Breastfeeding is a great bonding experience and offers health benefits to both mother and child, but without being able to measure how much your baby is getting, it’s only normal to worry that you may not have enough milk to allow your baby to flourish. Luckily, no matter where we live in the world, milk production works according to the rules of a free market economy – the higher the demand, the higher the supply.
The first few weeks of breastfeeding can be hard for both baby and mother: learning which feeding positions work best for both of you, dealing with pain as your nipples get used to their new role, living with sore breasts, it’s a big change!
After the initial adjustment and ‘learning period’ comes the first stabilization. From six weeks to 2 months, most mother’s bodies have fine tuned the quantity of milk produced according to the baby’s needs. As a result, you may find that your breasts have started to feel soft. This isn’t necessarily a sign that there is too little milk, it simply means that the milk supply is now in line with the baby’s demand.
if your paediatrician has ruled out any kind of disease, but you desire to increase your milk supply, you can seek help from a volunteer lactation consulting that will suggest the strategies useful to your personal case. If you’re at all worried that your baby isn’t getting enough milk, here are some steps you can take:
Increase the number of feeds
Breastfeeding on demand is one of the best ways to ensure that a baby get’s the nourishment it needs. Allow your baby to feed whenever they wish, leaving them latched on until they release of their own accord. Try to do this in an unhurried setting, without looking at your watch.
Milk production is stimulated by suction and you may well find phases where your baby wants to feed more frequently. This might indicate a growth spurt! These generally occur at around 2 to 3 weeks, 6 weeks and at 3 months of age, but bear in mind that each child is unique.
Do not skip feeds
A common mistake is to skip a feed in the mistaken belief that this will lead to a good ‘stock’ in the evening, so that the baby can get a good evening feed and hopefully sleep longer. This does not work. As the milk supply builds up, a Stop sign is sent to the brain to slow down milk synthesis. As the breast empties it removes the PIF (Prolactin Inhibiting Factor), signaling the brain to produce more again.
Follow your child’s lead
Watch for cues that your baby is hungry; that can include lip smacking, making sucking noises, or turning their head towards you with an open mouth (rooting).
Don’t let frequent evening feeds get you down
Evenings can be a stressful time for mothers. Babies can be more plaintive and tired mothers may conclude that this is due to their more deflated breasts signaling that there isn’t enough milk. Rest assured this is normal. Where in the mornings babies usually feed for longer periods of time, in the evening they require the breast more frequently. This is down to both a different milk composition in the evenings, as well as seeking consolation before bedtime. Like all our organs, the mammary gland works 24 hours a day. If the baby suckles, more milk comes out.
Let your baby latch until they release by themselves
Let your baby stay on one breast for as long as they want to before switching to the other side. Milk composition changes during the feed. At first it has the transparency of skimmed milk, this helps quench baby’s thirst. The fat-rich milk which provides the nutrients, comes at the end of the feed. This can be a challenge, as some baby’s are slow eaters in the first months.
Do not count the number of feeds
Bottle-feeding provides for a gradual reduction in the number of daily feeds as the child grows. This is not the case for breast feeding, it would merely reduce production. Also, while some babies feed regularly and predictably, most don’t – especially in the early weeks and months. It’s perfectly normal to lose count of the times your baby feeds, or to be unsure when one feed ends and the other begins. Babies often don’t space out their feeds until they grow bigger.
Restless baby? It’s a ‘Touch-point’
The reasons why a child seeks the mother’s breast are not limited only to the need for nourishment. During their development, children go through delicate moments during which they perform real ‘increments’ of motor development, cognitive and emotional, defined “touch-points”.
These steps, very difficult for their body, are preceded by stages of restlessness and consequent concern for the parents. During such stages your baby may ask for the breast more often to calm down, and feel protected and cared for. This most frequently occurs in the evening hours.
Verify position, latch and suckling
Check the way your baby latches on to your breast. For a good latch, your baby will open their mouth wide and take in a big mouthful
of breast. A good latch will encourage breastfeeding rather than nipple-feeding meaning more milk and the right stimulation to the mammary gland to produce more milk.
No water for exclusively breastfed babies
Breast milk fulfils all your child’s needs, including thirst – even on hot days. Offering water can give a false signal of being full and lengthen the time between feeds. This decreases milk production and affects the amount of nutrients your child is getting.
Offering small babies a bottle or pacifier as well as the nipple can also lead to confusion in the suction technique and risk the baby preferring the less tiring suction mode of the bottle.
More calm – less stress
A very subtle hormonal balance underlies milk production. This can be temporarily impaired if the mother feels stressed or tired. Oxytocin is at the root of this phenomenon. Luckily as soon as the mother relaxes, for example to feed her baby, oxytocin production starts again.
Written by Gaia
Gaia is an architect from Italy, where she volunteeres as a peer councillor for breastfeeding and baby self weaning @Mamme per le Mamme NPO. She moved to Shanghai last summer with her husband and children, 9yo Leonardo and 4yo Vittoria.