Nearly all mothers are capable of producing enough breastmilk for their babies. But breast feeding is hard. You’re tired, emotional, your boobs hurt and just want the best for your new bub. On top of that babies don’t always make it easy for us to know what they need and, to add to the confusion, it is near impossible to measure how much breastmilk your baby is actually getting. It is easy to get lost in the fog. Stressed and anxious, with so many opinions and advice coming from well-meaning family and friends, as well as the wealth of online information at our finger tips, it can be tricky to sort through what is really going on and what might help.
So, how do I know if my breast milk supply is really low?
One of the most common reasons mothers choose to stop breastfeeding is because they feel like they do not have enough milk for their baby. Unfortunately, the majority of mother’s who feel that they have a “low supply” actually don’t. You may have come to this conclusion because you have a fussy baby, you’re concerned about their weight gain, your breasts don’t feel full, your baby feeds quickly or never seems satisfied, or perhaps you have tried expressing with very little to show for it. Whatever the reason, before you jump in and try to “fix the problem” the first thing you should do is try to work out if milk supply is really the issue. There are 3 good signs you can look for to indicate your baby is actually getting enough;
- Wees : In the first 5 days, a newborn baby should have as many wet nappies as they number of days old they are. After this, if they are exclusively breastfed (no other fluids or solids), they should have at least 5 heavily wet disposables, or 6-8 very wet cloth nappies in 24hr period. The wee should be pale and non-offensive smelling.
- Poos: By day 5 poos are typically runny and mustardy yellow, from then on, most bubs will do 2-3 poos a day (some will do many more!) until around 6wks. Around 6 weeks many babies will poo less often, some only every few days. As long as they are soft/runny and there is a lot of it then it’s all good!
- Growth: It is normal for babies to lose up to 10% of their birth weight in the first week and then gain this back again by 2 wks. After this most babies will gain around 150-200g/wk from 0-3mths, 100-150g/wk from 3-6mths and 70-90g/wk from 6-12mths old.
In short, if it is coming out the bottom and they are gaining weight, it must be going in at the top and you can reassure yourself that your baby is getting enough.
But if your still not feeling confident…
If may help to remind yourself that;
- Babies are much more efficient at extracting milk than a breast pump. And the nutrients from breastmilk are much more efficiently absorbed than those in infant formula. So, the amount you may express at each feed or the amount of formula your baby drinks are not necessarily accurate indicators of the volume of breastmilk they are getting or need.
- A baby’s stomach is only the size of its fist and so can only contain small amounts at any one time. This means all babies need to feed frequently to meet their needs. Most breastfeed newborn babies will need to feed 8-12times in 24hrs.
- Many babies find sucking soothing and pleasurable and to may continue to suck (on a bottle or breast) even after they have met their nutritional needs. They are not necessarily still hungry.
- Breasts can be full and still feel soft and comfortable, particularly after the first six weeks.
So, you’ve checked all of this but things are not right and you feel you genuinely do have a low milk supply. What can you do about it?
Galactagogue is a fancy/scientific word used to describe “foods believed to increase milk supply” and there are a great many substances that have been recommended, and used by breastfeeding mothers for centuries claiming to serve this purpose. These include but are not limited to;
- brewer’s yeast
- sesame seeds
- home or commercially made “lactation cookies” (which are generally made with varying combinations of the above ingredients)
Unfortunately, however, there is limited scientific evidence to prove the effectiveness of any of these. Anecdotally some mothers feel they have success with these foods however results are erratic at best. Unfortunately, a major problem in drawing any conclusions from these anecdotes is differentiating between perceived Vs actual low supply. As I said, so many mothers incorrectly believe they have a low supply and as a result may trial many of these remedies to “fix the problem”. Many may feel they were successful when in actual fact it was a placebo effect as there was never really an issue to begin with. On the other hand, a mother who has a true low supply may try the same things and see little or no benefit at all or vice versa. With so little scientific research in this area to follow sorting out which is which is not easy.
What the research does indicate is that a mother’s diet actually has very little impact on the overall composition and volume of breastmilk produced. Providing the mother is not severely dehydrated or malnourished her breastmilk composition and supply will remain relatively unaffected. The body is extremely efficient in taking what it needs to nourish the baby and if need be will sacrifice the mother’s own energy and nutrient reserves in order to continue to provide the baby with a stable and consistent food supply. Sounds about right doesn’t it… they suck us dry physically and emotionally, why not nutritionally too! 😉 Because of this, nutritional advice for breast feeding mother’s is really aimed at ensuring mum herself is getting what she needs to stay healthy and maintain her own energy and well-being rather than achieving adequate nutrition for bub.
So, what then, I hear you ask, is the answer?!
In short…Supply = Demand. The greater the volume of milk removed from the breast the more milk the breast will produce to meet this demand. Therefore, ensuring bub is well attached to efficiently remove milk from the breast and then increasing the frequency of feeds is the number one most effective strategy for increasing breast milk supply. More frequent feeds mean more milk is removed and so in turn more milk will be produced to keep up with the demand. Supporting this by getting enough rest, eating a generally healthy and well balanced diet to meet your appetite and ensuring you maintain your fluid intake and you are definitely on the right track.
Sounds simple. But of course, like babies in general, even the simple things can be more challenging than we think and so if you need support with attachment or increasing feeding frequency you should consult with your local maternal and child health nurse or breastfeeding counsellor. For more info visit www.breastfeeding.asn.au. For more info on healthy eating while breastfeeding go to; https://www.health.qld.gov.au/nutrition/resources/antenatal_brstfd.pdf.
Want some more tips about breast feeding?
In my very first ever blog post I gave 8 tips around Breastfeeding and Exercise it is still one of my most popular articles to date! I have also created a resource for new Mums that you can access via our resource library. Just click on the photo to get your password to access the library.
Meet Nicole the Dietitian behind ‘Family Dietitian’
Nicole De Sensi is a mum of two and an Accredited Practicing Dietitian specialising in paediatrics. After several years working with children and families in community health settings Nicole decided to move into private practice to allow herself the flexibility to work around my growing family. Aside from her general specialisation in paediatrics Nicole also has a strong interest in both infant feeding and the management of food allergy and intolerances. Head over to Nicole’s website to find out more about her services. Follow Family Dietitian on Facebook where Nicole shares recipes, helpful tips and advice and some excellent resources relating to family nutrition, particularly for little ones.
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