Breastfeeding can simultaneously be a wonderful, challenging, beautiful and exhausting journey. Not every woman can nor wants to breastfeed, and that’s okay. You have to do what’s best for you, your mental health and your baby in your unique situation.
This is a no-judgment zone.
For mamas that do want to breastfeed, one of the most common issues that arise is maintaining a steady milk supply. A low supply and slow flow is the number one reason women stop breastfeeding.
Here Are the Main Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breast milk contains many benefits for babies, including ideal nutrition, improved immune function and improved digestion. It also decreases the prevalence of allergies, eczema and obesity. Additionally, it promotes brain development.
Breastfeeding also has many benefits for mom, including prevention of postpartum hemorrhage, decreased chances of iron deficiency, decreased risk of PPD (postpartum depression) and baby blues, among many others.
A low supply and slow flow is the number one reason women stop breastfeeding.
Many women experience anxiety about breastfeeding while they’re pregnant, worrying their bodies won’t produce enough to properly nourish the baby.
It’s helpful to remember bodies are designed for this and the production begins during pregnancy through a process called lactogenesis.
Lactogenesis 101: How the Production of Breast Milk Works
Lactogenesis is the process of milk being created.
The first stage occurs during the second half of pregnancy and creates early milk production, which is known as colostrum. This substance is sufficient to nourish the baby for the first few days.
The second stage occurs three to five days after delivery with mature milk arriving. The third stage is the ongoing maintenance of the milk supply.
If you’re worried about your milk supply, don’t fret! There are a handful of things you can do every day to increase or maintain your milk supply.
Here Are 5 Ways to Increase Milk Supply While Breastfeeding:
1. Start Out Right
Skin to skin immediately after delivery improves milk production.
If you’re struggling with latching or any mechanical issues, set up a visit with a lactation consultant as soon as possible. They are experts in assisting with proper technique and supply.
The more support you get at the beginning, the more successful your breastfeeding journey will be.
2. Watch for Feeding Cues
Scheduled feedings can lead to missing feeding cues (such as rooting, lip-smacking, bobbing, stirring, and babies bringing their hands to their mouth).
Crying is considered a late feeding cue. The quicker you bring the baby to the breast when feeding cues arise, the less stressful it will be for both you and the baby.
I know how exhausting feeding on demand is, but it is one of the best ways to maintain and increase milk supply. The more babies feed, the more milk comes in.
In the beginning phases of breastfeeding, you are an all-you-can-eat-buffet that is open every hour of the day. It’s not easy.
That’s why having external support, family, or friends is helpful to allow you to do this. Having meals dropped off, someone tending to the house, and taking care of you will allow you to be available to your baby with less stress and more ease.
3. Watch Your Hydration
You need to be drinking 3L of water per day to maintain your breast milk supply. Yes, you read that line correctly!
Water is crucial for milk supply. More often than not, inadequate water intake is a major culprit in a low milk supply.
Need help staying fully hydrated? Try These 12 Infused Water Recipes for Delicious + Healthy Hydration
4. Adequate Calories
You need around 500 calories MORE than your typical intake to maintain your milk supply.
I know some mamas feel eager to lose weight quickly after delivery, but trusting your body and knowing the extra calories are necessary to make more milk is key. You can still lose weight while breastfeeding, even though you’re consuming more calories than before.
Trust the process and load up on nourishing, nutrient-dense foods. Sometimes it can be a challenge getting those extra calories in when you’re so focused on the baby.
Adding an avocado a day or a spoonful of coconut oil to a smoothie are easy ways to get some extra calories and healthy fats into your diet.
Here Are 50 Amazing Uses for Coconut Oil
5. Botanical Medicine
Incorporating botanical medicine (aka plants) can be an easy, inexpensive, and helpful way to increase milk supply within 24-48 hours.
Fenugreek and blessed thistle increase oxytocin (which increase milk supply). Goat’s Rue stimulates the production of breast milk. Moringa, Shatavari, and fennel are other herbs that are helpful with milk supply.
You can typically find a combination blend of these herbs in a “mother’s milk” tea.
Adaptogens, which are types of plants that help buffer the stress response, can also be helpful to increase milk supply. A majority of stress during new parenthood is unavoidable, mainly due to sleepless nights and always being “on”.
Interested in learning more about adaptogens? I wrote an article about that too! Read: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Adaptogens
Ask a Naturopathic Doctor which adaptogenic herbs could be helpful and safe to support your energy levels, and as a result your milk supply.
It’s important to note other factors impact milk supply, some are modifiable, and others are not:
Exogenous hormones (IUD, birth control pills, and thyroid medications). Copper IUDs do not impact milk production
Return of menstrual cycle
A Few Final Thoughts on the Breastfeeding Journey
Communicating your goals in regards to breastfeeding to your partner, family, and healthcare practitioner are helpful to support you on your journey.
It’s ideal to communicate your goals and desires while you’re pregnant so you can plan ahead. There is often so much focus on getting everything ready for the baby during the immediate postpartum that moms forget (or are unsure) on how to prepare for themselves.
It can be helpful to take a breastfeeding 101 class during your last trimester. They typically cover how to help the baby latch correctly, different nursing positions, and what proper drinking looks like so you don’t have to worry if the baby is getting enough milk.
Yet, even if you take all the classes and do all the research, sometimes breastfeeding just isn’t happening as naturally as you thought it would.
There is no shame in struggling with breastfeeding and no room for self-judgment.
There is no shame in struggling with breastfeeding and no room for self-judgment. Some of the issues that arise are an easy fix and some might simply be out of your control.
If you’re struggling with any part of it mentally, emotionally, or physically, reach out to a lactation consultant or healthcare practitioner that is educated in breastfeeding and postpartum care.
The immediate postpartum is called the fourth trimester for a reason; it’s an intense and transformational time. Making meals ahead of time and freezing them, ensuring extra help around the house, and taking anything possible off of your plate is so helpful.
The less new parents have to do, the better. The more relaxed and rested the mom is, the easier breastfeeding will be.
Be gentle with yourself, plan ahead, and come back to a place of self-compassion as often as possible. Be as gentle with yourself as you are with your new baby.
All included information is not intended to treat or diagnose. The views expressed are those of the author and should be attributed solely to the author. For medical questions, please consult your healthcare provider.