This is hands down the number one question I get from moms! And I’m here for giving you the tools you need to be successful so let’s chat milk supply.
First of all, it’s important to note that many times moms are worried about milk supply when there is not a clinical reason to be concerned. So if a mom is concerned about milk supply, I usually respond with something like “tell me more about what is concerning you.” That helps me determine if milk supply is a real concern or if I can simply encourage the mom that her body and her baby seem to be doing all the right and normal things. Of course also taking into account the baby’s weight, wet/dirty diapers, etc.
In other words, you may be worried about supply when there’s not a problem at all. Take cluster feeding, for example. Your baby is suddenly wanting to eat ALL DAY LONG and you think to yourself, “Oh my goodness, she JUST ate and she’s hungry AGAIN! I must not be making enough milk.” Many moms (including myself) have felt this way, but the good news is that cluster feeding is completely normal infant behavior and does not reflect how much milk you are making. The very best thing to do during those days is put on your comfy yoga pants, respond to your baby’s hunger cues, and feed frequently so that your body will continue to supply the right amount of milk to meet your baby’s needs.
Another time you may find yourself worrying about not making enough milk is when your milk supply starts to become more regulated when your baby is around 6-8 weeks old. Your breasts may soften and no longer get tight/full feeling between feedings. This is also totally normal, but some moms interpret this as their body is no longer making as much milk. Rest assured that this does not indicate a decrease in supply.
I know it’s hard to trust your body to make enough milk when you can’t measure how much your baby is getting. But I want to encourage you that your body is SO smart. It just grew your baby from a few tiny cells and it was designed to continue feeding your baby after delivery as well.
However, there are situations where milk supply is a real concern or moms need assistance getting off to the best start. So, I’m going to share the research-based ways to establish and maintain a great milk supply. The good news is that the answer is rather simple, and it all goes back to supply and demand.
Feed your baby frequently and on demand:
The more milk you and your baby demand from your body, the more your body will supply. The absolute best thing you can do to promote and protect your milk supply is nurse, hand express, or pump frequently (at least 8-12 times per 24 hours). It’s important to establish a good milk supply within the first 6-8 weeks of your baby’s life and even the first few days can be critically important. Feeding on demand means you’re responding to your baby’s hunger cues, rather than sticking to a set routine based around an arbitrary schedule someone else suggested or a clock. Your baby will eat more some days and less others and that’s perfectly normal. In fact, two days will probably never look exactly the same! But, on average, your newborn baby will eat between 8-12 times in 24 hours. That’s at least every 2-3 hours throughout the day and also through the night.
Skin-to-skin is placing your naked baby on your naked chest. It’s encouraged for at least the first hour after your baby is born because of the amazing health benefits (that’s a topic for another blog post), but it shouldn’t be limited to just right after delivery. Continued skin-to-skin can promote breastfeeding by encouraging baby-led latching and feeding on demand. It also places your baby in the optimal location for eating.
Check the latch:
Having a good latch is super important so that you’re comfortable during feeds and so that your baby is removing plenty of milk. If latch is not quite right and your baby is not removing milk efficiently, then your body will start to make less milk. Your body is SO smart and will make the right amount of milk based on how much your baby is removing. But this can backfire if your baby is not able to remove enough milk due to a poor latch. If you’re ever in doubt about your baby’s latch or your milk supply, I suggest seeing an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) in your local community as soon as possible to thoroughly asses your baby’s latch, weight gain, wet/dirty diapers, etc.
Fully drain your breasts and offer both sides:
At each feeding, you’ll want to offer both breasts and fully drain one breast before offering the next. When your baby begins to slow down feeding, you can do gentle breast compressions to ensure your breast is fully drained. If you started on the right side for one feeding and then switched to the left, for the next feeding you would start with the left and switch to the right. You’ll want to start the next feeding with the breast that was least drained in the previous feeding. This is usually the second breast that you offered. There are phone apps that can help you keep track of what side you started on, or you can use a hair tie on your wrist as a reminder for which side to start on for the next feeding.
If your baby only eats from one side, begin the next feeding on the opposite side and fully drain that breast before switching. It’s okay if your baby refuses the second breast. Your job is simply to offer both breasts and your baby can decide if he wants more food.
Your baby is more efficient at fully draining your breasts than a pump so delaying pumping during the newborn period as long as possible can help set you up for success! But remember this is true when your baby has a good latch. If latch is not quite right, then hand expressing or pumping could be necessary in the meantime until you’re able to get help and get back on track.
Say no to infant formula and artificial nipples, when possible:
Some people think one bottle of formula is harmless, but it can impact your milk supply more than you would think, especially in the first few days of your baby’s life. There are situations where formula is medically necessary and the best option for a baby. But in other situations there could be other options like offering hand expressed colostrum or breastmilk from a spoon, syringe, or small cup. If you plan to breastfeed long-term, I recommend having an open conversation about your options with your baby’s pediatrician, IBCLC, or trusted healthcare provider before offering formula. If formula is the best option, I would still consider other feeding devices besides a bottle. When your baby drinks from a bottle it is less work for him than drinking from the breast and he doesn’t have to latch in the same way. This can cause complications with latch down the road. It’s best to wait to offer bottles and pacifiers until breastfeeding is well-established, usually when your baby is about 4 weeks old.
What about all the other things you’ve heard will increase milk supply?
Chances are it’s probably a myth, a scam for your money, or simply not going to make a huge difference.
There are lots of products, herbs, teas, and supplements out there that promise to increase milk supply and just like all supplements in the United States, they are not regulated. This means they have not been proven safe or effective at doing the things they claim to do. In fact, many supplements can even be harmful, some do not contain the ingredients they claim to contain, others contain additional things like toxins that can cause health problems so please approach nutrition supplements with caution, especially while pregnant or breastfeeding.
When it comes to hydration, simply drinking to thirst is sufficient. Pounding the liquids is not going to increase your milk supply. It’s important to stay hydrated, but you don’t want to overdo it with the fluids.
Now, is it going to hurt to have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast? Certainly not. If you want to eat more oats than usual, then I say go for it! Oats are a healthy food and do not pose any risk to you or your baby. BUT, is that bowl of oatmeal going to drastically increase in your milk supply? I wound’t count on it. Instead, I recommend focusing your time and energy on the things that DO make a drastic difference like feeding your baby frequently and on demand, doing skin-to-skin as much as possible, assuring a good latch, fully draining your breasts and offering both sides, and avoiding infant formula and artificial nipples, when possible, especially in the early days.
You’ve got this, mama!