How to Increase Your Breastmilk Supply (once you work out if you actually need to)
Every newly breastfeeding mum has a little (or a lot) of anxiety about whether she’s producing enough milk at some stage of her nursing journey.
Unfortunately, it’s usually an idea put in her head by third party, rather than an instinctual feeling. To help, here’s a list of things that are usually NOT a sign of low supply:
- Baby not sleeping much
- Baby feeding all the time
- Baby unsettled and crying
- Hardly any milk coming out when you pump
- Baby not reaching birth weight by ten days old (14 days is a better guide, 3 weeks acceptable too)
- Boobs never leak a drop
- Baby wanting to feed longer than 20 minutes at a time
- Baby looking at your food
- Baby turning 4 months old
- Baby who had been sleeping suddenly decides not to sleep much
- Baby following your spoon with his eyes or trying to grab your food
- Baby not wanting to let you out of her sight
- Baby turning 6 months old
Here is a few things that may be symptoms of low supply:
- Baby failing to thrive (i.e. not gaining weight at all and unsettled, missing developmental milestones)
- Baby consistently failing to have this amount of wet/dirty nappies (6 wet after 4 days, up to 3 poos)
- Baby showing signs/symptoms of dehydration
(If you and baby are experiencing any of these you should get in touch with a qualified lactation consultant as soon as you can.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is, most of the time it’s in our/other’s heads!
Best practice is to follow these guidelines to establish good supply from the beginning.
- Make sure you understand how the supply and demand system of nursing works
Do a pre-baby breastfeeding workshop like ours here at the elbowroom or the hospitals and the likes of Cuidiú and Le Leche League have them too. This will help you understand how the natural breastfeeding system works. Essentially you are the supply, baby is the demand and the only way baby can communicate level of demand is to nurse.
- Practice hand expressing in the last weeks of pregnancy
There are a couple of benefits here. 1. It’s good to get familiar with how the breast works, feels and how to get milk out if you need to. 2. This will also help stimulate good colostrum supply before baby arrives. You don’t have to keep the milk that you express unless you want to (needs to be in a sterile container and then freeze). You can get great information about hand expressing here.
- Feed on Demand
Successful breastfeeding is baby led. Feed baby whenever you see the cues (head bobbing, hands up to mouth, turning in towards the breast). This will seem like a lot of feeding in the early weeks but remember you cannot overfeed an exclusively breastfed baby. The more you allow baby to nurse at its own pace and requirement, the better your supply will be.
- Ditch clocks
Feeding on demand means nursing whenever baby wants to and leaving baby at the breast as long as it wants to be there. Again this is going to feel like a lot in the beginning (and it is a lot!) but it will calm down and will establish really good supply. You should never time baby on the breast. Simply let baby latch on and latch off itself.
- Skin to Skin
The more you hold your baby skin to skin the more wonderful oxytocin will flow which will make you feel wonderful but will also stimulate milk let down or ejection.
- Make sure baby is removing milk from the breast effectively
Issues like poor latch or shallow latch, tongue-tie, inverted nipples, and others can mean baby is not transferring the milk effectively. This requires the help of a trained lactation professional asap or supply won’t match demand and this will cause problems. If your instincts tell you there’s an issue, there usually is. Don’t ‘wait and see’, get help asap and preferably before your nipples really hurt!
- Wake a sleepy baby
But only in the beginning!!! Sometimes babies are very sleepy in the early days (can be down to medications during birth, jaundice and other factors). If your baby is not waking to feed at least every 4 hours you need to gently encourage it to feed by unwrapping layers of clothing until it wakes and stimulate baby by inputting through the senses. Once it’s awake get a feed in! You only do this in the first couple of weeks – after that you NEVER wake a sleeping baby!!
- Switch sides often and use breast compressions
Don’t be afraid to switch from breast to breast more than once during a feed. Switching every time baby stops actively drinking milk or losses interest is a good idea. Also breast compressions are a great way of increasing the volume of milk ejected from the breast.
- Avoid bottles, soothers, and formula, at least for the first weeks
All of baby’s sucking needs should be done on the breast. Remember baby is not at the breast for food only, he/she is there for comfort, putting in a supply order and to learn about love and trust from mum. Bottles and soothers introduced too early can lead to nipple confusion and interrupt supply. After 6 weeks of confident nursing, these things can usually be introduced gradually if you want to (but it’s not necessary if you don’t).
If you are having an issue with latching on or baby is not able to remove milk from the breast effectively, you need to pump to keep the supply going. A lactation consultant can help you formulate a plan to keep supply going while the problem is rectified.
There are also certain remedies, herbs, dietary additions that can help boost supply – oats, fennel tea, and brewers yeast are all common ingredients that can help (known as galactagogues ).
You are feeding your baby. You are doing a marvellous job. Their mouth and tongue are excellent at getting just what they need. If they need more, you will make more. If you are anxious at all: Get support.
Emily & Lisa x