I wish I'd read something (anything!) about milk supply before giving birth to my first child. I was a veritable expert on conception, pregnancy and child birth but I hadn't prepared for what happens AFTER the baby arrives. I honestly thought "I've finally gotten pregnant, I've carried this baby to term, now I just... breastfeed. Easy right?"
For me at least. There are many aspects of breastfeeding that can be challenging. Instead of listing them (because it's a long list, and I don't want to be a Debbie Downer) I want to talk today about low milk supply. That was my breastfeeding bugbear.
Low milk supply is when a mother is not producing enough milk to meet her baby's needs. Luckily, there are many things mothers can do to help build their supply. Here are the best ways to boost that supply!
Set yourself up for success
The first thing you need to do is look at your breastfeeding environment, and look inwards to your own body. You're not going to be successful at feeding another human if you're not taking care of yourself. Here's some quick things to consider to help with supply issues:
- Are you getting enough sleep? Very funny eh, you just had a baby. Of course you're not. But! It's super important for milk production that you are well rested.
- Hydration station! Think about it, you're producing milk (which is made up of almost 90% water), so hydrating yourself is a MAJOR KEY! Breastfeeding mothers should be drinking around 3 litres of water per day. A good way to get extra fluids in is to drink a glass of water every time you feed.
- Nursing in a relaxed and comfortable position will help your milk flow. Some people are into relaxation music, some people just aren't that into Enya - I feel you. Deep breathing can help. Relax your jaw and shoulders. Be mindful of the tension you're holding in your body. Have that glass of water nearby. My toddler seemed to sense every time I was sitting down to feed his baby sister. All of a sudden he needed me immediately and without delay. If nobody was around to entertain him and fulfil his (suddenly very urgent) needs, I would rely on the old Netflix Nanny while I was nursing. Honestly, whatever works!
Increasing the frequency of breastfeeding will help build your supply. Newborns should be breastfed 8 - 12 times per 24 hours with no more than 3 hours between feeds. Adding an extra night time feed is also helpful, as prolactin levels are higher overnight. This was one I struggled with, as I was so cot-damn tired, but I didn't want to miss out on those peak prolactin hours.
In addition to the extra feeds, you can try pumping after every feed. It will further stimulate your breasts and ensure your breasts are drained. You can express by hand or by manual or electric breast pumps. Electric hospital grade breast pumps can be hired from pharmacies or baby hire companies and my best tip is to use a double pump. For a manual pump my best tip is the Haakaa silicone breast pump. I used this for my second child after returning the hospital grade pump and it was AMAZING. Not only is it a great product for pumping, it can be used to catch the drips on one side as you're breastfeeding on the other. No more crying over spilled milk!
Skin to Skin contact
Having your baby against your skin can help increase your milk supply. It will keep your baby awake for the feed, but more importantly it stimulates the hormones that assist in milk production - prolactin and oxytocin (also known as the love hormone).
Feeling hot hot hot!
Breastfeeding after a hot bath or shower (or even breastfeeding IN the bath) always produced more milk for me. Applying a hot, wet compress to your breasts before feeding improves vascular tone and increases blood flow to the nipples.
Galactagogues. Say what?
A galactagogue (gah-lak-tah-gog) is a substance in the form of foods and herbs that claim to increase milk supply, typically by increasing prolactin levels. While consumption of galactagogues may assist in milk supply, it should only be secondary to other efforts such as increased feeding and expressing.
Incorporating galactagogues into your diet can only help, and they're healthy to boot, so think about adding the following items to your regular menu:
- Oats - whole rolled or quick oats (oatmeal / porridge)
- Dark leafy greens such as broccoli, spinach, kale
- Flax seed
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sweet potato
- Brewer's yeast
- Goat's rue
- Blessed Thistle
I went down a Galactagogue rabbit hole when I had my first child, so here's some great info I found:
A dear friend of mine sent me a care package with lactation cookies and tea, and it was a game changer. Thanks Claire x. Our Mama Body Tea "Mama's Milk" loose leaf lactation tea is an excellent way of getting in those galactagogues. In contains a bunch of great herbs for improving prolactin levels, in turn increasing milk supply - namely goat's rue, fenugreek, fennel, caraway and shatavari root. Oh, and it's delicious. Treat yourself to a tea and cookie in all the downtime you have as a new Mum (sarcasm check for those playing at home). Try not to let the tea get cold, ok?
While we're on the subject of breast milk, check out our Mama Body Breast Pads. You won't need to worry about leaks with these reusable 3 layered bamboo pads. They're made of bamboo so they're super soft on your skin and they come with a waterproof bag to store them. Every breast-feeding Mama needs breast pads, and why not use an environmentally friendly version?
Now... The disclaimer. The end of blog truth. Breastfeeding is amazing. I loved it so much, but I had serious supply issues with both my babies. I had countless visits to lactation consultants, and was told that I would likely never produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed because I have insufficient glandular tissue. Which basically means I'm the president of the Itty Bitty Bitty Committee. So, I topped up with formula. The guilt was HUGE because of all the bad (but outdated) things I'd heard about formula over the years. I really beat myself up over it with my first baby, and ended up feeling like a literal milking cow for the first couple of months trying everything to build my supply. I might have PTSD (joking but also not, at all). My effort to build supply helped, but the LCs were right, I never built enough supply to exclusively breastfeed my son. I did however work hard enough to breastfeed him with formula top ups until he was ten months, which was 8 months longer than my GP had expected me to. And guess what? He's fine. Of course he's fine. Formula should not be seen as a defeat, it nourished my baby when I could not, and nobody will know in ten years who has been breast fed and who has been formula fed.
Cue the birth of my second child, same supply issues, and the guilt seeped back in, but I was a lot better at pushing it aside. I still pumped with a hospital grade pump, and used the Haakaa breast pump for months.
Successful breastfeeding is desirable, but a happy and healthy baby (and mother!) is the best outcome. Most mothers will be able to build supply using a few of the above tips, but if you're one of the very few like me who are unable to produce enough to exclusively breastfeed, please, be kind on yourself. Remember, fed is best!
Best of luck with the journey, may you be channelling Katy Perry in the not too distant future, or not... Whatever works for you.