Breastfeeding is not all smooth sailing. Many mothers experience difficulties at some time in their breastfeeding journey. Some resort to recovery plans to stay the course while others adopt more practical solutions like introducing formula milk into their baby’s diet.
There is no right or wrong way of taking care of your baby as long as such care is in the best interest of both mother and child.
Medical professionals recommend breastfeeding for at least the first six months. This is to ensure that your baby gets all the nutritional and immune-building benefits laced into breast milk. It has been widely stated that breastmilk is best for normal healthy growth and development in infants.
This fact cannot be overemphasized, but it is often understated. The full benefits of breastmilk are oftentimes not considered beyond the moment. Breastfeeding should be every mother’s first option.
Newborn babies have tiny stomachs and require very little milk to begin with. As they grow, they will increase their consumption and go through growth spurs identified by a few days of vigorous cluster feeding. Breastmilk production is controlled through supply and demand. The more the demand, the greater the production, and the less the demand, the less production.
We will look at problems, issues, and possible solutions to controlling your milk production. Breastfeeding is much more than just feeding; it’s life-changing!
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Reasons for low milk production
Several things will affect milk production negatively, even with increased demand from your baby. It’s important to view these considerations in the context of your own situation.
- Childbirth Trauma: Childbirth can be traumatic to some mothers, especially first-time moms. Besides the pain and overwhelming emotional fluctuations, there is also the issue of blood loss. If you lose an excessive amount of blood during childbirth, it will temporarily impede your milk production. As your body restores lost blood, your milk production will kick in, and you will be able to breastfeed normally.
- Stress: Emotional swings brought on by stress will dampen milk production.
- Skin-to-skin time: Insufficient skin-to-skin time with your newborn will affect milk production. Mothers have a hormone called oxytocin that is responsible for stimulating milk production. Skin-to-skin time with your baby excites this hormone and engages milk production.
- Diet: If your diet and liquid intake are lacking, you can expect your milk supply to be negatively affected. Eating well-balanced regular meals and staying hydrated is essential to milk production. Breastmilk is about 90% water, so you should be taking in a lot of healthy fluids.
- Latching problems: This is one of the main reasons for poor milk production. If your baby is not latching properly, your milk production will not meet the actual demand as it cannot be adequately extracted. Poor latching is normally caused by physical reasons like a cleft pallet, undeveloped motor skills, or poor breastfeeding techniques.
- Poor Feeding Routine: Skipping feed times because your baby is sleeping will reduce demand, ultimately reducing supply. In the first few weeks, you should be feeding your baby every two to three hours. Try not to include formula feeding into your routine unless you express milk at that feeding to maintain an optimum supply.
- Lifestyle Choices: Some lifestyle choices like smoking, taking the combination birth control pill, and fatigue will affect your milk production. Through better lifestyle management, you will be able to impact your milk production positively.
- Pacifiers: Although they serve a purpose, early or overuse is not recommended. Babies who are introduced to pacifiers too early tend to nurse less. This will reduce your milk supply and will affect your baby’s early growth and development.
How to increase your milk supply
It’s fair to assume that many mothers will experience one or more of the above-cited reasons for low milk production. This is not a complete list, but it gives you an idea of the many challenges mothers face.
To be a good mother, you need to make sure that you are in the position to meet the challenges of nursing your little one. It’s important that you have a general discussion with your pediatrician about breast milk and how to maintain a healthy supply. If need be, a lactation specialist will be able to monitor your breastfeeding methods and advise you accordingly.
Here are some ways to increase and maintain a healthy supply of milk:
- Mom First: This may seem selfish, but the very first thing every mom should do is to take care of herself. Rest is important, as is a good diet and keeping hydrated. Relaxing in a stress-free environment will automatically normalize milk production to meet demand. Whatever you eat or drink will get processed into your breast milk and passed on to your baby.
