If you’re breastfeeding your baby, it’s common to worry that you’re not producing enough to keep baby well fed. And if you’re pumping, it’s very noticeable if your milk supply drops. So what’s a mom to do?
Before you get concerned, assess whether you really are working with a lower supply. The experts at Cook Children’s say just because you’re not making extra milk doesn’t mean you’re not making enough. Even if your breasts feel soft, baby eats a lot, or you don’t feel a letdown in your chest, you can still be producing adequate amounts of breastmilk.
To determine if baby is getting enough, Cook Children’s looks at factors such as:
- Is the baby growing? (An initial weight loss after birth is normal.)
- Are they going through enough diapers on a daily basis?
- Do they wake often to feed and feel satisfied after?
Note the Frequency of Feeding
If you are in a position where you need to increase your milk supply, you have a number of options. First, step up frequency. Feed the baby more and pump more. It’s a supply-and-demand thing. Cook Children’s also recommends limiting time with a pacifier and making sure baby nurses on both sides during each feed.
Check Your Pump
For pumping mamas, be aware that pumping isn’t decreasing your milk supply. As indicated above, it can actually increase it. But Children’s Health notes that you have to make sure you’re using an appropriate pump.
“When a mom comes to us with pumping or supply questions, often the first thing we check is the mother’s pump,” says Dawn Schindler, RN, a lactation consultant in the Children’s Health NICU. “It’s important that the pump being used not only works properly, but that the pump parts also fit correctly.”
The flange (the breast shield, which fits over the nipple) should cover the nipple as well as part of the breast and fit comfortably, with no gaps.
If you’re pumping regularly (maybe you’re headed back to work, or your baby can’t feed at the breast), go for an electric breast pump. “A hand-held pump may not express enough milk, and it takes more time to pump one breast at a time,” points out Schindler. Children’s Health says a hospital-grade electric pump that accommodates both breasts at the same time is ideal.
When it comes to suction, more isn’t necessarily more. “Breast pumps set too high can cause damage to the nipple and ultimately [negatively] affect milk supply levels,” says Schindler. “Make sure you are using the setting that is right for you.”
Make A Change to Your Pumping Routine
To stimulate higher supply, Children’s Health says you can try pumping on both sides for 15 minutes every two hours for two or three days. Then return to a normal schedule (pumping about every three hours). You can also do what Schindler refers to as “power pumping.” Choose one hour a day (typically in the afternoon, when supply tends to be at moderate levels) and pump 10 minutes on, then 10 minutes off, for the entire hour.
“You may not get any additional milk after the first 10-minute session, but it’s important to continue throughout the hour,” Schindler says. “After moms do this once a day for 4–5 days, they may notice a small increase in their overall milk supply.”
Watch What You Put In Your Body
What moms ingest also plays a role in their output. Drink plenty of fluids, and incorporate higher levels of protein into your diet. You might also try oatmeal, brewer’s yeast, garlic, spinach, fennel and almonds—those are common galactogogues, foods that are associated with an increase in milk supply. And keep baby close: Skin-to-skin contact is tied to better supply.
Schindler often cautions breastfeeding moms to stay away from “supply-boosting” pills and supplements. “There’s no magic pills moms can take to boost their supply,” Schindler explains. Also, “herbal supplements aren’t always monitored by the FDA, so we can’t know exactly what’s in them. It’s best to talk to your pediatrician about what’s safe for you and baby and stick with the basics.”
Finally, avoid smoking, limit caffeine and be careful about medications. Your doctor can help you identify meds that are safe for baby and won’t lower your supply.
While there’s almost nothing more frustrating for a breastfeeding mom than a decrease in milk, hang in there. “Try not to get too discouraged if you notice a drop in milk supply,” Schindler says. “A lactation consultation can help get to the bottom of your supply issues and offer more tips to increase supply.”
Image courtesy of iStock.