Many women wonder about their milk supply. I think we’re almost hardwired to constantly wonder if we’re producing enough to sustain our babies, especially in those first few weeks when it seems like they are always nursing. I wrote a little about my struggles with my milk supply early on in this post. An easy way to tell if your baby is getting enough to eat is to check their diapers. After the first week, baby should have 6 or more wet diapers per day. If you use disposables it may be difficult to tell if they’re wet. Grab a new diaper and the used one, a wet diaper will be heavier.
One of the biggest problems with us questioning our milk supply is when we start to supplement. The less often you put the baby to the breast, the less milk you will make. Every time you put a bottle to your baby’s mouth (especially in the first 12 weeks or so while you’re establishing your milk supply), you are telling your body to make less milk. If you have to supplement (like I did), then consider pumping every time you supplement, even if it is right after you feed your baby.
In fact, if you have to supplement, I suggest doing the following:
Nurse your baby first, and then have another person (my husband took on this role) offer a bottle of your own pumped milk, donor milk, or formula to the baby while you pump. To increase your supply, pump for at least 5 minutes after every nursing session. At first, you may have to supplement with mostly donor milk or formula but soon your supply should increase and you should be able to supplement with your own milk only. It took me about two weeks to get to this point. Once I reached this point I was able to stop supplementing and just nurse my baby. I continued pumping after every nursing session, and then every other nursing session until my supply seemed adequate and my pediatrician was satisfied with my son’s weight checks. Even now, 4 months later, I still try to pump at least once a day and I always pump if I miss a nursing session. I’ve worked hard for my supply and I’m terrified to jeopardize it.
Other suggestions to help increase milk supply:
Drink lots of water! While nursing, drink to thirst is a good rule. I drink only water and usually about 10 – 12 cups a day. I get really thirsty when I’m nursing! Unfortunately this means that I pee almost as much as I did while I was pregnant and I am up at least once or twice a night to use the restroom.
Make sure you are eating enough calories. You really shouldn’t count calories while breastfeeding, just eat to hunger. But one of my problems with my supply was that I wasn’t consuming enough calories. A normal breastfeeding woman should consume 1800 – 2200 or more calories per day. Consuming less than 1500-1800 calories per day (most women should stay at the high end of this range) may put your milk supply at risk, as may a sudden drop in caloric intake. You can find more information on this at kellymom.com.
Eat oatmeal! Although oatmeal isn’t a proven galactagogue (substance that promotes lactation), many women say that it makes a huge difference for them. A bowl of oatmeal every morning is fantastic for you anyway and good nutrition is good for your supply. I’ve recently discovered Bob’s Red Mill 5 Grain Rolled Cereal. It has flax-seed in it and that IS a galactagogue. It’s delicious, good for you, and has helped with my supply.
Make some lactation cookies. They’re yummy and contain several galactagogues. They aren’t the healthiest thing in the world (what cookies are?) but you definitely need some extra calories while breastfeeding. Enjoy the perks!
There are many herbal supplements and teas that you can take to increase supply. I’m not going to go into all of them here. I really believe that the most important thing is to make sure you are getting plenty of water and adequate nutrition. Note that I said adequate, not perfect. For more information see this article from kellymom.com.
Please note: I am not a doctor, not even close. This has all been my experience with my baby. All babies are different. Please make sure you’re working in collaboration with a pediatrician or certified lactation consultant, or both.