For breastfeeding moms, the topic of milk supply is a huge one. Hang around with a few nursing women and you’re bound to hear: Am I making enough? How do I know? My supply is dipping, help! Why won’t my pump actually pump?
There are so many questions that it can sometimes be overwhelming. The good news is that there are people who will help…and many of them for free! We asked Lactation Consultant and La Leche League Leader Leigh Anne O’Connor to help explain milk supply and show us some ways to increase that miracle liquid gold.
Removal of Milk from the Breast. The best and most common way for your body to learn to make more milk is for baby to nurse. Removal of milk from the breast is important, because the more this happens, the more your body knows to continually make more milk. The only time this would not be effective is if your baby doesn’t have a good latch, which can be due to a weak latch or lip/tongue tie. If you suspect that your baby has a bad latch or a lip or tongue tie, you should definitely speak to a lactation consultant or your pediatrician. They can help you correct baby’s latch, teach you how to use a nipple shield, or even easily clip the tie.
Pumping. Pumping is another way to tell your breasts to make more milk. Removal of milk from the breast and the sucking of the pump is a great way to help increase supply and build a stash of milk. A hospital grade pump is usually best for this--many of these, like the Medela Symphony, can be purchased online or rented from your local hospital. Not all women respond to pumps the same, so if you’re not getting a huge output from the pump, don’t be discouraged. In most cases, how much baby removes from the breast isn’t the same as how much the pump removes. The general rule of thumb is if baby seems happy, has enough soiled diapers and is gaining weight, then they should be getting plenty of your milk.
Lactation Cookies. Delicious and helpful, plus who doesn’t like an excuse to eat cookies? Lactation cookies are made with brewer’s yeast, something that has long been known to help with milk supply. Remember that old wives tale...drink a Guiness to help increase your milk? Well there’s some backbone to that story, and it’s the yeast which has long been known to help with milk supply due to its high concentration of iron and protein. Adding it to cookies is the perfect way to boost supply, and best of all they’re easy to make with tons of variations gracing the pages of Pinterest!
Fenugreek. Fenugreek has been known to help mothers increase milk supply within a few days. Although this and other herbal supplements haven’t been scientifically proven, most mothers do seem to notice an increase in supply. Whether it’s the placebo effect or not, Fenugreek is safe to take as long as you’re not pregnant (it can cause contractions) or a diabetic.
Herbal Tea. There are many herbal teas on the market that have a concoction of ingredients to help with milk supply, like Organic Milkmaid Tea by Earth Mama Angel Baby. This tea, and many others, contain Fenugreek, fennel seed, red raspberry and milk thistle, among other herbs, that have been known to help with milk supply.
Water. Lots of water is a general rule of thumb for nursing mamas, so make sure you’re getting your daily intake to keep hydrated and the milk flowing!
Oatmeal/Steel Cut Oats. Another item that can help increase milk supply in some moms is oatmeal, or steel cut oats. Whether it helps you or not, it’s great to try because regardless, it’s good for you and has no side effects. Some ways this is thought to increase supply is because it is high in iron. Experts have noted that moms who have low iron can potentially have breast milk production issues, so eating oatmeal will increase iron and, in turn, increase milk supply.
Domperidone & Reglan. These are two pharmaceutical drugs that can be prescribed to help increase milk supply. Reglan can almost always guarantee an increase in milk supply, but there are side effects, such as irritability, depression and fatigue. Domperidone, on the other hand, doesn’t have as many side effects since it doesn’t enter the brain tissue, but it isn’t approved for use in the U.S. and is only available over-the-counter in Canada.
Here are some things that could dwindle your supply:
Scheduling Feedings. Essentially, breastfeeding is established by nursing on demand. While schedules can be demanding or we head back to work after maternity leave, nursing baby exclusively sometimes decreases. Most importantly, baby should be fed on demand, which is whenever they show signs of hunger and generally, that is every two hours or so (sometimes more, sometimes less). Try to nurse and/or pump as much as you can and remember that if you’re a working mom, in most cases, the law is on your side as a nursing mother. Be sure to research your state laws and employers guidelines.
Birth Control. Birth control pills...something most women have come to seriously rely on! But some birth control pills taken while you’re breastfeeding can cause a significant decrease in your supply. When choosing what is best for you, stray away from contraceptives that contain estrogen and progesterone. Experts almost always suggest the “mini-pill”, or a birth control containing only progestin, such as a Depo-Provera shot or an IUD. Talk with your healthcare provider about what would work best for you while you’re nursing and when the best time to begin it is.
Sore Nipples. Sore nipples are not fun and can make feeding near tear-inducing. Some ways you can soothe sore nipples are to use a cold compress, like Booby Tubes from Earth Mama Angel Baby. You can also try different positioning to help with your latch. A tongue or lip-tie can also be the culprit of a shallow latch and may help both you and baby.
Stress and Sickness. If you’re stressed out, not getting support from your partner or family, or coming down with the flu or stomach bug, your supply could dip. It’s best to stay hydrated, eat right and continue to nurse your baby through your sickness. As for support, lean on those who are with you in your breastfeeding journey or attend a support group like La Leche League.
Supplementing and Pacifiers. While sometimes babies do need milk supplemented, it can hurt your milk supply. When a baby is fed formula, they often stay fuller, longer, which means they’re not getting time at the breast. If you need to supplement, remember to pump in turn of that skipped meal (or two). As for pacifiers, they can be helpful sometimes, but make sure that it isn’t used as a supplement for nutritional sucking.
So what if you’re doing all of this and it still isn’t working? Not all women can breastfeed, and that’s totally ok. While it can sometimes be a defeated feeling, know that it’s not your fault and that there are other means to feeding your baby how you feel is best. At the end of the day, doing what is best for you and your health, as well as your baby, is the most important thing. Don’t stress, talk to others and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Find a La Leche League meeting near you, or a Lactation Consultant in:
Closed La Leche League breastfeeding support group with help from both other moms and Lactation Consultants