Will I be able to breastfeed? Understanding your milk supply and what can happen if you are low.
When does your milk supply start and how?
Milk supply is a supply and demand process, however this doesn’t actually happen until around a couple of days post childbirth. As a new mum myself, I didn’t know that or the fact that you actually don’t start producing milk until around 30 to 40 hours after childbirth. And even then, it’s hard to know if you are producing enough for your baby.
As your midwife may have told you, from about 16 – 22 weeks in your pregnancy you will start to produce what is known as colostrum. This is breast fluid that is produced prior to your breastmilk and it contains high levels of antibodies to help fight infection and bacteria. It’s also highly nutritional for your baby. This colostrum is hormonally driven and happens regardless of if you breastfeed or not.
In your third trimester, a midwife or lactation consultant (depending on your situation) will educate you on how to firmly massage your breasts to see if any colostrum is present. They will also educate you on how often to do this leading up to labour, how to store it and be ready for those first few days as a new mumma, just in case you need it.
When you give birth, the placenta is removed, your progesterone levels will drop and your prolactin levels will elevate. This is the start of your milk production and will normally begin to increase from two or three days postpartum, but it may take a little while for the changes to become apparent to the mother.
How do I know my baby is getting enough milk?
This is a common concern for many mothers, especially in the early stages of breastfeeding. Babies naturally feed frequently (normally eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period) and in the early days they can be very unsettled. This doesn’t mean there’s not enough milk, frequent feeding is necessary to establish a good breast milk supply.
There are two ways you can identify if your baby is getting enough milk:
- Weight gain
- Wet nappies
On average, your baby can lose about 7 – 10% of their weight in the first 24 hours; this is normal. By about two weeks old your baby will generally be back up to their birth weight and should be gaining approx. 30grams per day.
Your baby will typically have at least 6-8 wet nappies and three soft runny bowel movements in 24 hours. The urine colour should be odourless and clear/very pale in colour.
If your breast milk supply is genuinely low, it’s usually a temporary situation and can be improved with appropriate support. If you are still in the hospital, a lactation consultant will provide you a recommended feeding plan and support services locally for when you head home.
How often should I be feeding in the first week?
On average, your baby will consume about a teaspoon of colostrum per feeding in the first 24 hours, which is ideal for his or her tiny stomach. In fact, your baby’s stomach is only about the size of a marble on day one and holds just 5 -7ml.
Babies instinctively let us know when they need to be fed. A few early feeding signs are stirring, mouth opening, rooting, stretching, hand in mouth. Late signs of hunger are crying and upset. Its best to feed your baby before showing these late cues.
From my personal experience, the midwives educated me on the three-hour feeding plan due to low milk supply, which consisted of the following
- Feed my baby on the breast for 10-15 minutes on each boob
- Change nappy and put baby back in the bassinet for a sleep
- Pump each breast (or the breast that wasn’t used) for 10 minutes each
- Have some food and a rest
- Baby wakes (approx. three hours from when you started the previous feed) repeat step 1, plus offer the bottle from pumping (or some formula if your pumping didn’t produce any)
- Repeat steps 2 - 4
If you are someone like me who did not produce enough milk but wanted to breastfeed for as long as possible ,then pumping will be a part of your routine from the get-go. Depending how much breastmilk is produced from pumping, formula may be introduced.
Do not worry if you haven’t purchased a breast pump yet, some hospitals will let you borrow one while you’re there, some may even let you hire one for your first week. Each hospital is different so you should ask before you’re admitted or buy a breast pump in anticipation.
Why am I not producing enough breastmilk?
A small number of new mums have difficulty producing enough breast milk due to medical reasons, These may be any of the following:
- Excessive blood loss: During the birth, retained fragments of the placenta can delay your milk coming in.
- History of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), diabetes, thyroid or other hormonal disorders. Mummas with these conditions sometimes experience a low milk supply.
- The rare medical condition mammary hypoplasia, in which there isn’t enough milk-producing glandular tissue within the breast.
- Previous breast surgeries or breast trauma – although many mummas who have had surgery go on to breastfeed successfully, it will just depend if there has been any nerve damage.
How can I increase my breast milk supply?
Once your breast milk has come in, your breasts start to make milk through a process of ‘supply and demand’. Each time milk is removed, either by your baby feeding or by expressing, your breasts make more.
If you think your baby is not getting enough milk, see a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist in your local area. They are there to support you and can assess whether you do have a low milk supply. One of the first things they will do is observe a feed. This will show them how your baby is latching and seeing if they receive enough milk.
Your breastfeeding position and your baby’s latch are common to your baby not receiving enough milk. Signs of a good latch will support your baby sucking slow and deep and help you feed more efficiently.
Another way to increase breast milk supply is to have more skin-to-skin contact with your baby before and during feeds to stimulate the hormone oxytocin. This helps get your milk flowing. You could even use some relaxation techniques such as listening to your favourite calming music to reduce any anxiety that could be affecting your supply.
If you need to encourage your milk supply in the first five days after birth, you can use a double electric breast pump. Hospital grade electric pumps are designed to mimic the way a baby stimulates the breasts while feeding and has been found to increase longer-term milk production.
While there is no breastfeeding diet out there to increase your milk supply, research suggests that excluding allergenic foods from a mother’s diet during pregnancy or breastfeeding does not prevent the baby from developing allergies. There are specific foods to help support and promote your milk supply such, as lactation biscuits and lactation tea.
And, whether you’ve decided to breastfeed for a short while, a long while or not at all, taking care of your breasts during this time is essential. If you do need a little help with breastfeeding, Something For Mumma has got you covered with some delicious lactation guilt-free snacks you’ll be obsessed with, and tools to help with latching and promoting milk supply. These include nipple shields, breast pumps, colostrum collectors, storage bags and lactation massagers. Just head to our Nursing and Breastfeeding collection to see all the products that are available to you.
Where can I go or who can I reach out to for breastfeeding support?
Depending where you live will depend on the support the hospital can provide you, such as home visits. Be sure to ask your hospital if you are eligible for visits by a midwife to check in on your recovery and feeding plan.
There a few places you can contact as well if you have a question to ask prior to making any decisions. These are:
- Finding a lactation consultant near you
- Breastfeeding helpline: 1800 mum2mum (1800 686 268)
- Breastfeeding Association
- Support Groups: Early Childhood Health Services (in your capital city)
Perth Mummas – Cheryl & Deyana are registered nurses, endorsed midwives and lactation consultants and you can find them via www.bundleandme.com.au or @bundleandme.com.au. They offer bulk-billed antenatal appointments and you can also receive consultations with Medicare rebates for up to six weeks. Bundle and Me offer breastfeeding classes for antenatal and postnatal women, as well as prescribed medication and testing.
Lastly, do what is right for you, Mumma
We understand that breastfeeding is the preferred choice by professionals, and even though it is not the only option, we understand that it may be your first choice as a new mum too. You are not alone, reach out to family, friends, and local support groups to help you through your transition. We wish you all the best.
Image by @melissajeanbabies
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