Published Date: 10/22/19
Before you can start thinking about how to increase breastmilk production, you first need to determine whether or not you really need it in the first place. Most women think their supply is low when it really isn’t. As long as your baby is gaining weight normally on breastmilk alone, you do not have a milk supply problem.
Also, keep in mind that the feel of your breast, the frequency of nursing, the amount of milk you pump, and the behavior of your baby are all not valid methods of determining whether or not you are producing enough milk.
If you suspect you have low milk supply, you need to talk to your healthcare provider and lactation consultant about it. The number one indicator of low milk supply is your baby’s weight gain or loss, so if your baby is not gaining any weight or is losing weight, your milk supply may be to blame. However, there are a number of other medical conditions that lead to weight loss in babies, which is why your doctor needs to rule them all out first.
If you have low milk supply, supplementation may be recommended. A supplemental nursing system can be used to encourage your baby to suck at your breasts even when there is very little milk. You can either use your own previously expressed breast milk or a formula supplement. However, the best option when doing this is obviously your own pumped milk.
Causes of low milk supply
There are several factors that can cause low milk supply. Some of them include:
1. Supplementing. If you regularly supplement your baby’s meals, you will end up producing less breast milk. As you nurse, the demand placed on your body signals it to produce that much milk. Therefore, when you supplement, your baby breastfeeds less, and your body produces less milk.
2. Scheduling your feedings as opposed to nursing your baby whenever he’s hungry can also reduce milk production and supply.
3. Stopping a feeding before your baby is sated also interferes with the supply demand cycle. So do not cut short the length of your baby’s nursing.
4. Letting your baby feed only on one side is also another cause of low milk supply. It is perfectly alright if you already have a healthy supply and your baby is gaining weight well. However, if you are trying to build your supply, it is a good idea to switch sides after your baby drains one breast.
5. Bottle preference. If your baby regularly bottle-feeds, they may prefer the easier, faster milk flow that they get from the bottle.
6. Pacifiers. Pacifiers significantly reduce the amount of time your baby spends at the breast, causing your milk production to drop.
7. Sleepy baby. During those first few weeks, babies are usually very sleepy and may need to be woken up frequently to feed. Feeding them every two hours during the day and every four hours at night will help boost your milk production.
8. Some health and anatomical conditions such as jaundice and tongue-tie can give babies problems in the breastfeeding process, leading to a low milk supply.
9. Sometimes, the mother’s health can also affect milk supply. Conditions like anemia, hypothyroidism, previous breast surgery, and hormonal issues like PCOS can cause low milk supply. Hormonal birth control and smoking are also other culprits.
Tips for increasing your milk supply
The main idea behind breast milk production is demand and supply. Removing more milk from the breast, and doing so frequently, will lead to more milk production as less milk is retained in the breasts.
Here are a number of things you can do to increase your milk supply:
1. Nurse frequently and until your baby is sated. Keep feeding them as long as they are actively nursing. Aim to feed them at least every 2 hours during the day and at least every 3 to 4 hours at night.
2. Nurse efficiently. If your breastmilk is not being efficiently removed from your breasts, your supply will reduce. Therefore, you need to do everything to make sure that your baby is nursing as efficiently as possible. Position them properly and make sure they are latching well. If your baby is having feeding problems, be sure to express milk between and after nursing sessions to maintain your supply.
3. Be sure to offer both sides at each feeding. When your baby drains one side, offer the other.
4. Switch sides at least 3 or more times during each feeding. Make the switch whenever baby falls asleep or starts comfort nursing. Make sure to use each side at least twice per feeding.
5. Avoid all solids, water, and formula for babies younger than six months and exclusively breastfeed. If you are supplementing with formula, consider weaning from formula gradually to get your breasts to produce more milk.
6. Add pumping sessions between and after nursing sessions to remove more milk from your breasts and to increase the frequency of your breasts emptying. Keep pumping for at least 2 to 5 minutes after you see the last drops of milk.
7. Take care of yourself. Get some rest, relax, and sleep whenever you can. Drink a lot of liquids and eat a well-balanced diet.
8. Whenever possible, avoid pacifiers and bottles. Let your baby meet all her suckling needs at the breast.
9. Consider taking a galactagogue. Galactagogues are substances that increase milk supply. They may come in the form of herbs such as alfalfa and fenugreek, common ingredients like brewer’s yeast, oats, and flaxseed, or prescription medications. Be sure to consult your doctor before using galactagogues to make sure they are safe and effective for you.
10. If none of these tips prove effective, reach out to your lactation consultant or doctor to find out how best to address the issue.
Most women can naturally build and maintain a healthy supply of breastmilk. Chances are that you can, too. The most important thing to keep in mind is the concept of demand and supply. The more your breasts empty out the more milk you will be able to produce. So, breastfeed as much as you can, and express whatever is left over.
There is also a good chance that you may be worrying about nothing, and that’s a good thing. As long as your baby is feeding well and gaining weight, you are doing just fine. The amount of milk you produce is determined by your baby. The more she needs, the more you will produce naturally.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there that can have you worried for no good reason when in fact you and your baby are doing just fine. Here is a list of things that do not mean your milk production is low:
• If your baby has an adequate number of wet and dirty diapers
• If your baby nurses frequently. Breastfed babies tend to feed more than formula-fed babies because breastmilk gets digested a lot faster than formula. Also, frequent feeding may be as a result of your baby’s strong need for contact with you, which is completely normal.
• Fussiness is also not an indicator of low milk production. Babies can become fussy for a large number of reasons. Sometimes the fussiness will even go away before you have a chance to figure out what it was all about in the first place.
• If your baby suddenly increased the length and frequency of nursing, it can often be attributed to a growth spurt. Your baby will nurse more than he usually does for about a week, before going back to his regular routine. The increase in nursing will let your body know that your baby needs to feed more, and your body will increase its milk production. This is why you shouldn’t supplement with formula when you notice this, because when you do your body will not get the signal that it needs to increase its milk supply.
• If your baby doesn’t nurse for as long as she used to. This usually happens as babies grow older and become more efficient at nursing.
• Your breasts stop leaking. When your body adjusts to your baby’s needs, your breasts will naturally stop leaking, which is why this is not an indicator of low milk supply.
• Getting little or no milk when you pump is also not an indicator of low milk supply. If your baby is feeding well, you will have very little milk left when you pump. Plus, the type of pump you use and your own pumping skills also affect the amount of milk you get when you pump. It is also normal for pumping output to decrease over time.
That being said, if you have any fears, do not be afraid to express them. Talk to your doctor and get the confirmation that everything is fine. This is the best way to know for sure whether or not your milk production is actually low.
Additionally, if you have a community, for example, if you are in a breastfeeding support group, talking to them about what you are going through might also help alleviate the stress and put your mind at ease. Most importantly, no matter what situation you find yourself in, it is important to understand that you are not alone.
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