As if society does not place enough pressure on breastfeeding mothers, add in that nagging “good mother’s voice” and times of low milk supply with a demanding infant ready to nurse, and one has the ultimate recipe for a milk supply strike. First and foremost, women have been breastfeeding for thousands of years. The body is perfectly engineered to give baby what baby needs, when baby needs it. Demanding the breast and constantly wanting to nurse is a sign of a healthy eater who wants to breastfeed. It may mean less restful sleep for mom, or possibly sore breasts, but it is important to stick with it, and know that baby will help the body produce more milk. A woman’s body is designed and destined to work with the baby. As the baby demands more milk, the body produces it. Sometimes, it may feel as though the body is not keeping up with baby, and then - as if with a snap of fingers, the white gold flows.
Babies go through an average of five to seven growth spurts within the first year of life.1Growth spurts are directly correlated to the sleep and eating patterns of babies. One of the most common reasons for ending nursing early, supplementing with formula, and causes for stress for a breastfeeding mother is what is thought to be a low milk supply. Often, during growth spurts, the body takes a bit of time to catch up to the always-changing demand of the baby. It is vital that the baby be allowed to continue to attempt to nurse, especially during times of growth spurts, in order to solidify the longevity of breast feeding. Supplementing takes away from time at the breast, which is a contributing factor to low milk supply in the first place.
There are many reasons one may have a low milk supply; stress, baby not nursing due to lip tie, hormones, recent surgery, lack of time at the breast/pumping, poor nutrition, etc. Regardless of the reason, there are plenty of ways to help pick that milk supply back up in order to nurse on! After determining (the best one can) the cause of the drop in production, consider some of the following to aid in getting back on track.
Staying hydrated is important for anyone and everyone, but especially so for breastfeeding mothers. Skip the caffeine whenever possible. Too much caffeine can deplete the body of vital nutrients and cause dehydration. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. For those who easily bore with basic water, add in some almond milk, coconut water, or a juice of a variety of fruits and vegetables. It is natural and normal for mothers to feel dehydrated when nursing. Keep a water bottle handy and within reach, and sip the day away.
Just as there are natural remedies for ridding the carpet of that pesky stain, and for lessening the duration of the seemingly ever-lasting cold, increasing milk production has its own herbal best friends. Fenugreek and blessed thistle are classified as galactogogues, or milk makers.2 Other beneficial natural herbs include fennel, brewer’s yeast (used most often in “lactation cookies”), raspberry leaf, alfalfa, hops, stinging nettle, motherwort, milk thistle, basil, chamomile, and goat’s rue. These herbal ingredients can be consumed as a tea, mixed in with water, used in foods, or taken as a supplement. Do some further research on each to determine if it is the right choice, and become familiar with the galactogogue of choice. Mother’s milk tea, from Earth Mama Angel Baby, is widely recommended, as it encompasses a few galactagogues in one, easy to drink tea.
Along with staying hydrated and adding herbs to the diet, eating proper and healthy meals throughout the day is also important; not just for maintaining and producing breast milk, but for the baby, too. Anti-inflammatory foods may help; like garlic, ginger, and turmeric. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with an adequate amount of protein, will produce great results, and help mom and baby to feel fantastic all day long.
Boob, Boob, and More Boob
One of the easiest, yet tedious and tiring, ways to produce more milk is to trick the glands into thinking that it is growth spurt time. Offer the breast at every given possibility, even if baby only nurses for a short time. Pump or express milk, too. Massage the breasts in between nursings and/or pumping/expressions. This will help to reduce the likelihood of clogged ducts (another reason for a dip in supply). Think happy baby thoughts while pumping and/or nursing to help with the let down and stimulation of milk ducts. Look at pictures of the lovely little one, or read a magazine or article about babies or breast feeding.
Being stressed is bad all-around, not just for breast feeding. The higher the stress level, the less milk is produced. How, though, with such little time in the day, do moms find time to unwind? Taking a few moments to meditate can be as calming as taking a long run, just as doing yoga with or without baby is a stress reliever all the same. Other things to reduce stress are to journal, talk with a friend, go for a quick walk, take a bath or shower, drink some tea, read a book, take a class, do a craft, do an at-home facial, sit in silence for five minutes, cuddle, cook a favorite meal, paint nails, look at old pictures, plan a vacation, do some pushups or a quick ab workout, color or paint a picture, write a letter to baby or a friend, or do something else that requires some “me time”.
