath, take a nap, read a book. It may seem nearly impossible to find the time, but by taking care of yourself you are taking care of your baby, too!
- If your concerns about low breast milk supply go beyond what’s been suggested, you can always reach out to a lactation professional. A Lactation Consultant can help determine if you do need help with your milk supply, and work with you to find ways to address the issue.
Struggling with a low milk supply can be very upsetting and frustrating. Remember that any amount of breast-milk you provide your baby is valuable.