Breastfeeding may be natural but it’s also a skill that takes practice. About one in three mums need extra support at some point. If you have good information, support and the confidence you need, you are likely to be able to overcome any difficulties.
As a breastfeeding mum, keeping your milk supply balanced is one of your top priorities.
Many mums worry that their baby may not be getting enough milk. Sometimes you may be mistaken in thinking you have not got enough milk but this can happen at any time – either because breastfeeding has not got off to a good start or because breastfeeding problems haven’t been solved. Only a small number of new mums have some difficulty producing enough breast milk due to medical reasons, for example following a large blood loss (more than 500mls) during the birth, hormonal disorders, diabetes, thyroid problems or previous breast surgeries. Speak to your midwife if this applies to you.
Signs your baby isn’t getting enough milk
Slow weight gain
Babies are individual and it is normal for newborns to lose weight in the first few days as they use their fluid and fuel stores. After that, they should start to gain weight. Slow weight gain can be normal for some babies but for others, it can be a sign that they are not getting enough milk. A baby who is not getting enough will continue to lose weight and be slower to regain their birth weight. Most breastfed babies should regain their birthweight by 2 weeks, but this can vary greatly. It is important to talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP if you have any concerns.
Insufficient wet or dirty nappies
The number of wet or dirty nappies your baby has is a good indicator of whether or not your baby is getting enough milk. Most babies have a dirty nappy several times a day in the first weeks and within the first 3 to 4 days they should have soft, runny poo’s.
On days 1 and 2, your baby will have two or more wet nappies and one or more dirty nappy of meconium (the first dark black poo).
With the latest disposable nappies, it may be hard to tell if they are wet, so to get an idea if there is enough urine, take a fresh nappy and add 2 to 4 tablespoons of water. This will give you and idea of how heavy a nappy should be.
On days 3 and 4, expect three or more wet nappies and two or more dirty green nappies.
After day 5, your baby should have at least six heavy wet nappies and by days 5 and 6, have a soft yellow poo at least once to three or more times every day.
By days 10 to 14, your baby should pass frequent soft runny poos every day with 2 poos being the minimum you would expect.
After 4 to 6 weeks, when breast feeding is more established, this may change with some babies going a few days or more without producing a dirty nappy. Breast fed only babies don’t usually become constipated and when they do poo it will be soft yellow and abundant.
Tips for increasing breast milk production
Start breastfeeding as soon as you can
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends early and uninterrupted skin to skin contact between mothers and infants as soon as possible after birth. This helps to initiate early breastfeeding within one hour of birth, providing the baby with colostrum which is rich in antibodies and essential nutrients.
In the early moments after birth, babies are in a quiet alert state and ready to learn. Babies use all five senses to explore that world. They use their eyes to memorize their mothers faces, their ears to associate her voice with her face, and their sense of smell to guide them in finding the breast. They also have a heightened sense of taste too and this is particularly sensitive to the taste of breast milk.
Breastfeed for as often and as long as your baby wants (min 8 times in 24 hrs)
Your milk supply is based on supply and demand. You continue producing milk only if it is taken from the breast. The more milk is removed, the more milk your breasts make. When your baby is breastfeeding effectively, you make milk in response. Respond to your baby’s feeding cues, mouth opening, turning head, seeking/rooting and sucking fists.
Breastfeeding at night is important
Your body produces more prolactin (the hormone which promotes milk production) when you breastfeed at night, so night feeds help to keep up milk production ensuring that baby gets all the milk they need to grow and thrive. Breastmilk consumed through the night makes up an important part of their total 24hr intake. Get organised and keep things close by so you don’t have to go anywhere to get what you need – nappies, snacks etc. Keep the room as dark and as quiet as possible.
Make sure your baby is well positioned and attached
When positioning is comfortable and the baby is well aligned with the breast, a deep and effective latch is more likely. This makes sure that breast milk is transferred effectively to baby. At the beginning of a feed, the baby makes quick shallow sucks to get the milk flowing before settling into deeper slower jaw action suckles.
Don’t skip feeds
Frequent removal of milk is essential for adequate milk supply. If you regularly skip feeds, eventually your body will send signals to decrease the amount of milk it produces overall.
Give your baby lots of cuddles and skin to skin contact
This stimulates the hormone oxytocin, which gets your milk flowing. Whenever you breastfeed, the hormone is released in your brain and your baby’s brain too. A rollercoaster of interaction takes place in your body so you can feed and protect your new baby, and this process relies on oxytocin.
Get more rest
A good night’s sleep or a great nap can do wonders for your milk supply keeping your body in optimum condition. Don’t burn the candle at both ends as your body gets worn down. Use relaxation techniques, such as listening to music, to reduce anxiety that could affect supply.
Wait before introducing a dummy
Research suggests that it is best to avoid dummies in the first few weeks after birth. The use of dummies should be limited to soothing babies after breastfeeding is well established.
Eat and drink well
As busy as it can be caring for a newborn, to increase a milk supply you must prioritise eating and drinking enough throughout the day, ensuring you optimise your own health and energy reserves. Keep snacks and a bottle of water close by to remind you to keep eating and stay hydrated. Be sure to drink whenever you’re thirsty.
Asking friends and family to provide nutritious and energy boosting foods to you regularly can be a great help and support in the early days and weeks.
Some women add “breastfeeding foods” to their diets specifically to boost their milk production including oatmeal, barley, brewer’s yeast, ginger, basil, banana, and pumpkins . This may vary depending on culture and traditions and personal preference. It certainly doesn’t hurt to include foods like these in your diet, but you may not see significant changes in your supply.