When you were pregnant, you committed to breastfeeding your baby no matter what. You read dozens of breastfeeding tips on the benefits of breastmilk, the importance of skin-to-skin contact, nursing on demand, and the variety of breastfeeding positions to improve your baby’s latch. You nursed your baby immediately after giving birth. Later, you went through the pain of cracked nipples, breast engorgements, and cluster feedings through sleepless nights.
Now, when you thought you ruled it out, your milk supply seems to get low. Your breasts, once painfully engorged, feel empty. The baby nurses non-stop and cries when you take him off the breast. By three months, you are closer than ever to think that your milk has dried up, and you have to supplement.
Check your baby’s weight gain first
The first rule any lactation consultant would tell you is that the way your baby behaves at your breast, the frequency of nursing, the fullness of your breasts, the feeling of let-down or its absence, the amount of milk you pump are NOT valid indicators of your milk supply. Perhaps the only valid sign of low milk supply is baby’s poor weight gain assessed by a pediatrician. Every time you doubt your supply, check your baby’s weight gain. If it is impossible for some reasons, check if she has at least six heavy wet diapers during 24 hours.
Try the following five essential breastfeeding tips to boost your supply
Ensure that baby nurse efficiently.
According to Kelly Bonyata, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), the golden rule of breastfeeding is “The more often and effectively your baby nurses, the more milk you will make.” Your baby needs to transfer the milk from your breasts efficiently. Assess your baby’s latch. With time, some babies develop a shallow latch because of pacifiers and bottles they use. Nurse on demand and for as long as your baby is actively nursing. If your baby has weight gain problems, aim to nurse at least 8-10 times during 24 hours – every two hours during the day, and every three hours at night.
Give baby only breast and breast milk.
First and foremost, avoid pacifiers, nipple shields, and bottles. The more your baby is on your breast, the more he or she stimulates your nipples, and so the more milk your breasts produce. Use a nipple shield only if advised by a lactation consultant. If a temporary supplement is medically required, give it with SNS, spoon, cup or dropper. Avoid giving solids, water, and formula, if your baby is younger than six months.
Increase the period of active feeding.
Offer both breasts during each nursing session, and switch the sides every time the baby falls asleep or starts “comfort” sucking. Breast compression is a great way of keeping the active feeding long. Gently squeeze the breast during breastfeeding by putting pressure on the milk glands and causing them to release more milk.
Avoid stress, get plenty of rest, and pay attention to your diet.
Stress will not drop your milk production, but it can slow the milk flow. When you experience stress, your body responds to it by releasing cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine that can disturb the secretion of the hormone oxytocin responsible for milk ejection. Resting and sleeping with the baby are excellent ways to increase milk supply. Pay attention to what you eat and drink. Though extra water will not increase your supply, avoid dehydration and drink to thirst. The benefits of breastfeeding diets or lactation teas are yet to be proved, but eating a well-balanced diet is always the right thing.
If the baby is not nursing efficiently, consider pumping.
Pumping will help you remove more milk and increase the frequency of breast emptying. Add pumping sessions after or between nursing sessions, and keep pumping for 2-5 minutes after the last drops of milk.
Seek professional help
Low milk supply may have causes – yeast infection, tongue-tie, jaundice, maternal medication, flat or inverted nipples, and more – that online breastfeeding tips cannot address. They require professional evaluation and help. If after trying your baby does not gain weight well, consider consulting a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician and a good lactation consultant, preferably ICBLC, who will offer you a support that is based on professional assessment and is better tailored to your needs and the needs of your child.
What is your breastfeeding story? How did you cope with a low milk supply? Share some breastfeeding tips with us.