Okay folks, first things first, this is not a ‘how to increase milk supply breastfeeding’ post, but, more honestly, it’s a ‘breastfeeding realities that are completely normal and should hopefully help you ignore the outside noise and trust your body and your baby to do what they’re designed to do, which will naturally increase milk supply, the way your body does its thing…’
So, is low supply not a real thing?
Let me start by saying there absolutely IS a thing as low supply, but this isn’t as common as we are led to believe! There are real signs of this, however, it isn’t common!
Take a read of the warning signs of issues here.
Symptoms of low supply or feeding issues:
- Consistent weight loss/persistently low weight gain.
- A very low pee output.
- Signs of dehydration (sunken soft spot on skull, dark urine, dry mouth.).
- A VERY sleepy baby may also alert you to the first signs, but when counting how many feeds your baby has within 24 hours, make sure to count those overnight feeds too, and not just the day feeds.
If your baby is exhibiting any signs of dehydration then it is crucial you seek medical advice.
Breastfeeding truths I wish I’d have known before becoming a mother (with all the postpartum hormones and emotions)…
- Almost all babies lose weight after birth.
This is completely normal, and there is a percentage of weight that medical professionals are comfortable with them losing before they worry… (but sometimes, your baby will push the limits of this just to freak you out, whilst remaining completely healthy…). If the parent has received a lot of IV fluids during labour, this can cause an artificially high birth weight, so it may appear as if baby has a higher weight loss than ‘normal’. It’s important to look at the bigger picture with your Health Care Professional, and if you’re ever unsure or feel disregarded in your instincts, seek a second opinion.
- A large percentage of babies become jaundiced in the first week or so of life (yellowish tint to their skin and eyes).
Most of this is a naturally physiological process that needs no action other than regular feeds, but it is important to watch for signs of dehydration (as stated earlier) because problematic jaundice and dehydration often go hand in hand.
You can read more about why this happens, and if and when to be concerned, in this fantastically informative La Leche League post.
- Your milk can be delayed in ‘coming in’. This is still okay.
There are multiple reasons why there could be a delay in your milk ‘coming in’ following colostrum.
It’s typical for a persons milk to come in around 72 hours after delivery, but it can take up to 5 days.
The following may affect/delay this and it’s not talked about enough!!:
– Caesarean Birth
– Insulin Dependant Diabetes
– Certain Pain Relief used during Labour
– Blood Loss during Labour and Delivery (This was ME!)
– PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)
– Birth Trauma
– High Blood Pressure
– Thyroid Issues
– Retention of the Placenta
As you can see, there are so many reasons that a birthing person may experience a delay in their milk coming in, and it really isn’t discussed enough. This delay can also mean a delay in your baby gaining weight, and a delay in your baby clearing the red blood cells/bilirubin out of their system meaning the jaundice can last longer. Please seek support if this is something you sense is happening, but remember that your milk should soon catch up given a few extra days.
- Your nipples CAN get sore, even with the best latch!
Honestly!! If you energetically sucked your finger for days straight, it would also be bloody sore, and your finger is nowhere near as sensitive as your nipple! There are other signs of a bad latch, so if you’re pretty sure your latch is good and you’re still sore after cluster feeds, don’t take in offensive comments about latch always being the issue!
- All babies are nocturnal (awake more at night), BUT FOR A REASON.
Yes, it’s quite well spread that babies breastfed don’t always sleep for long, but apart from the fact that this is being very presumptive about every baby, it also leaves out the reasons behind WHY this happens, and why it’s a positive! (Come on professionals, give parents a positive!!)
– Prolactin levels (the things that direct milk production) are higher at night time. So your baby is getting the best feeds then!
– Frequent night waking is protective against cot death.
– It’s instinctual for baby to feel safe when it’s quiet and calm.
– It’s important for keeping your milk supply where it needs to be.
- When people ask what gifts you need for the baby, instead ASK FOR FOOD GIFTS FOR YOU.
This really applies to all new parents, but for a breastfeeding parent this is invaluable. You won’t have time or opportunity for hours/days sometimes to get up and make yourself food (and drinks too!)… By asking for food gifts, whether it be homemade food you can pop in the fridge/freezer, gift vouchers for food delivery, ordering you a food delivery, healthy ready meals etc, you’re going to be getting something that helps you when you’re stuck under a cluster feeding baby, and helps you to stay nourished and therefore slightly more positive.
The more lacking in food and drink you are, the less good you’re going to feel both physically and mentally! Also, keeping well fed helps with milk supply!!
- ORDER A BIG ASS WATER BOTTLE.
Breastfeeding makes you THIRSTY. Make sure you have a drink to hand if someone isn’t around to pass you one. I’m talking a gallon! (See below!) The biggest water jug you can find with a straw attached! GET IT! Treat yourself, or even better, get that on your baby gift list. This is the same point as number 5, staying fed and hydrated is crucial to your physical and mental wellbeing as a new parent, and when you’re pinned under a baby and your partner is working ALL DAY, your super jugs are gonna be SO grateful for this super jug!!
- Feeding for hours/days with minimal breaks or erratic feeds is NORMAL.
Yep. You know how some days you just fancy a bit of this and that, but then other days (cough* PMT *cough) you want pancakes with ice cream, 5 pizzas and a sacrificial gift from the gods?! Yeah? Babies do that too!
When babies cluster feed, it’s just their way of signalling to your magical boobs that they’re growing and need a little more… If you trust in your magical super jugs, they will listen to these signals from your babe being at the breast constantly, and increase their output.
