This common concern for mothers will often result in feelings worry and inadequacy – especially for a first time mum when you are still learning the ropes and how on earth you read your baby’s signs and cues. It can certainly be a daunting time but it need not be, there are many simple things you can do to stimulate breast milk production – happy bobbies = happy baby = happy mumma!
Here is the golden rule: The amount of breast milk a mother can produce is the direct result of supply and demand. Your babies suckling stimulates your anterior pituitary gland to release prolactin, which then instruct your memory glands (breasts) to produce more milk and replace the amount lost from your baby’s drinking. The more frequently you feed and the longer the food lasts, the more breast milk your body will produce.
Personally I don’t recommend trying to establish a strict 3 to 4 hour routine in the first few months, but rather let yourselves get used to feeding and allow your baby to be guided by his or her instincts. You can establish a routine later – just smile and nod when women tell you that you should establish a routine straightaway. Your beautiful newborn is not trying to manipulate you, he is learning how to survive. At about three or four months you can initiate a routine that suits you both, just remember to trust your instincts as a mother – you will know what works best for you and your bundle of joy.
Be aware that flexibility is imperative when parenting. Your babies needs will change from week to week and from one month to the next, so just when you think you have settled into a routine, it will change. Babies often have a growth spurts and their food requirements will change. Save yourself the stress of having to abide by a strict four hourly schedule with potentially a screaming hungry child, and use your motherly instincts instead.
With our own children, we found that around the second and sixth week each of our newborns seemed to have a growth spurt and they would want to feed every two hours. They would do this for a day or two before reverting back to their regular three hourly feeds.
If you are concerned that you do not have enough breastmilk, there may be many issues at hand but it may also be a sign that you need to slow down. Allocate certain sections of your day to lie down somewhere quiet with your new born and rest, whilst your baby feeds and suckles. Often when mothers have created this time or arranged additional help (with other children, for example) and have focused one on one quiet time with their new born, most have found that their milk supply builds dramatically.
It is my opinion that sustaining breastmilk may be physically taxing on some women more than others so if you feel that you produce small amounts of breastmilk, it may be worth considering whether you need to slow down your daily haste, at least while you are feeding so regularly. Remember that there are great benefits for your baby by breastfeeding for at least six months, therefore prioritise quiet time (each 3 to 4 hourly feet) for this period.
It’s important to keep in mind that a mother will produce less milk if she tries to cut back on the number of feeds she offers by using a dummy or supplementary feeding. Try to give your baby as many breastfeeds as you can, and for as long as you can.
So remember by adding supplementary feeds the quantity of the mother’s breastmilk will decrease – often to the degree where she will begin to lose confidence and fear that she is not providing enough milk for her baby, feelings of stress can also contribute to low milk supply. Some are then forced to rely solely on formulas. Understanding that sometimes using formula cannot be avoided – but if it is your choice to breastfeed and you plan to do that for as long as you can I encourage you to do all you can to ensure you maintain good milk supply.
Touching on my personal experiences, generally speaking it is rare that my milk supply would dramatically decrease. God decided all the girls in our family should have decently size breasts (many times I have cursed them hehe) which also seems to mean – in our family least – that we seem to lactate well. I share this with you because even women with a steady stream of milk need to be aware that their supply can be taxed by fatigue, strenuous activities and dehydration – just to name a few. As a feeding mother if your milk supply decreases this may be a sign that you need to watch your fluid intake of that you may require more sleep.
At times when we had been busy travelling and I was dehydrated, my milk supply would decrease. It would take a few days of constant feeding to rebuild my supply, and I would offer feeds to our baby more frequently throughout the day to encourage my milk production.
So to recap, if you’re worried about low milk supply:
• Feed as often as you can.
• Set aside some time to rest, try not to multitask while breastfeeding your baby.
• Slow down your daily pace, don’t be afraid to ask for some help if you need it.
• Drink plenty of fluids – and I mean plenty!
• Ensure your diet is nutrient rich and that you are eating foods that will encourage and support your milk supply.
Your body has to work hard to produce milk, but you can be confident that it is very capable of doing so. Let your baby suckle and feed and together you will innately stimulate more.
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Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
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