When your breasts aren’t filling to plan and you’re starting to panic what’s a Mum to do? Nurse and Mum Amy Purling brings a thoughtful and caring approach to a common, practical problem.
You’re pregnant and your heart is set on breastfeeding. You’ve done the research and you’re going to smash this out of the park! You went to the antenatal classes and you’re already leaking colostrum. It’s meant to be. But then baby arrives and your milk doesn’t.
Maybe you’ve been breastfeeding for several weeks and you’re a pro! I mean you could probably almost call yourself a lactation consultant and begin teaching others. But then your baby gets sick (or constipated, or distracted, or starts teething) and stops feeding, and your milk supply drops.
Or perhaps you’re 30 weeks pregnant and bam your baby decides he’s ready for this world. You express day and night while your baby’s in NICU just like you’ve been told. But your body wasn’t ready for this, and your supply isn’t keeping up.
For any of the reasons above (and more) you might find your boobs not living up to milk-production expectation!
Unfortunately, nobody (and no amount of research) can prepare you for the turmoils of breastfeeding. It isn’t glamorous, and it often doesn’t go to plan. I can assure you there will be a time in your breastfeeding journey where your baby will get frustrated and fussy. You’ll give your breasts a quick squeeze (yes, we all do it!) and realise they have gone from milk-filled fun bags to flat-as-a-tack pancakes. This is normal. Your supply will fluctuate with your baby’s needs.
Cue the panicked research! Could your milk supply be dropping?
A quick Google will tell you the better known tips for increasing breast milk such as feeding your baby more often, expressing between feeds, eating lactation cookies and drinking fennel tea. Trust me, these all do increase supply. I’m however here to put a unique spin on these tried and tested methods and give you some extra tips that google won’t reveal (because it doesn’t have breasts!)
Read on –
1. First and foremost, don’t panic! Easier said than done, right? Your baby is screaming in frustration, won’t latch and you’re sure he’s going to starve, but sure, I’ll run myself a bath and pour myself a mug of wine. Seems silly but in all seriousness, try your hardest to relax. Even if it means putting your baby down for a minute, moving to a dark room and taking a few deep, calming breathes. Your baby will survive and your body will thank you for it. The more you stress and analyse the situation, the more likely your baby will strike and the more your supply will decrease (no prizes on guessing how I know this! And it’s an unpleasant downward spiral!)
2. Look after yourself. Caring for your breastfeeding self means having a shower and eating at least a banana for breakfast! And yes, I mean daily! How do you expect to feed your baby when you don’t feed yourself? I know first-hand how hard it is to run a brush through your hair in the early days so keeping up your meal intake need not be hard. Make tomorrows’ sandwich each night once bub is asleep or do a cook-up on weekends when your partner is home. And drink water. Lots of it. Self-care is key in the milk wars!
3. Invest in a good breast pump, and do it properly (including reading the instructions!) Expressing is bad enough without doing it for endless hours just to get a few drops in return. Invest in a quality pump and you will see better results. The quick, bursts at the beginning (stimulation phase) are designed to mimic your baby’s initial rapid sucks and activate a letdown. Don’t skip this part like I did thinking it was a waste of time! It turns out the breast pump people actually know what they’re talking about and following the pumps’ instructions is a sure fire guarantee of the best possible results!
4. Express at the right time. The right time is – surprisingly – when you can concentrate! Grab a cup of tea, turn off your electronic devices and sit somewhere comfy. Look at your baby (hopefully sound asleep) or look at your favourite photo and imagine you are feeding. I assure you this will speed up your let-down and promote milk production. After all, your beautiful baby is the sole reason your body makes milk, not the guy on the TV marrying his wife at first sight. You’d be amazed at the improvement in expressing when your head is in the game!
5. Give your baby a small amount of expressed breast milk in a bottle before a breastfeed. I know, shock horror! Doesn’t this go against every rule in the book to increase your supply? Maybe, but from personal experience, there’s nothing more stressful than your baby wanting immediate reward and you not being able to give it. Once your baby has tasted that initial milky goodness, she is more likely to latch on, settle into a suck-swallow rhythm and drain your boob. Subsequently you are less likely to end up in tears. This could be your shortcut to an easier feed! Try it.
6. Lastly (and my personal favourite), cuddles, cuddles and more cuddles! The loving answer to everything! Block out a whole day and snuggle on the couch, bonding with your baby. Skin-on-skin cuddles in the bath will kill two birds with one stone…not only are you looking after yourself, but you are also increasing your milk volume at the same time! Everything else can wait, because if you want to boost your milk doing this is way more important. And I promise you, when your letdown is squirting your baby in the face a few days later, you won’t feel guilty for leaving the dishes on the sink.
Overall, science tells us supply equals demand. However I believe we need to be a little less clinical and regain understanding and control of the ever-important personal aspects as well. Breastfeeding is lead by our body and our minds. At the end of the day, cluster feeding, constant expressing, a mountain of lactation cookies and a litre of fennel tea isn’t going to help if you’re doing it with tears in your eyes on an empty stomach. A calm mum and happy baby equals a successful breastfeeding relationship.
But I’ll let you be the judge – good luck in your breast-quest!