5 Tips to Create and Maintain Your Breast Milk Supply

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From moms who choose to breastfeed, one of the most common questions I hear is, “How do I create a good milk supply?” and in later postpartum, “How do I maintain my milk supply?” When milk supply is good and baby is transferring milk well at the breast, breastfeeding can feel like second nature. However there are many moms who struggle with breastfeeding, whether it’s in creating a good milk supply, getting baby to latch properly or understanding  baby’s feeding cues. You’re not alone if you feel frustrated and unsure of what to try next.

When you look for information about building milk supply from the start, there are literally hundreds of different suggestions you may come across. Some parents swear by blue Powerade and herbal tea, while others have a recipe for special cookies that has been handed down from their grandmother.

The truth is, establishing and maintaining a milk supply doesn’t have to be complicated. At Family First, our goal is to make mothering a little bit easier by giving you the education and information you need to make informed decisions for you and your baby. With that in mind, here are five strategies that you can try as you create and maintain your milk supply.

1. Feed Your Baby When Your Baby Wants to Be Fed

On-demand feeding is something we hear a lot about and for good reason! Breast milk is made on a demand and supply basis. The more milk the baby takes out of the breast, the more milk your body will make. When milk sits in the breast too long, a hormone called Feedback inhibitor of Lactation, or FIL, builds up in the glands. When it gets to a high enough level it tells the body to reduce and slow the amount of milk being made, because too much milk (engorgement) of the breasts puts the body at risk for a milk infection, called mastitis.

On the flip side, feeding frequently keeps the FIL levels lower, prompting your body to make more milk. Quite simply, feeding your baby when baby asks to feed is crucial to creating and maintaining a milk supply that is ENOUGH for your baby.

2. Recognize and Encourage Cluster Feeding

What exactly is cluster feeding? It’s a time every 24 hours or so where your baby just seems to go bonkers at the breast. Cluster feeding typically happens 1 to 2 times a day, for a period of 3-5 hours. During this time the baby eats until they seem full, then will ask for milk again, even though they have just eaten… and they will do it again and again for hours.

During this time, baby will also seem restless, unsettled, and may be fussier than usual. That’s just mother nature at work, driving us crazy! Every baby in the world cluster feeds. Cluster feeding is important not just for building and maintaining milk supply in the first few months, but also for fat intake for baby.

The more frequently that the baby feeds at the breast, the higher the fat content of the milk. In the evenings your milk is already naturally full of creamy fat for your baby’s brain, so the addition of evening cluster feeds just boosts the amount of brain building fats in the milk. However, because the fat content is high, the flow may be slower and the breasts may feel softer or emptier. Don’t worry, this is normal. Your breasts are never empty, they’re continuously making milk, and by adapting to and encouraging cluster feeding you are encouraging a healthy milk supply for you and your baby.

Note: If your baby eats longer than 45 minutes at the breast, has slow growth, and seems restless ALL of the time, you may want to seek lactation help. Cluster feeding is a limited period of time during the day, and should not be happening ALL the time, except during big growth spurts.

3. Skin to Skin Contact

Skin to skin contact is SO important for so many reasons, including milk supply. When babies are born, they expect to be in their natural environment, which is close to mom or right on her chest! When a baby is skin to skin it lights up their nervous system, stimulates new brain growth, and regulates baby’s blood sugars, body temperature and breathing. It also provides mom and baby with a rush of hormones that stimulate bonding, calm, and milk production.

Skin to skin contact can also be linked with a lower risk of developing a postpartum mood disorder, like postpartum depression. There’s no way to overstate just how important skin to skin time is both for you and for your baby. Spending extra time skin to skin with baby can help give you the boost you need both emotionally and for your milk supply. It’s also important to remember that if you’re struggling with your mood, feel overwhelmed, anxious or sad that you are not alone. Many moms feel this way and it’s vital that you reach out for help.

 4. Sleep Close to Your Baby

The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that all babies sleep on a separate sleep surface in the same room as their parent(s) for the first six months of life. This is to help prevent SIDS and is also a biological expectation that babies are born with. Babies that sleep close to their mothers are less stressed, produce lower levels of stress hormones, and parents are able to respond to them quicker.

Babies also NEED night feeding. Night time feeds stimulate your milk production at a time when your prolactin (milk making hormone) levels are highest. By feeding during the night, you are contributing to baby’s growth, health, and significantly reducing the chances of SIDS.

Babies are made to be light sleepers for a number of reasons. Lighter sleep is protective against SIDS and allows them to wake and feed as frequently as they need to take in enough calories, electrolytes and fat over 24 hours to grow and develop at their optimum rate.

Night time feeding can be challenging but by sleeping close to your baby, you are able to get to them and feed them before they are fully awake, and before you are fully awake, which makes it easier for both of you to go back to sleep after a feeding and get more rest.

Keep the lights dim and sounds low, and try not to pick up electronics while you feed. This phase doesn’t last forever, but it is an important part of establishing and maintaining a good milk supply, as well as in supporting baby’s growth.

5. Healthy Mother, Healthy Milk Supply

I know I’ve just talked about how you will need to wake at night to feed, and you’re probably wondering how that lends itself to your health, but hear me out. Sleeping close to your baby and keeping electronics off at night helps you both to develop good sleep hygiene. Sleep isn’t crucial to milk supply, but it is important for your own feeling of wellness, so while we shouldn’t avoid night time feeding, there are ways to feel better rested while doing it.

Go to bed when your baby does, or soon after. After an evening of cluster feeding most babies will sleep their first stretch, which is typically the longest of the night. Take advantage of that and get some Zzz’s yourself, even if it means going to bed early. During the day when your baby naps, take time for yourself. If you are able to sleep, that’s the best thing to do. If you’re not, read a book, do some gentle stretching, or just relax (this is easier said than done!).

Taking care of yourself for milk supply also means drinking plenty to stay hydrated and eating small meals frequently throughout the day. When your partner goes to work and packs a lunch, have them pack one for you. Chop up veggies and fruit and leave them in the fridge with dips. Eat muffins, hard boiled eggs, crackers, anything that nourishes you will nourish your milk supply.

Make sure you’re drinking fluids to stay hydrated. Water is the best thing, and you can add cucumber, mint, strawberries, and other fruit for some variety. Keep a big jug of it in the fridge and drink often. If you’re okay with plain water, keep a water bottle near where you nurse and keep a glass next to the kitchen sink. Every time you walk through the kitchen, drink a glass of water. You need lots of good hydration to make abundant amounts of milk, so drink up!

If you have questions about breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or any infant feeding issue I’m always available by phone or email. There are no wrong questions to ask. We want to make sure you are taken care of and have the supports in place to meet your feeding goals, whatever they may look like for you!

You can reach me at Family First Maternal Wellness Centre at 306-525-2605 or by email at martha@familyfirstwellness.ca

Martha Neovard is a Certified Breastfeeding Educator, Certified Babywearing Educator and Birth Doula. She offers one on one breastfeeding support sessions, along with leading Family First’s Nourish Your Newborn breastfeeding classes.