As a lactation consultant, I typically get two types of phone calls. One is for “help” and the other is for a “question”. The most frequent topic for a “question” is about milk supply -or- going back to work (and when discussing going back to work, it almost always circles back around to milk supply!).
There are many things that can cause a decrease in milk supply such as hormone imbalances, certain medical conditions, medications, and more…. but today I would like to discuss the most common issue related to a decrease in milk supply, and that is the concept of Supply and Demand.
Milk supply is about the frequent removal of milk from the breasts. The more a baby nurses or mom pumps and removes milk (demand), the more moms’ body should replace that milk removed (supply). It sounds pretty simple but unfortunately it is one of the most common concerns keeping breastfeeding moms awake at night.
Typically inadequate milk removal starts with a poor latch. If the latch is incorrect and milk transfer is low, this could cause a decrease in milk supply over time. This occurs when baby is at the breast but the baby is not drinking well from the breast. (video of good drinking)
Common signs that you may be having latch issues or milk transfer problems might be: pain, consistent frequency of more than 10-12 feedings per day, weight loss, decreased urine and stool output, need for nipple shield, or your mommy gut is telling you that something is just not right. If you feel that things are not going well, please seek help as soon as possible (Baby Eyes Lactation Scheduling)
The quicker the latch and milk transfer is corrected, the less likely your milk supply will be affected.
Life is busy. Moms are tired. Some return to work. Some are just simply away from their baby at times. Here are two common scenarios that I see frequently:
First, maybe dad or another family member tries to give mom a break by offering baby a bottle. If mom is sleeping or busy doing other things, this could lead to mom missing a feeding or pumping session.
Second, mom is away from baby and misses a pumping session -or- is unable to pump on the same feedings schedule as if she were at home with baby.
Delaying the frequency of milk removal or missing feeding sessions all together can greatly impact milk supply. If this occurs only once or twice, this may not be a big deal at all, but overtime this could eventually cause a significant decrease.
Tips for Protecting your milk supply……
- Most importantly seek lactation help immediately for any concerns with the latch!
- Follow baby’s lead and nurse on demand. These babies are smart! Cluster feedings are baby’s natural way to boost milk supply when going through a growth spurt –or- when mom needs a boost in milk supply. (They know!)
- Avoid the use of pacifier when having feeding issues as this could delay feeding cues and feedings.
- Try not to strictly schedule your baby’s feedings. This can lead to a decrease in feeding frequency and milk removal, and eventually overtime, a decrease in milk supply.
- Use breast compressions during the feeding to help maximize emptying and increase milk flow. This may also help infant from falling asleep at the breast due to slower flow of milk. Breast compressions
- Pump or hand express when away from baby as close to the home nursing schedule as possible.
- Discuss all medications (OTC and prescription) with your health care providers and pharmacists to assure that there is no affect on milk production.
Once you have exhausted the above list and still need a boost in milk supply…..
- Frequent milk removal! By increasing the number of times you pump or nurse, you are giving your body the message to increase your milk production.
- You can allow your infant to cluster feed for a few days. Turn on Netflix, keep baby close to you, nurse frequently, and rest in between. This is often referred to as a “Nursing Vacation”
- You can also mimic cluster feeding by “Power Pumping” once or twice per day. Typically this is done over an hour alternating between rest and pumping.
- Galactagogues. This is a fancy word for a substance thought to help increase milk supply. Most commonly you have heard of the herbal supplements Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle. (Herbal Supplement Guide)
- Along with herbal supplements, there are many food products out there that suggest to have milk increasing affects as well: oatmeal, garlic, spinach, brewers yeast….just to name a few. None of these things are proven completely effective in increasing milk supply. Honestly, if you want to try a “milk cookie”, then go ahead…you deserve a cookie! If you want oatmeal…have oatmeal! Extra garlic…your baby won’t mind! Just take care of yourself and remember that moderation is key.
Lastly, when it comes to milk supply, technique/latch is the most important factor. Pumping, clustering, and herbal supplements are all just a small part in the correction of low milk supply.