When you are pregnant, you spend a lot of time wondering, contemplating, worrying, and Googling what life will be like when you finally bring your baby home. One of the biggest concerns for new moms, who want to breastfeed, is how to establish and maintain your milk supply.
I had nine long months of bed rest to read about breastfeeding, learn all I could, and prepare to bring my baby girl home. But before I knew it, she was here. When I held her in my arms for the first time, it felt like my heart burst into a million pieces.
The day she was born, she nuzzled into me and almost immediately found my nipple and latched right on. Relief began to set in. I wanted to breastfeed so badly, but I was so nervous she would not know what to do or how to do it. Her latch looked great (I made sure to Google pictures to check). I thought I would just sit back, relax, and let her do all the work.
I was happily exhausted from new motherhood when I arrived at her first pediatrician appointment after being discharged from the hospital. She was weighed, measured, and thoroughly looked over. I thought everything was going pretty well until all hell broke loose.
The pediatrician came into the room and told me my daughter looked good overall, but claimed she had lost too much weight and to supplement with formula until my milk supply came in. I stared at him for a second before I lost my freaking mind. I was utterly hysterical. The doctor held out a bottle of formula and timidly offered, “It’s organic!” I had to stop myself from causing him bodily harm.
Now that I am more rational (kind of), I realize that what the pediatrician was saying made sense…to him. He has a medical degree and I am not a lactation consultant, but the advice he gave me was wrong. If you are a new mom or expecting your first baby, here is how to boost your milk supply:
Before You Give Birth:
- Read books and take classes. Find your local La Leche League and see when and where they offer classes. It is worth every second to learn from an expert. Plus, they offer additional support after you give birth and will help you find a lactation consultant to come to your house!
- Interview several pediatricians. Ask to set up a time to meet with prospective pediatricians and ask all your questions before baby arrives. When I initially interviewed my (first) pediatrician and inquired about his position on breastfeeding, he responded, “I support whatever the mom wants to do…breast or bottle.” I thought it was great that he was so non-judgmental. After my daughter arrived, I realized having a pediatrician who advocates for breastfeeding and would help me succeed as a nursing mom was important to me. I am not saying to ignore your doctors. I am saying, do not be afraid to question them and seek a second opinion.
Boosting Your Milk Supply In the Hospital:
- Listen to the nurses, but trust your own judgment. The nurses are there to help you and may even have a lactation consultant on staff. Take advantage of it! For me, they told me that I should let my baby go to the nursery for a few hours, so I could sleep. I refused. For a veteran mom-friend of mine, they told her to wake her baby, who was sleeping peacefully, to try to feed her right that second. She refused. Take the suggestions, but do not be afraid to use your own best judgment.
Establishing Your Milk Supply in the First Few Weeks:
- Get your baby on your boob as much as possible. Breastfeeding may be natural, but it also requires some learning on the part of both mom and baby. Practice makes perfect! Actually, perfect practice makes perfect. Do not be afraid to ask a lactation consultant to watch you nurse to check and make sure your baby is latching properly.
- Do not freak out if you baby loses a little weight. Babies normally lose about 10% of the birth weight after they are born. They just spent nine months swimming in fluid, so they are naturally waterlogged. It takes three to five days for your milk to come in and breast fed babies have to exert quite a bit of effort at first to get the milk flowing.
Basically, the first week of life, your baby is on a diet and doing a lot of cardio. Monitor the number of wet diapers your baby has and whether he/she seems lethargic to ensure your baby does not get dehydrated, but a little weight loss is normal. (Side note: My daughter had not lost close to 10% of her birth weight when the doctor suggested I supplement. Grrr…)
- You will have to feed around the clock. You expected to be sleep deprived, as a new mom, right? It is recommended to nurse your infant every two to three hours. During the first weeks, by the time you sufficiently wake your infant enough to nurse, get him suckling away, and rocked back to sleep…it is time to feed again! Sleep is not going to happen, but it gets better, i promise! Try to make yourself as comfortable as possible while nursing, so you can at least relax, if not sleep.