If absolutely necessary, there are natural herbs and foods that can help alleviate stress, like L-Theanine, Inositol, St. John’s Wort, lavender, and magnesium. Of course, as always, do personal research, as other medications being taken may interact. The main point in taking such herbs is to lower stress levels. Long-term use of such herbs may not be best for everyone. Therefore, finding stress relieving avenues that do not involve herbs and medications, and fits well with one’s lifestyle and schedule, is recommended.
Other Ways to Increase Milk Production
Skin to skin contact with baby may help make baby want to nurse more, and may help to stimulate milk production in mom. Some mothers opt for acupuncture as a means to stepping up the breast milk game. If back issues and pain are contributing to a decrease in milk supply, seeing a chiropractor may help. Antibiotics and other medications can contribute to a dip in production, too. Taking probiotics daily can help the body to combat the effects of such medications.
Decreasing the use of nipple shields, bottles, and pacifiers may aid as well, as sometimes cause barriers to nursing at the breast. If there is an issue in regards to nipple confusion or baby pacifying, try limiting the use of such products. "Babywearing" helps to keep baby near the breast, which - like skin to skin contact - helps both mom and baby with wanting to nurse.
An old Irish wives tale is to drink half (about six ounces) of a craft beer daily. It is thought that not only will it help mom to relax, but the barley and hops (typically higher in content in craft and specialty beers) helps with milk production as well.3 Doing so is at the discretion of the mother, and should be done with proper timing, as to avoid possibly (although unlikely) contaminating the breast milk. As TBS can not condone drinking while nursing, please do thorough research and always be responsible, as TBS knows moms are with every decision.
If all else fails, yes, there are medications that have been known to help increase breast milk supply. Speak with a physician or lactation consultant, and research further about medication. There are many known side effects, and medication is not personally recommended, but it is an option. Physicians can determine if low levels of prolactin or other hormone imbalances are a part of the problem. Some medications that are commonly prescribed for low milk supply are Metoclopramide (Reglan), Sulpiride (Dolmatil, Eglonyl, Sulpitil, Equemote, Sulparex), and Domperidone (Motilium). Empowering and educating oneself is the first step in determining whether or not medication is the right path to take.
Chin Up and Feed On
Breastfeeding moms with a dip in supply can most definitely bounce back to nursing bliss. Surrounding oneself with support and positivity can work wonders, along with the help of nature, exercise, baby, and sometimes, doctors. Do not suffer in silence, or stress over “not producing enough for baby”. There are already so many factors working against breastfeeding mothers, that mothers’ thoughts need not be one.
Nurse away, and do so with the confidence that breastfeeding and baby’s health are absolutely worth it. Seek help if needed, confide in others, and rest assured that more mothers suffer from low milk supply than one would think. Again, there are many factors that are attributed to a decrease in milk production, but the majority of them can be resolved easily and painlessly.
With these suggestions, next stop: How to Manage an Oversupply…
1Life Stages Feeding. Brittney Kirton. Everything you need to know about infant growth spurts. <http://www.lifestagesfeeding.com/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-infant-growth-spurts/>
2 Ask Dr. Sears. 2013. Herbs to Increase Milk Supply <http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/breastfeeding/while-taking-medication/herbs-increase-milk-supply>
3 Mother Food - A Lactogenic Diet. Hillary Jacobson. 13 Oct. 2011. Beer as a Galactagogue - A Brief History. <http://lactogenicdiet.blogspot.com/2011/10/beer-as-galactagogue-brief-history.html>
Lately I have asked many of my friends who are new moms what they wish someone would have told them about having a baby. The answer I kept hearing was breastfeeding. They all said something along the lines of breastfeeding needs to be talked about more, and no one told me it would be difficult and sometimes it is. Some would argue that it’s a natural thing so it’s easy. Hurray if it is. If however you find it a bit of a struggle, know that you are not alone. Here are some tips that really helped me out when I got started.
