Making enough breastmilk!
‘How can I improve my breast milk supply?’ is one of the most common question I get asked by new mums. I constantly, also hear new mums talking about how they don’t have enough milk.
Breastfeeding generally is a tough and challenging journey. I don’t know many mums who haven’t found some part of the journey difficult. One of the hardest things, is that you never really know how much milk you have or your baby has taken - instead you simply have to trust the process.
It is wise to get the support of a lactation consultant if you are concerned about your milk supply to check if it actually is an issue or not. They are likely to check latch and give you guidance about things to monitor to see if your baby is getting enough nutrition, such as the number of wet nappies and the tracking of weight gain.
It is important to point out here that the amount of milk you are able to ‘pump’ is not necessarily an indicator of your supply - babies suck much more efficiently than a pump works and the hormonal control of the breast milk ‘let down’ definitely would be reduced when using a pump versus a baby sucking your nipples - breast milk is released in response to those relaxed and loving hormones. Being relaxed during feeding is so important to ensure enough milk is released - meditating, breathing, listening to music are all possible ways to enhance relaxation. Stress is most likely the greatest contributing factor of decreased breast milk supply - which is tricky as new babies can be stressful!
Other than being relaxed, the best thing you can do to increase milk supply is to feed your baby more. Breast milk is made on a supply and demand basis. The more you feed the more you make. Young babies wanting to feed all the time and cluster feed at stages is actually really great for your breast milk supply.
How can nutrition play a role?
The main way the your diet can affect how much milk you are making is if you are not drinking enough fluids or eating enough calories!
Water accountants for a huge 87% of breast milk and that water needs to come from the mother. If you are not drinking enough, there is simply not enough water to make up the breast milk. Requirements for fluids during lactation are therefore huge, over 3.5L per day at a minimum - a simple way to look at it is that all fluids lost from feeding must be replaced, on top of all the normal fluid your body needs each day. New mums can find drinking enough fluid very hard, given everything else going on with a new baby and the lack of time to do things for themselves. Other times mum’s drink really great at the start as they are aware of the need for extra fluid, but months down the breastfeeding journey they forget and get distracted by other things and then start to question their supply. High fluid requirements remain throughout the whole breastfeeding journey. It is important to work out simply strategies that suit you to ensure adequate fluid is consumed - filling up multiple drink bottles and leaving them around the house, getting all visitors and family to provide fluids and having your husband on hand to bring you a drink every time you feed. Water is the best choice for fluid, but herbal teas or milk can be great to mix things up too.
Calorie needs are huge during breastfeeding - much more than during pregnancy which most people are not aware off. We need an extra 500cal per day when breastfeeding - this lasts for most of the feeding journey (until you start dropping the number of feeds in place of solid meals towards the end of the first year). In food terms, an example of 500cal would be a chicken and salad sandwich (with butter and 2 slices of bread) + 1 apple + 1 mandarin + 12 cashew nuts - that is a fair amount of food on top of your normal meals and snacks. Many mums I’m sure can understand this after experiencing extreme and sudden hunger, especially in the early days of feeding. Unfortunately, eating enough is often hindered by societies and self pressures to lose weight after a baby. I discourage any form of restrictive eating postpartum (unless for a medical reason e.g. allergies) as so many negatives will arise from undereating both in terms of breast milk supply and health of the mother.
Specific foods, notably ‘oats’ or cookies made from oats often claim to enhance breast milk - my take on this is that these are higher calorie foods so they contribute to the increased volume of food needed and therefore increase milk supply that way. It is important here to point out that QUALITY of the food being ingested matters for both you and the baby - we will cover that in my next blog.