It's natural for new mums to worry that they don't have enough milk to feed their baby. Not being able to physically see how much milk you're producing, combined with sleep deprivation and surging hormones, means second-guessing ourselves is inevitable.
The truth is, most mums will produce enough milk to support their baby's needs and it is very rare that they don’t. Read on to find out whether you really have a low milk supply and what you can do about it.
Sadly, due to a lack of support and knowledge, many women give up breastfeeding in the first few months. Research shows that less than half of babies are exclusively breastfed at three months old in Australia, with many women stopping because they believe their supply has decreased.
According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, only a small percentage of women cannot make enough milk to support their baby's needs. These mothers genuinely cannot increase their supply due to physical issues, such as having insufficient glandular tissue.
So, the real reason most mums give up isn't due to their physical ability to supply enough milk for their baby. Instead, it comes down to a lack of support and information. That’s why understanding how breastfeeding works and what to expect is essential for all new mums.
How does breastfeeding work?
Your breasts begin to make milk throughout pregnancy. The first type of milk produced is called colostrum, which is yellow and has a thick consistency. Colostrum is super high in protein and antibodies, which helps to protect your baby from illness in the first few days.
Around day four or five, your 'milk comes in', and the colostrum transitions into mature breastmilk, which is white and much thinner. Around this time, it’s common for your breast size to increase drastically, and you will experience a sense of fullness.
Whenever your baby latches to your nipple and sucks, the hormones prolactin and oxytocin are released. These hormones are responsible for the production of milk, as well as the let-down reflex (the let-down reflex makes the milk in your breasts available to your baby as they suck).
Milk production works on a 'supply and demand' basis. So, whenever milk is removed by your baby or through pumping, a signal is sent to make more. However, it's common for women to see dips in their supply, where their milk production is impacted temporarily.
Why does breast milk fluctuate?
There are many reasons why a woman’s breast milk fluctuates. During these dips, women often assume their milk is drying up and decide to supplement with formula. But it’s the introduction of formula that has the potential to decrease supply. Because if you consistently miss a feed over several days, you start to signal that you don’t need as much milk as before.
As strange as it sounds, a dip in supply is a signal to feed more. When you feed more, your body receives the message that more supply is needed. And when your body receives the message that more milk is needed, you start to produce more milk.
Signs of low milk supply
Your little one will let you know if they’re not getting enough milk. If bub doesn’t have 4-5+ wet nappies a day, isn’t gaining weight or isn’t meeting milestones, a low milk supply may be the cause. But before supplementing with formula, try some of the tips in this article.
If you're still concerned, seek advice from your healthcare professional. These indicators are relevant to older babies. If you would like information on milk supply and newborns, check out our blog: Is Your Newborn Baby Getting Enough Breastmilk.
Reasons why your milk supply might be low
You may notice a temporary drop a few days before your period arrives or when you’re ovulating. This is often due to a decrease in blood calcium levels. To combat this drop, you can take a calcium/magnesium supplement. Have a chat with your medical professional before taking any form of supplement or medication.
Your baby is distracted by the world
As your baby gets older, they become much more aware of the world around them. Sadly, those days where you could feed bub anytime, anywhere don’t last forever. If your little one is pulling off and feeds are regularly cut short, you may see a dip in your supply. In order to avoid a drop in milk supply due to baby distraction, try feeding in a dark, quiet room where distractions are limited.
You’re following a feeding schedule
The best way to support your milk supply is to feed on demand. This way, you know your breasts are draining and filling in unison with bubs hunger cues. However, if you follow a timing schedule, you risk allowing bub to get overly hungry, which can cause them to feed less efficiently and ultimately decrease your supply. If you’ve been following a schedule, try to loosen up and let your baby tell you when it’s time to feed.
Signs that don’t indicate a supply issue
Your baby is cluster feeding
Cluster feeding is normal and is usually due to your little one experiencing a growth spurt or just wanting to feed for comfort.
Your breasts no longer feel full
Your milk production will begin to regulate at around 6-8 weeks (or longer for those with an oversupply), and your breasts won’t feel as heavy and full anymore. Having soft breasts can feel very strange, especially for women who experienced engorgement. However, if your little one is still gaining weight and meeting milestones, your soft or ‘empty’ feeling breasts are not an indicator of low milk supply. Don't stress, all is well.
You’re not experiencing the let-down feeling
Many women report that their let-down reflex doesn’t feel as strong when their baby gets older, and some stop feeling it entirely. If this happens to you, take note of how your little one is sucking. You should be able to feel or hear them transition from quick sucks to longer, more drawn-out ones.
Your baby is waking to feed overnight
Due to misinformation, many new mums believe their baby should be sleeping through the night from six months of age. But all babies are different, and some take far longer to hit this milestone. Babies wake for several reasons overnight, including being too cold, overtired, under tired, for comfort or simply because they need assistance to transition through sleep cycles. Feeding your baby back to sleep is often the quickest solution, so don’t be afraid to make the most of this superpower while it lasts. As long as they are still gaining weight and meeting milestones, all is well.
Your baby isn’t pooping as often
Although your bub needs to have dirty nappies every day in the beginning, as they get older, it’s normal for them to go anywhere from two to ten days without a bowel movement. So instead, keep an eye on their wet nappies. Older babies should still be having 4-5+ wet nappies a day. Wet nappies are more of an indications of milk supply than poopy nappies.
How to increase your milk supply fast
Nurse or Pump More Often
The best way to increase your milk supply is to feed more often. As we said above, you need to drain your breasts to signal the production of more milk. If your baby is going through a fussy phase or distraction is at an all-time high, you may need to incorporate some pumping sessions into your routine.
Pumping or hand expressing each breast for 5-10 minutes after nursing can help to drain the remaining milk fully. Alternatively, you can opt for a 'power-pumping' session. Power pumping is a technique that mimics cluster-feeding. It involves pumping on and off for one hour. So, for example, you pump for twenty minutes, rest for ten and repeat. It's a bit time consuming, but it's super effective.
Research shows that by stripping down and making skin contact with bubs, you can increase your level of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for milk ejection. If you're expressing, you can boost your oxytocin levels just by thinking about bubs, smelling them (or an item of their clothing) or looking at photos of them.
Take care of yourself
Your energy requirements are significantly higher when you're breastfeeding. Your baby is relying on you for 100% of their nutrition. So, you need to try your best to eat enough healthy food. Aim for a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, high protein foods and good sources of healthy fats. Drink plenty of water and rest (as much as you can).
Eat lactogenic foods (galactagogues)
The word lactogenic comes from the Latin word 'LAC', which means milk and 'GENIC', which means producing. You can incorporate certain types of foods into your diet, which will do exactly this, produce milk. Oats, yoghurt, almond milk, almonds, salmon and sweet potato are all great choices to add to your diet.
Introduce a lactation aid
Lactation aids are another way you can increase your milk supply. Fenugreek and milk thistle are two galactagogues that have been used for centuries to increase breast milk production. Both herbs are key ingredients in In Shape Mummy's breastfeeding supportive health shakes. In Shape Mummy Health Shakes have helped thousands of mums reach their breastfeeding goals.
Shevi is a qualified nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food sciences. As a new mum herself, she is passionate about postnatal-related nutrition. Shevi has worked alongside some of the most famous leaders and celebrities in the fitness industry throughout Australia and the UK.
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