The first thing you should remember is to stay calm. If you are getting emotional and frustrated, baby will sense that, and get worked up too. Take a moment to relax. Get comfortable. Pillows are often the best tools you can have to get baby situated so you are both comfortable.
Secondly realize that it might take some time to get to the point where you both don’t have to think about it, and that’s okay. Baby is new at this, as are you. Its okay to give it some time to move smoothly. It is also a good idea to ask for help and reassurance from people who support breastfeeding - it could be your mother, friend, sister, peer counselors, postpartum doulas, mother groups like La Lache League, lactation educators, childbirth educator, doctor or lactation consultants.
Thirdly it doesn’t have to hurt. It might be a little painful at first but if it keeps on hurting, look at what could be changed. Could you and baby try a different position? Is baby latched on correctly, with as much of your breast tissue in his mouth as possible? (Remember its not called nipple feeding) Sometimes you could be doing really well as far as positioning and latch but another medical reason is to blame. Is baby tongue-tied? Has thrush developed? Is mom engorged or developed mastitis? These things are all fixable and with a little help and time. You don’t have to give up.
Forth mom, take care of you. This is the time in your life when asking for help should not be embarrassing. You need to heal, you need to wake up in the night to feed baby, and if you are tired and not eating and drinking well, it only makes it a bit harder. Take a nap during the day if you can. Have lots of healthy snacks in the cupboard that you can just grab and go. And do what you can to remember to drink lots of water, whether it is lining up your cups on the counter, having a water bottle that you know you have to drink by a certain time and then refill. There are lots of strategies so find one that works for you.
And fifth do what you can to get breastfeeding off to a good start. Get baby to the breast as soon as possible after birth, within the first two hours. If at all possible, room in with your baby. Do some skin on skin time. Before baby is born, do your research, read books, attend either childbirth classes where they cover breastfeeding or a breastfeeding class. Make sure your spouse is on board, and decide how determined you are to do this.
Breastfeeding can be a wonderful thing; I know I love snuggling my sweet warm baby while she nurses. Just because it can be wonderful doesn’t mean that it will have zero challenges. But don’t let the challenges get you down usually in a few weeks; both you and your baby will be pros.
Other tips to read
I am sure the title has now gotten your attention. Let me explain why ANY size family will benefit from breastfeeding, improving your family dynamic in more ways...than you probably imagined.
If you are expecting a baby, the time to start thinking about breastfeeding is now. There are preparations you can make to support your breastfeeding decision: with your spouse and your mom (studies have shown in some cultures that have the mother’s mother supporting her, greatly influences the success of the breastfeeding mommy).* Reading books and joining breastfeeding support groups is considering very beneficial to do before and after baby is born. Another idea is making breastfeeding support items (pumps, nursing bras, great dresses and shirts that make nursing easy) as part of your baby shower registry.
Many of you have probably heard why it is good to breastfeed your baby…higher IQ, stronger immune system, less colds, reduced asthma and eczema episodes, reduced risk of juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and cancer prior to the age of 15, as well as several recent studies that have shown that children who were breast-fed are significantly less likely to become obese later in childhood. A large UK research study (10,000 boys) co-author Associate Professor Wendy Oddy said in a media release:
"We know that there are vital nutrients in breast milk that support brain development, particularly in terms of long-chain fatty acids....Previous studies have shown that breastfeeding accelerates boys' maturation. Males are also known to be more vulnerable to adversity during critical periods of development than females; therefore the neuro-protective effect of estrodiols, the female hormones, in breast milk, would have greater benefits for boys."**
This is a very significant statement in light of the dramatic (and as yet, not fully explained) rise in autism spectrum disorders, particularly high in males. The current birth impact is 1/88. This is a tremendous shift from just 40 years ago. It’s important to take note.
The World Health Organization recommends babies are breastfed exclusively for at least the first six months of life, with complementary foods and breastfeeding recommended up to two years of age. This significantly reduces allergies and increases immune system benefits.
