Breastfeeding can provide many challenges for new Mamas and one of the common concerns is if you are producing enough milk for your baby. Read on to learn about the common misconceptions surrounding low milk supply, and how you can tell if your baby is getting enough milk.
Many new Mamas I work with worry about having a low milk supply, but more often than not there are no problems. Panic over not producing enough milk for your baby is one of the main reasons that some Mamas choose to change from breast to bottle feeding.
How do you know if your baby is getting enough milk?
- Wet nappies. Your baby will be filling lots of nappies with wees and poos. As a general guide, from day 5 onwards, baby should have at least 5 heavy wet nappies with pale urine every 24 hour hours. And poo should be mostly mustard-yellow, soft or liquid at least 3 times every 24 hours. Babies older than 6 weeks may have fewer poos and there is a huge variation in what is normal for a breastfed baby.
- Weight gain. Newborn babies lose some weight after birth, this is normal and newborn babies have extra fat stores to support them in this time until your milk comes in. Once your milk comes in they will steadily gain weight. This is monitored by your baby’s health professional and is a good indicator of your baby’s milk intake.
What can affect your milk supply?
- Stress. This can often be the cause of supply issues. Stress hormones are counterproductive to your milk supply as they reduce the body’s production of oxytocin. Mamas need to reduce stress and increase their levels of oxytocin (think of things that make you feel good, and avoid things that can cause stress. This can include reading too many articles and worrying that your baby isn’t doing what 'she is meant to').
- Trying to feed baby to a ‘schedule’ or ‘routine’. Like stress, this is often linked to supply issues in new Mamas. Trying to string babies out to fit into set feed times can impact your supply by causing you stress, and also by increasing the time your body is going between feeds. This can reduce demand and thus lower your supply as milk is made purely on a supply/demand relationship (see this article for more info). Every baby and every mother is different, some mothers need to feed more frequently (including overnight) in order to maintain adequate milk supply; your baby will be attuned to that and demand feeds appropriately. Other mothers can go for longer stretches between feeds and still maintain a good milk supply. For this reason, never base your breastfeeding relationship on what a book recommends for sleep schedules, or what other mothers are doing with their babies. Each mama and baby relationship is unique.
Reasons NOT to think you have a low supply:
- Because your baby is feeding more frequently that what you have read, or are told is normal. It is really easy to be confused or overwhelmed by an overload of available information and other people’s opinions on what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ as a new Mama. Young babies feed a lot! They have tiny tummies and their little bodies need to feed often. Breastmilk is also easily digested, so please don’t compare your breastfed baby’s feed frequency to that of a bottle-fed bub.
- Your breasts no longer leak, or feel really full like they used to. In the early days, your body isn’t as efficient at regulating the milk supply and demand for your baby. As time passes, your body gets better at this and doesn’t store excessive amounts of milk that can cause breast engorgement or fullness. Softness in your breasts IS NOT an indication there isn’t enough milk.
- Your happy baby wants to feed again an hour after her last feed, or 90 minutes, or 2 hours or 45 minutes. Newborn babies don’t have set times they go between needing to feed. This can change from day to day, and some days newborn babies will cluster feed, meaning you spend a large amount of your day with your baby at your breast!
- Your alert and happy baby is only having short feeds. Babies are all different when it comes to how long it takes them to feed. Some are fast suckers, some slow. The amount of time it takes babies to feed also reduces a lot as they get bigger and become more efficient.
- Your baby doesn’t sleep for long periods of time. Cat napping is normal for some young babies, they don’t all sleep for long blocks of time, and that’s perfectly okay.
- You can’t express much milk. Not all Mamas can express easily (myself included when I was breastfeeding my babies). What you get from expressing IS NOT an indication of what your baby is getting when she feeds directly from your breast.
- Your baby will take milk from a bottle after a breastfeed. If you put a teat next to a baby after they have had a breastfeed, more often than not they will begin to suck, even if they have a full belly of milk (kind of like if you offer a pacifier to a baby after a feed). This is just their sucking reflex that is activated when something is placed in their mouth, it doesn't necessarily mean they are still hungry.
- Your baby wakes when you try to put them down. If your baby falls asleep at the breast but then wakes and cries when you try to put them down, this is because you have moved them from their comfortable position at your breast, not because you haven’t given them enough milk to satisfy them.
How can you boost your milk supply?
- Reduce stress and boost oxytocin! If something is causing you to feel stressed or anxious, stop doing it. You need to focus on resting and learning to breastfeed your baby, nothing else. Get help for anything that will help take the pressure off. Do things that make you feel good, this will help to increase your oxytocin levels, which in turn helps increase your milk supply.
- Feed on demand (not a schedule) and watch for baby's hunger cues. Crying is often a late hunger cue. This is a helpful video of a newborn baby's hunger signs.
- Cuddle your baby a lot, keep baby close by babywearning in a carrier or sling (this makes it easier to spot hunger cues early)
- Use skin to skin which helps boost oxytocin. Babywearing is great for this, and a relaxing bath together can help too.
- Speak to your lactation consultant about pumping between feeds (it's best to get professional help with this so you know when and for how long)
- Ask your lactation consultant to check your baby's mouth for tongue ties or lip ties, which can reduce the efficiency of your baby's suckle and in turn, reduce baby's ability to drain your breast and impact on your supply.
- Feed overnight as often as baby demands it. Or try a dream feed (feeding baby while they are still sleeping at about 9pm). And again at 3am to really boost your supply.
- Eat foods containing galactagogues which are foods and herbs that can help increase your supply (work short term). Including fenugreek, milk thistle, brewer’s yeast, oats, flaxseed and raspberry leaf tea. I love the Mama’s Milkbar Golden Boobies Breastfeeding Box to help support Mamas on their breastfeeding journey.
- I work with Ayurvedic principles to help nourish new Mamas so they recover from pregnancy and birth and support a healthy milk supply.
Here’s a great article written by Dr Jay (Look at the Baby, not the Scales) to check if you really do have a low supply. If your health professional is concerned about your baby’s weight gain, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion, or to get in touch with a qualified lactation consultant (there is a list of resources for people who can help you here). Other problems that can impact breastfeeding include latch issues, tongue tie, mastitis, grazing or nipple damage and a lactation consultant can guide you with these issues too.
Trust your instinct Mama, keep building your support networks, and always reach out for help if you have concerns!
This guest post is kindly written by Briony from The Nesting Place. Briony Goodsell helps mothers of new babies have the peaceful and fulfilling experience they dreamt of. Briony is passionate about the idea of ‘mothering the mother’, and believes that emotional and nutritional support (combined with blissful massage) can greatly reduce the effects of postpartum depression and anxiety. We are really grateful to have Briony part of our referral partners program and if you'd like to contact here, head here.