Thursday, May 5, 2011

Increasing supply

A lot of mamas have questions about how you can increase your milk supply. First, I want to say that often mamas do not have supply issues, but they think they do. If baby is having wet diapers and gaining weight, you are producing enough! However, in the instances where you truly do have milk supply issues, there ARE many things you can do to increase your supply. Some of these are well known and some I've just recently learned about from a book I recently purchased, "Herbs for a Healthy Pregnancy" by Penelope Ode. 

The most well known ways to increase your supply are taking fenugreek, eating oatmeal (especially steel cut oats) and making sure to drink plenty of water. Fenugreek is the herb that is used most often to increase milk supply. It is a galactagogue and has been used for hundreds of years to increase milk supply. It is very safe and usually works within 1-2 days after moms starts to take it (see Kelly Moms fact sheet on Fenugreek for more information). It's very important to make sure you're eating and staying hydrated while breastfeeding as well. Oatmeal, especially steel cut oats, is another common way to increase supply. While there isn't necessarily any scientific evidence that supports it, it's recommended by many breastfeeding support groups and lactation consultants and many moms notice a difference when eating oatmeal. 

Other herbs that are used to increase milk supply are borage, goats rue, milk thistle, stinging nettles and vervain (check out this fact sheet about different herbs that can increase supply at Holistic Herbalist). Some more commercially used herbs that are thought to help are fennel, dill, caraway or anise. 

Other then herbs you can take, it's very important to breastfeed your baby on demand to keep your milk supply up. Babies go through periods of cluster feeding when they are experiencing growth spurts (check out TGL's post about Early Breastfeeding Obstacles: Cluster Feeding and Growth Spurts). When they are cluster feeding, it's important to let them nurse as much as they need which will tell your breasts to make more milk.

Like I mentioned earlier, low milk supply is not nearly as common of a problem as we are led to believe. Kelly Mom has a great list of things babies often do but do not necessarily indicate low milk supply: 

  • Your baby nurses frequently. Breastmilk is digested quickly (usually in 1.5-2 hours), so breastfed babies need to eat more often than formula-fed babies. Many babies have a strong need to suck. Also, babies often need continuous contact with mom in order to feel secure. All these things are normal, and you cannot spoil your baby by meeting these needs.
  • Your baby suddenly increases the frequency and/or length of nursings. This is often a growth spurt. The baby nurses more (this usually lasts a few days to a week), which increases your milk supply. Don't offer baby supplements when this happens: supplementing will inform your body that the baby doesn't need the extra milk, and your supply will drop.
  • Your baby nurses more often and is fussy in the evening.
  • Your baby doesn't nurse as long as she did previously. As babies get older and better at nursing, they become more efficient at extracting milk.
  • Your baby is fussy. Many babies have a fussy time of day - often in the evening. Some babies are fussy much of the time. This can have many reasons, and sometimes the fussiness goes away before you find the reason.
  • Your baby guzzles down a bottle of formula or expressed milk after nursing.Many babies will willingly take a bottle even after they have a full feeding at the breast. Read more here from board-certified lactation consultant Kathy Kuhn aboutwhy baby may do this and how this can affect milk supply. Of course, if you regularly supplement baby after nursing, your milk supply will drop (see below).
  • Your breasts don't leak milk, or only leak a little, or stop leaking. Leaking has nothing to do with your milk supply. It often stops after your milk supply has adjusted to your baby's needs.
  • Your breasts suddenly seem softer. Again, this normally happens after your milk supply has adjusted to your baby's needs.
  • You never feel a let-down sensation, or it doesn't seem as strong as before.Some women never feel a let-down. This has nothing to do with milk supply.
  • You get very little or no milk when you pump. The amount of milk that you can pump is not an accurate measure of your milk supply. A baby with a healthy suck milks your breast much more efficiently than any pump. Also, pumping is an acquired skill (different than nursing), and can be very dependent on the type of pump. Some women who have abundant milk supplies are unable to get any milk when they pump. In addition, it is very common and normal for pumping output to decrease over time. (Check out Kelly Moms fact sheet on low milk supply for more information.)
Have you struggled with supply issues? What things have you done to increase supply? 

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