“I’m pregnant with baby number 3, and I really want to breastfeed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to produce enough breast milk for my first two pregnancies. Is there anything I can do to increase my supply? And can I start now or do I have to wait until Baby’s born?” ~ Sydney S.
Congrats on your third baby bun – and on your determination to make breastfeeding work this time around. That’s the very first and most important step in ensuring that third time’s the charm.
That said, you were determined the last two times, too. So to give breastfeeding the winning edge on this round, let’s add hands-on support to the mix. An IBCLC (a certified lactation consultant) can provide that support, along with the breastfeeding know-how that doesn’t necessarily come standard issue, as breasts do. Like I always say, breastfeeding is a natural process – but it doesn’t always come naturally, and it’s not inevitably just a matter of going with the flow, especially when the flow seems slow.
There is no reason to assume that since your body didn’t produce enough milk in the past, it won’t now. There are physical factors that can contribute to a low supply, but they’re not common — for instance, an imbalance of thyroid or other hormones, diabetes, past breast surgery (with a reduction more likely to impact milk supply than augmentation), or a lack of developed glandular tissue in the breasts (size doesn’t matter — it’s what inside that counts). Usually, it comes down to breast economics 101: Demand creates supply. Breastfeeding early and often — and getting that support from an IBCLC early and as often as necessary to make sure you and baby are on target — is almost always the key to producing enough milk.
And that’s true even before you’ve made your first drop of milk. It’s baby’s suckling on just teaspoons of colostrum that takes breasts to the next level of production, stimulating them to make milk, and then to make it in increasingly larger quantities — quantities meant to keep pace with baby’s increasingly larger appetite and tummy size.
Realistically, demand isn’t always where it should be right away. After an hour or so of adorable alertness, the perfect time for meeting and greeting but also for eating (that’s where the “early” comes in), newborns are usually super sleepy, but not super hungry. They’re typically more eager to nap than to nurse (that’s where the “often” becomes more of a challenge). Waking your baby every 2 to 3 hours for feeds — and waking him back up every time he nods back off – will help ensure that he’ll get the antibody-packed colostrum he needs, and that your breasts will get the stimulation they’ll need to produce the milk he’ll soon be hungry for. Once his demand picks up (some babies will continue needing wakeup calls for weeks to come), feeding by demand – instead of by the clock – will keep supply where he wants it and needs it. At times, that demand may seem a little over-the-top (so-called cluster feeds, typical during growth spurts, can make a mom feel like a diner that’s open 24/7), but that’s what beefs up supply — and babies. Power pumping (which is similar to cluster feeding) can also pump up supply significantly.
Sound easy? Sometimes it is. Sometimes, not so much — and that’s where lactation support comes in. To evaluate position, latch, technique, and to otherwise troubleshoot and problem solve. Happily, most problems can be solved.
Something else you and baby should have as early and often as possible: skin-to-skin contact. Snugging skin-to-skin at birth and beyond (particularly at feeds, but any time is a good time) not only promotes bonding and boosts your mood, but it’s linked to a better chance of breastfeeding success. Plus, it feels amazing (as you already know from past cuddling experience, Sydney!)
Thinking Mother’s Milk tea — or some lactation cookies to go with that tea? There’s no shortage of theories and anecdotes on what foods and drinks and supplements might pump up supply, but there’s no reliable research to back them up. Definitely check with your baby’s doctor or your OB practitioner before you turn to any herbal supplements. Lactation cookies are usually full of healthy ingredients (not to mention, energy-boosting B vitamins that every new mom needs) so no need to get the all-clear before tossing those back.
Other steps you can take ahead of that first feed, besides securing lactation support (start scouting now) include taking a class, reading up on breastfeeding on whattoexpect.com and in What to Expect the First Year (knowledge is power, mama!) and learning how to relax. Too much stress can definitely mess with breastfeeding success — so download some Calm and get busy. You can start pulling those chilling skills out now, but you’ll find them especially helpful during early feeding sessions. No advance prep needed for your breasts or your nipples (in case you were thinking about pumping ahead, that’s not only unnecessary and ineffective but can lead to too-early contractions). They come to breastfeeding fully equipped, if not yet fully loaded.
The really, really good news is that the fact that you’ve been there, done that twice already doesn’t mean you’re less likely to succeed at breastfeeding — it actually means you’re more likely to succeed. Especially if you get the support you need this time around.
And you know I’m always around to help!
Help Me, Heidi! is a weekly advice column in which What to Expect creator Heidi Murkoff answers your most pressing pregnancy and parenting questions. She’s tackling the stuff you are desperate to know right now — so if you have a question, ask Heidi on Facebook and she might answer in an upcoming column. (Not sure if Heidi’s answered one of your questions? Check out the rest of the columns here.)
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