- Get pumping! Invest in a great breast pump*. It is the breast investment you will ever make (pun intended). Check with your health insurance provider because you may be eligible to receive a breast pump for free!
I attempted to use a manual pump and nearly keeled over after only squeezing out a few drops. Pumping helps to stimulate your milk supply, reduce engorgement, and allow dad to take over some of those midnight feedings!
Here is the best part about getting pumping right away: If you need to supplement, you can supplement with your own milk! This is what my doctor got totally wrong. The more you supplement with formula, the less milk you are telling your body to produce. My doctor told me to “supplement just until my supply really gets going.” If I would have continued to supplement with just formula, my supply most likely would never have got going.
Breastfed babies need an average of about on ounce of milk per hour. Click here to do an exact calculation on KellyMom.com. I used my breast pump to determine how much milk I was actually producing and discovered that I was only producing 1/2 ounce per hour. The pediatrician was right about one thing. I did need to supplement somehow, so I developed a plan.
I know it sounds like a lot of boob action…and it is. However, the more of a breast milk supply I built, the less formula I needed to supplement. I only needed to use formula for a handful of feedings before my little one was fully content with breast milk alone and sleeping soundly in a milk drunk stupor.
Boosting Your Milk Supply the First Few Weeks:
- Feed on demand. I had my plan and I was going to stick to it, but sometimes my daughter wanted to nurse every hour or every three hours. Or “cluster feed” in which she would hang out on my boob for hours on end. As the days progressed, I began to follow my baby’s lead and my body readily adjusted.
- Offer the boob over the bottle as much as possible. As much as I truly love my breast pump, my daughter does a far better job of emptying the milk. Babies need training on how to drink from a bottle and many (like mine) will refuse bottles altogether. Kelly Mom recommends simulating the breastfeeding experience when bottle feeding. For example, hold baby in the same position as when you nurse and use nipples that are slow flow and as close to the real thing as you can get.
Maintaining Your Supply In the Coming Months:
- Wait until baby is six to seven months old before introducing solids. That is right. I said six to seven months. As a parent of a child with a sensitive tummy, I implore you to wait. When your mother-in-law tells you to give your baby a little rice cereal at three months because that is what she did or it will “help baby sleep through the night”, practice giving her the hairy eyeball look and send her here. Besides the fact that your baby can choke and their gut is not ready for solids, here are 10 Reasons Why You Should Wait to Introduce Solids.
- To pacify or not pacify, that is the question. I did not give my daughter a pacifier, or dummy, because I read that it causes nipple confusion. Since I am a work-at-home mom, I was able to be a human pacifier. However, teething is no picnic and a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do. My favorite teething hack is to freeze breast milk in Popsicle holders and call it a “boobsicle”. Try it! It’s genius!
- Take care of yourself. The best way to boost your milk supply and keep it going is ultimately by taking care of yourself. Sleep may be out of the question for a little while, but try to rest when you can. Stay hydrated and keep healthy snacks close by at all times. You can take natural supplements like Fenugreek or drink Mother’s Milk tea to boost your supply, as well. A bowl of oatmeal in the mornings also works wonders and is far more delicious! Try not to worry or stress too much and just enjoy this precious time of bonding with your child.
Once that milk starts flowing, breastfeeding is easy! I would put my baby in her Ergo Carrier* and nurse while cooking dinner or even vacuuming. It is hard to leave your boobs at home or forget to pack them in your diaper bag. I have never worried (since those early days) if she is eating enough because I know she is eating the perfect food tailor-made just for her.
Did I miss anything anything, mamas? What did you do to boost your milk supply? What advice would you give to new moms about breastfeeding? Please share your comments below or contact me if you are interested in contributing a guest post!
*I am an affiliate of Amazon and Ergo Baby (because they feed all of my baby-wearing and Attachment Parenting obsessions.) There is no additional cost to you to use my links. All other links included in this post are for your further reading pleasure only.