Let me first say, before I go anywhere with this post, I’m NO expert. I am NOT a Lactation Consultant. I DO have a doctorate, but not in boobie functions (did I really just write “boobie functions”?!?!) With that said, I’m a research junkie, and when it comes to my kids you can bet that I’m pretty extensive. And when I say research, I’m not talking reading forums and comment reels; instead I’m referring to real statistical research. Of course I consult for anecdotal evidence, but that is not what I base my decisions on. When it came to nursing, I was thorough before Dutch was born and even more exhaustive on research after he arrived.
I’ve never really shared my nursing experience here (maybe I should?), but it has been extremely positive. As I was trying to prepare myself before Dutch was born, I got a lot of negative feedback about nursing (it’s painful, it’s hard, most women stop nursing by 2 months postpartum, etc). I can honestly say, that nursing has been one of the most natural and, dare I say, easiest and enjoyable experiences of motherhood. Considering how challenging conception was for us, I gladly take something natural. My breastfeeding journey in a nutshell: I have provided Dutch with breast milk for the first 19 months of his life (he’s only 19 months old right now…so hopefully that number will increase). I exclusively breastfed (EBF- no rice cereal, no formula, no solids) him for the first 8 months before he demonstrated interest in solids, and then continued to nurse him until he was 15 months old. When I got pregnant with Ellis, Dutch was 10 months old and I continued to nurse him while I was pregnant. Around the time he was 15 months old, and I was 5 months pregnant with Ellis, my milk started to dry up and I started to produce colostrum for Baby #2 (this is very normal & common). I continued to dry nurse him until Ellis was born. So far nursing with Ellis has been even easier than it was with Dutch and my supply is much greater. With Dutch, I only had about one week of milk stored up for him and I was always worried about having enough in case something happened. This time around my supply is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum and I’m storing like crazy.
Today I’m going to share the tips & tricks that I researched and practiced with Dutch to maintain my supply. If I need to try them again this time around I definitely will. So this post is as much for LWTH readers as it is for me lol There are two really important things to keep in mind before you even begin to gauge your nursing supply:
- Silly Pump, Tricks Are For Kids- Before you get anxious about your supply, keep in mind that what you’re expressing through a breast pump is not an accurate measure of what you’re actually producing. While pumps are great, they are nowhere near as effective at emptying the breast as a baby. So you are probably producing a little more than what you’re pumping; don’t let that number torture you. (Sidebar- I’m pumping right now as I write this post and I’m going to ignore the number on the bottle because it doesn’t matter!)
- Supply & Demand- Now you might not want to hear this, but boosting your supply here and there is easy with supplements, but if you really want to boost your supply AND maintain it, it will take a lot of effort, work, discipline, and dedication. Supplements will do very little for long-term effect. If you’re looking for a quick-fix or a pill to pop, there isn’t one. If there was, women wouldn’t have struggled with this for years. At the most realistic and natural level- your supply is just like the economy; a supply and demand economy. If your breast and brain are not registering that there is a demand then you will not produce. Pure and simple.
- Power Pump- Pump for 20 minutes on both sides simultaneously every 2 hours no matter what (day and night, for 3 days straight), even if baby is getting ready to nurse again, the body will adapt and think baby is going through a growth spurt and produce more. Do not pump one side and then the other; make sure to do it simultaneously for at least 15 minutes (20 minutes is best). Pump even at night, *even* if baby is sleeping. I know that sucks but it's only for a few days. The key is to keep the breast empty so the body makes more. Never, ever, go more than 4 hrs without emptying the breast. Even try compression pumping and hand expression when you're done pumping to get every last drop out. If you don’t empty the breast, the brain thinks you have made too much milk and so you will decrease production. (remember…supply & demand).
- Oatmeal- Eat oatmeal every morning, and not the instant kind but real oatmeal. Forget all that sugary stuff, just real boring oatmeal.
- Calories- Eat eat eat! Did you know that it takes more calories to make milk than it does to grow a baby?! When you’re pregnant you should eat 1200 calories/day, but with nursing you should be eating at least 1500! Of course this should be good and healthy foods, but you have to eat! “When your body is feeding a baby it is not the time to go on a diet” <~~~~ My caregiver told me this! And get this, research suggests that carbs are the best…..so bring on the calories!
- Water- Drink a ton! You should be drinking a minimum of 8 glasses of water a day (not sparkling water, or drinks that contain water, but real water). Again this can’t be just here and there; you’ve got to be consistent.
- Peppermint- Anything with peppermint should be avoided as it can decreases production- this includes essential oils.
- Fennel- I used Young Living’s fennel essential oil topically on my breast applied after nursing. You want to be careful with this though because the baby should not ingest this and you should not be exposed to this for more than 6 days straight. (Essential oils sidebar- My family is obviously big users, but you want to be really careful and aware of what you’re using. Oils are very powerful and can effect more than maybe what you intended. You want to stay away from reading blogs and pop culture commentary on EO’s. To really be informed, look at the scientific empirical studies and literature.) What you can do on daily basis and that is safer for baby is the Fenugreek oral supplement. This was initially designed to be a digestive supplement so obviously that means one side effect may be diarrhea. The fenugreek oral supplement you can take up to 12 a day. Take two every few hours with an entire glass of water. You're taking enough when your sweat smells like syrup. I know that's weird but it's true.
- Tea- Drink 1-2 cups of Mother's Milk tea a day, in addition to your water. With Dutch I packed this in my hospital bag but I totally forgot about it. I didn’t start drinking the tea until I got home and by day 5 without my milk arriving he was one hungry baby. I started drinking this tea and 45 minutes later my milk arrived. So with Ellis, I started drinking this just hours after she was born and my milk arrived before I even left the hospital. Happier baby and happier mama! I don’t mind the taste but some women do, so add a dash of my favorite raw organic & unfiltered honey.
- Beer- One dark hoppy beer every night. The hops increases lactation. Hops are very similar to oats (see #2). An IPA is a super hoppy beer.
- No Distractions- When you’re pumping or nursing, don’t do work or email or anything stressful during pump time. For me, my mind can only do one thing at time and anything stressful decreases my output. The smallest distraction decreases my supply. I have to be completely calm and relaxed to really express all of my milk. This is a good time to get on a TV show binge or read.
- Baby While Pumping- I know this sounds so primal but my doula & midwife both recommended it and it works: watch videos on your phone of your baby while you pump. These good feelings (and production of oxytocin) will promote lactation. When I was working I would also smell the jammies Dutch wore to bed the previous night while I pumped. Again, I know, it’s super primal but I swear it works!
- No Schedules- If baby is hungry, do not wait until a scheduled “lunch time”; babies don’t have that. They are hungry when they are hungry. Do not hold out milk (not good for baby and not good for your ta-tas). When baby shows signs of being hungry, even if it isn’t on his typical schedule, allow baby access to the breast. Nurse on demand. Schedules can be rigid sometimes and even stress out parents. Mama’s need to be as stress free as possible.
- Sleep- I know this is a bit humorous, but sleep as much as you can. If you’re taking care of your body by eating healthy, drinking water, and sleeping appropriately you will be more effective at producing. I know that is a lot, but if you do it all consistently for like 2-3 weeks, your supply will improve.