Supply-the six letter word that keeps breastfeeding moms up at night-literally!
Let's talk supply, shall we? How is it initiated, how is it maintained and how to increase it as a pumping mama.
For roughly 40 long weeks you nurtured your beautiful baby in the womb. You rubbed your belly and sang songs to him or her. You built a crib and washed and dried sweet, tiny clothes. You took birth classes and registered at the hospital. You had dream after dream of what the day will be like when you finally hold your child for the first time. What you may not have thought about is establishing and maintaining an adequate milk supply to feed your new baby. Doesn’t that just happen when you breastfeed? The answer is actually yes and no.
Around 20 weeks of pregnancy your body begins to make colostrum-that first sticky, sometimes yellowy perfect food for your baby. Once your baby is born and the placenta is delivered your hormone levels shift and your milk automatically starts to transition to “mature milk”. It increases in volume as your baby suckles and will meet baby’s needs if baby is fed early and often (usually 8-12 times in 24 hours in the first few weeks of life).
There are, however, some things that can get in the way of this initial process of transition to a mature and voluminous milk supply. Cesarean births can delay the transition for example. C-sections often include many interventions-medications, IV fluids, and separation of mom and baby to name a few. This cascade of interventions can even lead to unwanted formula supplementation which is often a downward cycle that can decrease milk supply. If you remember one thing, remember this: the early days of breastfeeding are very important. Baby should be with mom and allowed access to the breast frequently. Frequent draining of the breast triggers a response in the body to make more milk; the more you nurse the more milk you’ll make!
So, what about milk supply later down the road after the initial supply is established? One of the number one questions I get from moms is: how can I increase the volume of milk I pump. To answer this, first we should clear a few things up about stimulation and pumping.
Our bodies are truly amazing. We as women have the ability to nurture our babies in the womb through the placenta for 9 months and then again through our breasts for the first six(ish) months exclusively and then, quite possibly, for years as supplemental nourishment to table foods. We make the right milk in the right amount to nourish our baby. When we pump in addition to feeding at the breast we are actually asking for more milk than we need; that's a hefty order. Remember what I said above about how the more you nurse the more milk you make? The same applies here-the more you pump the more milk you make. There are however some things to keep in mind for this to work.
Our babies are the best at removing milk. They are the best pumps, so to speak. The electric or manual pump will always produce a different amount than our babies can remove at the breast. Why? Our babies smell good, they feel good and when they are at the breast we touch them and think about them and the hormones flow and boom-milk ejection! The pump on the other hand is just a cold impersonal machine. It just can’t trigger all the wonderful hormones that our sweet babies can.
All that being said, there are some things you can do. It's all about frequency of removal of milk, not duration of the pumping session. With a well-established supply we are always making milk and always up for making more if stimulated properly; it may take some time. Hands-on pumping is one way to stimulate the breasts for maximum milk removal. Power pumping is another technique to increase your overall volume of milk pumped in one day. (Hint, click on the underlined words to see links to those techniques).
One other thing to keep in mind is when you pump. Generally, women have more milk in the early morning time as the milk making hormone prolactin is higher at this time. If you can squeeze in additional pumping sessions before the sun comes up, you might just find your output will be a bit greater.
I'll end this with a quick word on galactogogues or foods or herbs that are believed to promote or increase milk supply. There are women all around the world who successfully breastfeed their babies while on varied diets. These diets range from vegan to completely animal-based. Additionally, women all over the globe have been successfully breastfeeding their babies for eons while consuming certain cultural foods or drinks that are believed to increase their milk supply. Some cultures promote hot drinks and others oatmeal. Maybe you've heard of fenugreek or brewer's yeast as potentials to increase supply. While these galactagogues' efficacy and safety has yet to be sufficiently researched, their use persists. The bottom line is that any milk supply issue is best evaluated first by a trained lactation professional before initiating the use of galactogogues.
What are some tips and techniques that have helped you to increase your milk supply? Do you have any cultural recipes that you've tried?