- If your baby is constantly at the boob and not gaining in the first week or so they don’t necessarily need top ups!
I want to be very careful here not to undermine when there ARE issues with weight gain, and when babies will show more symptoms and continue to drop weight drastically. This is a real issue, so please please, if baby shows any of the signs I mentioned in regards to dehydration at the start of this post, on top of weight loss, SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE!
Your breastfed baby may just not gain weight according to ‘the charts’, and your milk may just take little longer to come in, and therefore baby may be playing catch up weight wise. You may be advised that ‘top ups’ can help (this could be pumping to top up OR formula), but honestly, top ups can make the entire issue WORSE, because by topping up you’re not allowing your boobs to catch up in producing enough to satisfy your baby, and with a healthy newborn, the best way to increase your milk supply quickly is to allow your babe to the boob whenever they want and for as long as they want, and by trying to express to top up I guarantee you’ll feel disappointed with the small amount you can express, this will then lead you to questioning your milk supply (spoiler, pumps don’t stimulate the breast the way baby does), and it will become a vicious cycle that will end up with you (parent) feeling like you’re failing. You are NOT failing.
- THE BEST WAY TO INCREASE YOUR MILK SUPPLY IS TO FEED YOUR BABY. (Honestly, it’s THAT SIMPLE.)
I just wish I could say this to all parents to be. Don’t express unless you want to, expressing in the early days leads to feelings of disappointment and failure, and doesn’t increase your supply the way keeping baby on the boob does.
Lactation products are tasty, and they can surely help in keeping you nourished and supported, but the best way to increase that supply to where your baby needs it is to let your baby feed as often and for as long as they need.
Top ups, while they make you feel like you’re finally meeting your babies needs in the short term, are creating a signal from your baby to your breasts that they are no longer hungry, or they don’t need that feed… Thus continuing the cycle of baby not getting enough milk from the boob.
It isn’t a case of topping up until your milk catches up, because the only way your milk catches up is by performing the feed that you’ve ended with a top up, or giving them boob instead of a top up. Otherwise your baby isn’t signally that your milk needs to catch up.
- Your baby happily guzzling down a top up bottle is NOT a sign that you’re not producing enough milk…
Think of it like this. If you had to make a nourishing meal from scratch, it would take time and then you would eat a sufficient amount. If someone then offered you a pudding that they’d prepared, you would (if you’re anything like me) then eat all of it, and seconds, maybe thirds, until you’re way past full.
- SIDE LYING FEEDING POSITION.
This is honestly THE ONE for an exhausted parent, who is concerned about dropping a feeding baby when they’re sleepy.
(image by The Motherhood Society)
- For long/cluster feeds, switching boob roughly every 30 minutes is the magic spot.
Something about not going for too long between feeds on each boob, and also signalling to both boobs that they need to be upping supply. After a LOT of google searches, it seems that the 30 minute mark is the ‘sweet spot’ of switchover! This helped with my milk supply catching up. Prior to this I fed for HOURS on one side, thinking that baby would get more hind milk, I was wrong. HA! (please note that quite obviously this is only to parents planning to feed one baby from both boobs! If you have multiples OR you prefer to feed from one side, that absolutely fine too!!)
- The fore milk/hind milk thing is NOT something you would usually need to worry about.
Hey, I get it! I researched ALL OF THE THINGS about breastfeeding and breastmilk. I’m definitely THAT person. But what I’ve learned through my journeys… Your boobs do the sorting out, and it’s VERY rare that this would become an issue to the point you would notice/need to do something about it! Your boobs are incredibly intelligent. Your baby will signal to them exactly what they need. For a great read to settle your mind on this topic, I recommend this La Leche League article on the fore milk/hind milk debate.
- Baby will need your boob for comfort. They’re supposed to.
I know it’s frustrating, and if that’s too much for you THAT’S OKAY TOO! But your baby isn’t ‘using’ you for this purpose. Your baby is simply doing what is instinctual, and biologically programmed, It is NOT manipulation.
- If breastfeeding is too much. If it doesn’t feel okay. If you just CAN’T take it anymore. If it’s making you miserable. If it’s not comfortable for you. If you can’t produce enough milk. If you couldn’t do it and you wanted to. If you didn’t want to… THAT’S ALL OKAY, AND SHAMING ANYONE FOR THEIR CHOICES IS JUST BEING A BIT OF AN ARSEHOLE to be quite honest.
Please seek support from multiple outlets when struggling with ANY part of your feeding/motherhood journey. It’s not always the case that the one GP/Midwife/Doctor/Friend/Family Member/Random, over opinionated passerby on the street, will know what you specifically need support with, and I promise you, whatever you’re feeling is valid. Your experiences are valid. Your feelings are valid. There is help.
Sadly, many Health Care Professionals still don’t understand breastfeeding fully, and still give incorrect advice.
There are a myriad of places to reach out these days, that can truly take the time to listen at the moments you’re falling apart.
I hope this post helps you or someone you love who is desperate for help.
PS – This post is for breastfeeding parents struggling, or parents to be wanting some advice from my experience. You will never find me belittling any experience you’ve gone through as a parent or a parent to be. If you formula fed, I’ve got your back too, and I’ll fight anyone who tries to make you feel shit about that! If you wanted to breastfeed and didn’t have the support, I’ve got you too! If you wanted to breastfeed and didn’t have the supply, I’ve got you!
My biggest value is supporting ALL parents on this journey called parenthood, and you are no less of a person for how you fed your baby, or the journey you took.