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Milk Supply 101
Breast milk production can be confusing for new parents due to its variability and the lack of visible indicators. Many factors, such as baby’s demand, effective latching, frequency of feeding, and maternal well-being, influence milk production.
Colostrum – The First Milk
As soon as the placenta is delivered, your body goes into milk production overdrive. Your hormones shift tremendously, and you begin making colostrum, whether or not you plan on breastfeeding. If you are choosing to nurse, the first 72 hours postpartum are crucial for establishing milk supply.
Your newborn should be feeding at least 8 times a day. The first milk you make will be colostrum, which is full of protein, nutrient-dense, and highly concentrated. It is also thicker and more yellow than mature milk.
Milk “Coming In”
Most parents start making more milk within 3-7 days postpartum. Your breasts may feel tender, heavy, or even warm to the touch. Your nipples may also leak a little, a lot, or not at all.
By the end of the first week, your colostrum changes into thinner, whiter milk. The amount of milk typically increases rapidly as your baby’s stomach capacity expands.
After a couple days, milk production becomes less about hormones and more about maintenance. To keep producing milk, live by the motto “8 or more in 24”. Many newborns are exhausted and need to be woken up for feedings during the first couple of weeks (not fun, we know). If it’s been about 3 hours since their last feeding, initiate breastfeeding.
As your baby gets older, they will wake up independently when hungry. Follow their lead and feed whenever you notice the following hunger cues.
Common Infant Hunger Cues:
- Smacking or licking lips
- Opening and closing mouth
- Sucking on hands, fingers, toes, toys, or clothing
- Rooting around on parent’s chest
- Hitting you on the arm or chest repeatedly
- Moving head frantically from side to side
- Fussing or crying
If your baby misses a typical feeding, make sure to still express your milk. This will prevent plugged ducts, infections, and engorgement, which can reduce milk production.
Supply Between Breasts
Most breastfeeding parents have an uneven milk supply, meaning that their supply varies from breast to breast. This is completely normal.
Many new parents worry that they aren’t making enough milk. However, it is important to remember that breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. The only surefire way to increase your milk supply is by nursing more often during a 24-hour period. And, of course, make sure you are staying hydrated.
Some foods that are thought to boost milk supply include fenugreek, oatmeal, fennel seeds, lean meat, and garlic. Please consult your doctor and your baby’s pediatrician before using these foods to boost production. The evidence behind these foods increasing supply is purely anecdotal. There needs to be more high-quality research to fully support any claims.
It is also sometimes necessary to hand express or pump when…
- Baby isn’t latching properly
- Baby falls asleep during a feeding
- Parent has risks of low milk production
- Baby and parent are separated due to medical reasons
- Baby is premature
- Baby is sick
Nutrients & Supplements
The breastfeeding diet is similar to the pregnancy one but much more relaxed. Your milk’s fat, protein, and carbs do not depend on your diet. However, eating nutrient-dense foods provides much needed energy and exposes your baby to healthy flavors. Focus on protein, calcium, iron-rich foods, vitamin C, and omega 3s. Your body will burn 300-500 extra calories daily, so now is not the time to diet or track calories. However, you should drink around 16 cups of fluid daily and continue to take your prenatal vitamins.
Like during pregnancy, caffeine and high mercury fish should be minimized. Some herbal teas and supplements should also be avoided completely. Read tea labels carefully to make sure dangerous herbs haven’t been added.
Signs Baby is Eating Enough
Below are the signs that your baby is getting enough milk:
1. Weight Gain: Babies tend to lose weight during the first week after birth. However, if baby is still losing weight after 5 days, speak to your pediatrician. After the initial weight loss, your babe should gain weight continuously.
2. Wet Diapers: A newborn’s stool starts out black and sticky, then change to yellowish and loose by day 4-5. Seeing wet and dirty diapers daily is a good sign that your baby is getting enough to eat.
3. Swallowing: You should be able to hear or see your baby swallowing as they eat.
4. Relaxed Hands: Your baby may start feeding with their hands clenched in a fist, and as they get full, their hands will become relaxed and open.
Skin-to-skin contact activates your baby’s feeding instincts and stimulates milk flow – so snuggle your little one as much as possible! If you are concerned about baby’s latch or your milk supply, make sure to contact a lactation consultant. They can help determine whether or not your babe is getting enough milk.