- Meet Demand: Feed your baby on demand and avoid holding out to stick to a prescribed feeding schedule. This might mean more frequent feeding sessions. You should aim for 8 to 16 feeds over 24 hours. Feed your baby about every 2 hours during the day and every 3 to 4 hours at night. Don’t wait for your baby to cry from hunger, rather pay attention to signs that your baby wants to feed.
- Wind Control: Check to see that your baby is latching well and not swallowing too much air. Burp your baby in the middle of a feed and again afterward. Irritation from winds will cause your baby to stop feeding at that time. Once the irritation is resolved, your baby will continue feeding if still hungry.
- Switch Breasts: Your baby should spend an equal amount of time on each breast, and if your baby is still hungry, you can offer each breast twice. The switch will also give you the opportunity to burp your baby. Your baby should spend about 15 minutes on each breast but do not limit nursing time. Your baby might fall asleep on the first breast, but don’t be afraid to wake your baby and offer the second breast. At times babies will benefit from feeding on only one breast because they get the full milk spectrum, including the last part of the milk, which has a high-fat content. Switching between breasts several times during feeding has proved to increase supply.
- Maximize supply: Whether you are breastfeeding or expressing with a pump, make sure you empty your stored milk. At the end of a feed, you can use a pump to express the last remaining milk, as this will tell your body to stimulate and increase production. Express after-day feeds and rest at night. Expressed milk can be kept for a few days in the fridge and can serve as a meal when you cannot breastfeed.
- Time Limit: Don’t go longer than 5 hours without feeding or expressing milk. To regulate your supply, you need to keep up with supply and demand. A suckling baby is the most effective way to drain your breasts.
- Stimulation: When your baby is feeding, compress your breast to assist the milk flow. This will make sure that your baby will be getting milk with relative ease and will encourage sucking. Gently massaging your breasts before and during feeding helps keep milk ducts from clogging and encourages normal flow.
- Skin-to-skin Time: Besides comforting both mom and baby, skin-to-skin time or kangaroo care naturally stimulates milk production through exciting the oxytocin hormone. It would help if you made a habit of having about 20 minutes of skin-to-skin time after every feed.
How much milk should I be producing?
Milk production varies throughout the day and differs greatly between mothers. Milk supply is greatest in the morning and gradually reduces as the day progresses. If you were solely expressing milk, you would notice an increase over time.
By day 5, you can expect an average of 200-300ml per day, and this will increase to 400-500ml by day 8. By day 14, you should be up to 750ml, increasing to 1000ml per day.
How do I tell when my baby wants to feed?
Babies will move their heads from side to side, open their mouth and stick out their tongue when hungry. They will also suck on their hands and pucker their lips as if to suck.
When you pick your baby up, he or she will nuzzle against your breast and will also move their mouth in the direction of anything touching their cheek. Lastly, if all this fails, your baby will cry, so it’s best to catch the early signs of hunger and avoid having to calm your baby before feeding.
If I have difficulty coping, what can I do?
The best thing any new mother can do is to put shyness aside and ask questions. When you are at the hospital, speak to your doctor, nursing staff, or lactation specialist. Let them know about your fears and ask them to help guide you through the whole breastfeeding process.
Your first breastfeeding sessions will most likely be with a nurse in attendance to make sure your baby is latching on properly. Breastfeeding becomes easier with a little practice.
In the beginning, you will visit your pediatrician or clinic frequently to monitor your baby’s growth and development. If any issues arise, they will address the situation with you, but if you feel there is a problem, make an urgent appointment with your doctor or go directly to the hospital.
There will always be a medical professional to help and advise you on the best course of action.
Fortunately, breast milk supply depends greatly on demand and can be manipulated to increase the supply if need be.
In the event that time becomes critical, there is medication available to promote milk production. You will have to consult your doctor, and once your milk production has normalized, you will have to wean yourself off the medication.
Always remember the value of breast milk and strive to give your little one the best you can.