Many breastfeeding mothers question whether they have low milk supply. Because their baby seems as if she is crying all the time, they make the assumption that it has to do with not making enough breast milk.
If you find yourself thinking similar thoughts, before you do anything else, start by keeping track of your baby's wet diapers and seek out a lactation consultant who can help you figure out what the problem really is. If it is low milk supply, rest assured that there are many ways to build your supply and pack some more weight on your little one's wee body.
One of the most common reasons for a breastfed baby's slow weight gain or an issue with low milk supply has to do with improper latch. If a baby is latched improperly, not only is it quite likely to cause discomfort for mom, it will also fail to stimulate greater milk production.
Though the old adage "never wake a sleeping baby" seems to be sage advice, not so for the baby and mama dealing with low milk supply. Breastmilk production is all about the law of supply and demand. The more often you are putting baby to the breast and sufficiently "emptying" the breast, the more milk you will produce. Cluster feeding, a breastfeeding pattern where baby cries to be fed very often for a block of time, can also be extremely helpful to build your milk supply.
So exactly how often? Breastfeed a minimum of every two hours if it is certain that weight gain or low milk supply is a problem. Once your doctor feels the baby has achieved a solid weight gaining pattern, you can switch to feeding on-demand.
Breast compressions refer to a technique where the mother helps sustain the flow of milk when the baby is sucking and not drinking. Dr. Jack Newman, a renowned physician in the field of lactation, has detailed directions at his website.
Here are the simplified instructions. While the baby is drinking milk, hold your breast with the thumb on the top and the other fingers on the bottom. Gently squeeze your breast when you notice your baby is only sucking but not drinking or swallowing milk.
Switching back and forth between breasts during a feeding can deter your milk production. If your suffering from low milk supply, keep your baby at the first breast long enough to drain it of milk. At that point, switch to the other breast. Start feeding your baby at the opposite breast at the start of the next feeding.
Another way to help build low milk supply is to use a high-quality electric breast pump to express milk immediately after your baby has finished nursing. Pumping for 10 - 20 minutes following a feeding will help build supply. You should continue to pump even if you are not expressing milk.
What this technique does is help to "empty" the breasts sufficiently which will trigger you to produce more milk at subsequent feedings. The term "empty" is a little bit misleading, however, as there will always be trace amounts of milk left in the breast.
Bottom line - if you aren't feeding your own body adequately, it's going to make it much harder for you satisfy your own baby's nutritional needs. Getting an appropriate amount of calories a day (roughly 1800 - 2200) and drinking water to satisfy your thirst is very important for your health and for the sake of your milk supply. However, don't be confused - there is no need to drink lots of water and other fluids do "count" in keeping you hydrated.
There are many myths about alcohol and breastfeeding circulating out there. Maybe you have heard stories from other moms how the hops in beer will build low milk supply. How having a glass of alcohol will help you relax and increase your letdown.... Yeah, completely not true.
In fact, drinking alcohol actually can reduce milk supply and inhibit your letdown reflex. So although the occasional alcoholic beverage is safe for the breastfeeding relationship, for moms with supply issues it is simply not a good idea.
Sometimes the issue has to do with a side-effect of a medication you are taking. Birth control pills and cold or allergy medicines may reduce milk supply. Check with your pharmacist to see if any of the medications you are taking could be causing your low milk suply.
When all of the above steps have been taken and milk supply remains low or weight gain is still insufficient, talk to your lactation consultant about medications or herbal supplements that may help boost your supply. You should be sure to research any medications or supplements offered. Some medications do have side effects, and there simply is not a good body of research on the benefits of herbal supplements for increasing supply. Both should be used by informed mothers.
If you do opt for medication or supplements, just keep in mind that these medications work best when you are either breastfeeding or pumping frequently. It all goes back to that law of supply and demand. The more your body is stimulated, the more milk you will produce.