Benefits for the Family
- Breastfeeding reduces the size of the uterus after birth, so you get back into your favorite pair of jeans sooner rather than later which reduces your risk of obesity. It reduces the risk and frequency of some cysts and cancers.
- There is one more important point: breastfeeding reduces your STRESS!
- Yes, this amazing all natural stress reducer not only helps you produce hormones that reduce your stress, but because you chose to breastfeed, you get more sleep, and that reduces your stress (and your spouse’s).
- Babies who are breastfed get their food sooner, so there is less waiting for formula preparation. Babies who are fed sooner get less air in their belly. Less air means less spitting up, and getting back to sleep…that means you get back to sleep sooner, too.
- Breast milk is always the right temperature-never a worry that it might be too hot. Breast milk is ready to serve, and with only a few exceptions, there is usually enough of it. (Exceptions are in certain foods moms should not eat that will decrease the baby’s supply: dill (the herb), alcohol (yes, this is a highly controversial issue, I know, but trust me, you can go without the drinks, can’t you?) and a few other no-no’s.
Now, if your sleep improves and stress is reduced…we have a happier spouse don’t we? Have multiple children in the toddler range? Not to worry-if one of them wants to imitate baby, the world will NOT come to an end. The average world nursing average is 4.5 years. Americans seem to have some pretty big hang-ups about doing what is natural and healthy for their babies-it is an aberration in global statistics. So…if you have multiple children at nursing stage, don’t worry. It aids them all. The areoles of the breast are very intelligent, and actually sense the needs of the nursing child via the saliva and provide the proper nutrition for all. No worries. Relax. Even adoptive mothers can breastfeed since those smart areoles send signals to the pituitary gland to begin the production of prolactin. We have the smartest bodies, don’t we?
Hey dads- you are not out of this. There are breast feeding males in some cultures, and if that is just too far out to you, just imagine the nights of additional sleep you will have with baby breasting and not needing to make, heat and feed baby a bottle. This will also mean less crying at night to wake the family, because the breast is right there.
Imagine saving up to $800-1200 a year on average from formula costs! Breastfeeding is free. That’s a lot of money for weekends relaxing, dinners and a movie, etc. Babies who need fewer antibiotics for things like ear infections (breastfed babies get fewer infections) are happier babies. Less illness means more money in your pocket and less doctor’s visits in inclement weather, missing days of work, less chaos.
Children with healthier immune systems miss less school and day care; that not only saves you money now, but in the years to come.
Our children are only little for a little while. It seems some days that they will wake us up at 4 am forever, but they won’t. There are a couple short years that they want to spend in our arms, under our armpits, and thinking parents are the smartest, coolest people in the universe. Then, those years are gone. As hectic and stressful as they can be, these are precious times. Try to enjoy them more by doing one simple process that is a win-win for everyone.
Breastfeed your baby; your family will thank you. One day, so will your baby.
- *Ertem, I.,Votto, N., & Leventhal, J. (2001). The timing and predictors of early termination of breastfeeding. Pediatrics 107(3), 543-548.
- **Mother and Baby Magazine, citing the UK study on boys and breastfeeding; impacts on intelligence, Oxford University 1997-2001, along with a companion study in Western Australia-The Raine Study, which was conducted by the Telethon Institute and the School of Women's and Infant's Health at the University of Western Australia. The results are published in the January 2011 issue of international health journal Pediatrics.
- Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC)
- Gabriel-Doxtater, B. K., & Van den Hende, A. K. (1995). At the Wood’s edge. Quebec: Kanesatake Education Center.
- Health Canada. (1999). Nutrition for healthy pregnancy: National guidelines for childbearing years. Ottawa: Department of Public Works and Government Services.
- Houghton, M., & Graybeal, T. (2001). Breast-feeding practices of Native American mothers participating in WIC, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 101(2), 245-247.
- Prevention of hypertension in adulthood by breastfeeding, Midwifery Today (62).Moreland, J., & Coombs, J. (2000).
