I had a mother come to me the other day and say, “I have boobs; my baby has a mouth; it is supposed to be this natural cosmic instant response; so why is it so hard!! Shouldn’t my breasts know what to do by now???” The answer is, YES! Your breasts do know how to make milk, that is why God gave us these two assets! However, breastfeeding is a learned art that takes some skill and know how. Yes, your body knows how to make milk, but it takes understanding how the body makes milk in order to increase your supply.
Breasts are glandular tissue that work best by supply and demand. Your breasts have to be given the signal to make more milk from your brain. This is done through nerve stimulation in the breast tissue which stimulates our pituitary gland to send a message to the brain to produce more. There are many different hormones at work to help provide the signal road map in order for your body to make that special meal for your baby. Oxytocin, is the hormone responsible for your Milk Ejection Reflex also known as MER. This is what causes your milk to “Let Down”. However, prolactin is the hormone responsible for making more milk. Most women will have more prolactin in the morning. This hormone is produced in our pituitary gland. It seems like a complicated entanglement of nerves and messages, for something that is supposed to be so easy. So why is it so difficult for some women to feel like they have an adequate milk supply? The majority of the time you do have an adequate milk supply, it just “seems” as if you don’t. So the first thing is to determine whether or not you truly have low milk supply.
See the post : Reasons for Low Milk Supply
The best way to increase your breast milk production is to feed the baby. You have to empty the breast so that it has the ability to fill back up with milk. If you are not feeding frequently enough then your breasts wont know how much milk to truly make. In the first 6-8 weeks it is really important that the baby feed 8-12 times in a 24 hour period. If your breasts are not being stimulated at least 8 times a day preferably more, then you wont be able to make enough to support the need. Below are some easy steps to help increase breast milk production:
- Make sure baby is transferring milk from the breast. If the position and latch of the baby are not correct, the baby is not getting deep enough onto the breast, then the baby is not going to be able to transfer the milk from the ducts, out of the breast, and of course into the mouth. If you feel that your latch is pinching, or your breast appears “creased” and again your baby isn’t gaining weight, then it is time to visit a Lactation Consultant to make sure baby is latched correctly. If the baby is trying to remove the milk but isn’t efficiently doing it well, the supply will drop, the baby will get frustrated which will lead to more frequent extended feeding sessions with a still very hungry baby. Positioning the baby correctly, with good pillow support, and a wide open mouth can make all the difference in the world.
- Massage the breasts before and during a feed. Before placing the baby at the breast, massage the breast with gentle pressure in a circular motion, using just the pads of your fingers. This wakes up the ducts and gets them ready for feeding. Once baby is on the breast and sucking well stroke the breast gently in a downward motion towards the nipple. This will not only allow the baby to transfer more milk during that feed but it will also trigger a stronger hormone response to make more milk. Dr. Jack Newman has a wonderful article explaining how this is done.
- Nurse the baby more frequently. Remember our goal is to have the baby remove as much milk from the best as possible during a feeding session, and to do this as often as possible. Quality of the feed is more important then the quantity of minutes. Some babies will suckle at the breast for 30-45 min per breast. This usually is due out of comfort rather then hunger. Most babies can effectively empty a breast in 10-15 minutes. It is important that during the day the baby feeds every 2-3 hours. Babies can go about 4-5 hours at night as long as they have fed at least 8 times during that day.
- Make sure both breasts are stimulated at each feed. Allow the baby to completely empty one breast (generally 15 minutes or so) burp the baby then offer the second breast. If the baby is not willing to take the other side, then pump on the side that was not nursed from for 10-15 minutes. Then in 2 hours when it is time to feed the baby again, begin on the side that the baby did not feed from. A baby will stimulate a breast far better then a pump will. So it is important for the baby to spend some time feeding and stimulating both breasts.
- Avoid giving pacifiers or bottles as this can sometimes lead to nipple confusion as well as tire out the baby. When the baby is giving a cue that it is time to feed, it is best to offer the breast rather then trying to soothe the baby with a pacifier. So often, feeding cues are confused with a need to soothe and suck. If a baby is going through a growth spurt, the baby will want to feed more frequently. Paying attention to the baby’s cues and becoming a baby watcher rather then a clock watcher will lead to happier baby, a healthier milk supply, and ultimately a happier mommy. If the baby is needing a supplement for a medically indicated reason, it is best to provide the supplement through ulterior methods such as using a cup, spoon, dropper, syringe, or supplemental nursing system rather then a bottle. I recommend offering the breast first before any other supplemental device. If a bottle must be used as a last resort, I would encourage you to use the “Breastfeeding Friendly way to Bottle feed” method for offering bottles. One of my favorite bottles is the BreastFlow bottle from First Years. Ideally expressed breast milk would be the best choice for a supplement, but if not ask your pediatrician which baby formula would be best for your child. DO NOT give your baby cows milk before 12 months of life. Water is also not recommended in breastfed infants for at least 9 months.
- Consider pumping. Added stimulation from a good quality breast pump in between or in place of nursing will help aid in the hormone response needed for producing more milk. It also helps in removing the milk, sending the message to make more. Pumping for 10-15 minutes after a baby has fed at the breast is often all that is needed. The “10-10-10″ method is wonderful for increasing milk production. This is Breastfeeding for 10 min on each breast, giving your breasts a 10 minute break, and then double pumping (both breasts at the same time) for 10 minutes. Your Lactation Consultant can help you in choosing the breast pump that is best for you. When you first begin to pump, it is normal not to see much come out, but stick with it and you will eventually begin to see a difference. Breast compressions will also help remove more milk at the breast while pumping.
- Galactogogues. A galactogogue is a substance, whether herbal or pharmaceutical, that increases breast milk. The most common sources are fenugreek, blessed thistle, more milk plus, nettle, and alfalfa. For more information about these herbs see the instructions for use at the following post : galactogogues use Eating oatmeal has been known to increase milk as well. Some sources state that drinking beer will also increase milk. Although it is true that the brewers yeast in beer can help stimulate milk production, it is not a recommended galactagogue for long term use. There are some prescription medications that can increase milk supply, but these have strong side effects and should not be taken unless directed under the care of your primary care physician.
- Take care of Mother. Most important as is stated above. You want to make sure you are receiving the best care for yourself as possible. Make sure you are eating and resting. Increase your fluids and make sure you are taking in an adequate amount of nutrients. You can’t make milk if your body is the one to suffer.
Before taking any herbal substance for increasing milk, it is recommended that you be advised and followed under the care of a licensed Lactation Consultant as there are certain protocols to follow that is individually suited for each mother. Be sure to avoid substances that can cause a drop in breast milk. See drying up milk and peppermint and other herbs for more information on what to avoid while increasing your milk.
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