Low milk supply or lack of self-confidence?

“Perceived inadequate supply” is a common breastfeeding problem, as many mothers think they are not producing enough milk when they do have enough. This may be because many new mums lack the emotional wellbeing and self-confidence to feed their babies exclusively on breast milk. Furthermore, there is even a misconception that formula milk is “superior” despite the compulsory labelling on all infant formula products – “Breast milk is the best nutrition for babies”.

Mothers often use the wrong signs to judge milk supply. In general, mothers can determine whether they have enough milk supply by the following indicators:

  • Weight gain – Babies regain birth weight by two weeks; double the birth weight at 5-6 months, and triple at one year. Breastfed babies are leaner ie they are less likely to be overfed and are not as chubby as formula fed babies.
  • Diapers – At least 4-6 pale, wet cloth nappies per 24 hours. Babies pass soft, yellow, curdy stools.
  • Other signs – Babies with good skin tone, clear, bright eyes and have a period of wakeful contentment during the day.

Can food help with milk supply?

“Drink this papaya and fish soup….it can help you produce more milk!”

Locally this is a common recommendation to young mothers from relatives and friends. Throughout history, mothers all over the world have used certain foods or herbs to enhance their milk supply. Most of them have not been scientifically evaluated, but traditional use suggests safety and some efficacy. The commonly used herbs are Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) and Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis).

For lactating mothers, taking a balanced diet with adequate fluid intake is crucial in ensuring adequate milk supply. It does not hurt therefore, to have fish and papaya regularly in the diet.

Facing feeding problems

At times, babies may drink more than usual or become fussy when drinking. This leads mum to think her milk supply has decreased. There are some reasons though, that contribute to low milk supply. Check if you may be going through any of the below, especially if your child is not gaining proper weight or does not have enough bowel movements.

  • Improper latching: If your baby does not latch on properly, there will be insufficient breast stimulation, which is necessary for optimum milk production.
  • Shape of nipples: The shape of nipples can influence whether or not your baby latches on successfully. Flat or inverted nipples may make it difficult for your child to nurse.
  • Sore nipples: Pain caused by very sore nipples may inhibit letdown reflex; you may also tend to delay the feedings because of the pain and discomfort.
  • Infrequent feedings: Nurse frequently; around 8 feedings (or more) in 24 hours would suffice in providing him with enough milk. This also stimulates your breasts to keep on producing enough milk.
  • Use of formula supplements: Using formula to supplement can decrease milk supply, as formula babies tend to nurse less often.
  • Stress: Almost all mothers undergo stress at some point, more so if they are new mothers. Stress may be one of the reasons for a reduced production of milk.

Hype up your milk supply

Don’t despair with breastfeeding challenges. Here are other ways to increase milk production.

  • Sufficient food, fluids and rest – Drink enough water, eat regularly and get adequate rest to ensure you have sufficient milk supply.
  • Nipple confusion – Avoid from using bottle or pacifiers in between breastfeeding, as it can confuse your baby, thus not be able to feed properly. Try using a cup, spoon or syringe if it is necessary to supplement him.

In some cases, when all other methods have been tried but to no avail, doctors may prescribe a drug, domperidone. This medication helps in stimulating the production of the prolactin hormone and thus increases milk output.

Even with all the steps taken above, it may still be possible to have low milk supply. Do talk to your doctor or a lactation specialist who is able to help you with your condition. While we recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed, mixed feeding ie breast milk and formula is better than not breastfeeding at all. So, don’t give in to frustration or depression; you can find ways that work best for both you and your child.

Author’s Note: The author is contributing this article to Positive Parenting as she is keen to provide evidence-based information to parents. However, as a baby-food company is a sponsor of Positive Parenting, the author has declined to accept any payment for this article from Positive Parenting as she is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and is bound by the Code of Ethics to not accept any kind of support from baby food companies.

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