- Promoting and supporting breast-feeding. American Family Physician, 61(7), 2093-2100
- Breastfeeding Milla, by Angela Worthington, Midwifery Today, Spring 2012, Number 101
Many of us are aware of the many benefits that breastfeeding offers, both to our nurslings and ourselves. We know that breast milk is a complete food for our babies which sets the stage for lifelong health. We also know that breastfeeding helps our bodies fight off PPD (Postpartum Depression), reduces our risk of developing feminine cancers, and forms a bond with our children that will last a lifetime.
The WHO (World Health Organization) advises breastfeeding to continue at least until the 2nd year and many studies show that breast milk continues to provide immune support, vitamins, and enzymes to the developing child. Breastfed children are also sick less often and have higher I.Q.’s than their formula-fed peers.
With all this evidence, breastfeeding sounds like something we would want to continue as long as possible to ensure the health of our children, right? After all, we wouldn’t deliberately subject them to disease, junk food, and death metal. Would it not seem natural that breastfeeding would be the obvious choice? Yet the debate rages on.
Breast milk doesn’t suddenly expire when your child turns one, and your child doesn’t automatically give up the only thing he’s ever known by his first birthday.
We may struggle with the preconceived notions regarding breastfeeding beyond the first year and may feel a huge social pressure to wean after our child’s first birthday (or even before). We may even feel ashamed when our child asks to nurse in a social situation because we feel the need to defend our actions.
In the La Leche League International book, “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”, There is some advice for such occasions:
“If you even suspect you might end up nursing into the toddler years, start using a word for breasts or breastfeeding early on that you’ll feel comfortable hearing your two-year-old yell across the room at a family reunion or grocery store.”
Some suggestions include: “milkies,” “nummies,” and “nursies.”
Many women may be entirely comfortable nursing in public. Babies have the right to eat, like anyone else! Others, may feel the need to cover up or feed their baby in private. It completely depends on each woman’s preference and comfort level, although no one should ever feel ashamed to feed their baby.
Tips for extended breastfeeding success:
Sleeping with your baby.
Co-sleeping is a great way to keep your milk flowing and reconnect at the end of the day, especially if you are a working mom. It can also guard against painful plugged ducts which can occur after an absence from your child.
If your toddler is eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day, you may want to limit breastfeeding to times of comfort, such as nap or bedtime. Limits may be essential, especially in the case of tandem-nursing.
Go out and have some fun!
The beauty of extended breastfeeding is flexibility! Your tot is eating at regular intervals, and that gives you the time to go out and pursue your own interests.
Buy a good pump.
Women who are facing a return to work, may feel a huge pressure to wean completely and unnecessarily. Pumping at work may seem less than desirable, but if you make the commitment to keep breastfeeding, you can find a schedule that suits you best. Perhaps you could have your child’s daytime caregiver visit you on lunch hour with your baby so you can nurse while you eat. Talk to your boss and work out a spot where you can nurse or pump quietly without interruption. Your workplace may be more accommodating than you think.
Ignore the nay-sayers.
They may be family, friends, neighbours or that little old lady in the grocery store, but they are not YOU. They have no right to make a judgement call on your own personal decisions. You can either choose to ignore them, or think of something witty to say back.
Some great books on the subject include:
Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond, by Hilary Flower
And, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, by Norma Jane Bumgarner
Enjoy it! It won’t last.
Nursing doesn’t go on forever, but your fierce love and enduring bond will stand the test of time. You’ll never regret the time you spent with your child in those quiet moments when you were all they could see, and you were the source of their comfort.
During my personal nursing journey with my 6 children, each experience was different and each shaped my perception a little more. It wasn’t until I had my last 3 children that tandem nursing occurred to me. My 3 year old daughter and I just ended our nursing relationship, but she still asks to sniff my breasts to fall asleep. My one year old son is still nursing full time.
I had many a sleepless night (still do) and more frustrating moments than I can count, but I would not trade those sweet moments of my son and daughter gazing at each other and laughing while at my breasts.
Any women who have tandem-fed their babies can relate, and I salute you! In those moments, I would sometimes step back and think of all the women who had done this before me, or who were doing the same thing in that moment. It’s all about perspective.
Click here for information regarding breastmilk banks in Canada.