Making Milk: A Nursing Mama’s Survival Guide

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Breastfeeding. It’s what your breasts were made for, right? But for so many mothers, including myself, it feels anything but natural – at least at first.

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I was able to breastfeed both of my children, but it definitely took some serious effort, asking for help, and -until I figured it out – pain.

My first child had a magical way of making me feel like she was trying to gnaw my nipple off in her enthusiasm to get to my milk.  Toes curled and lip bitten, I suffered through it for a few weeks until my husband begged me to quit because I was so miserable.  Instead, I called the Breastfeeding Clinic at St. John’s Hospital. That appointment saved my quest for the breast, and I learned how to help correct my daughter’s latch and make nursing pain free. Once we figured it out, I was so grateful to be able to have food for her everywhere we went that was FREE! She nursed for 15 months, until she decided there were more exciting things to do and foods to eat.

When my son was born a few years later, I was hoping for an easier go of it and figured it would be like riding a bike… Well, I was dead wrong. My beautiful boy wanted nothing to do with ANYTHING near his mouth, least of all my breast or even a bottle of my milk. I pumped and finger fed through a tube or dropper for over 6 weeks. During that time we saw the team at the breastfeeding clinic multiple times, our midwife, our pediatrician, and even an occupational therapist. What we succeeded in was getting him to take a bottle willingly, so I pumped for a year to provide my son with my milk.

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During the course of my two breastfeeding experiences, I tried every trick, tip, and strategy I could glean from books, friends, lactation consultants, midwives, and of course, the internet!

The following information is what I found most useful to me and women that I know.  Please always consult your personal physician before taking any herbs or supplements!

1 – Find support. It definitely takes a village. Speak to friends who have done it, call a lactation consultant, or go to a La Leche League meeting. If you know during pregnancy that you want to breastfeed, have the contact information for these people on hand before you give birth.

2 – Rest. Most new moms will want to slap me for saying this, but it’s the truth. If you don’t find a way to sleep, your milk supply will likely suffer. Let the dishes and the laundry go. Let your toddler watch some TV. ASK FOR HELP so you can SLEEP.

3 – Get adequate nutrition AND fluids. Sometimes in the new baby fog, you forget to put food in your mouth. Keep finger foods available to snack on. Fruits, veggies, string cheese, yogurt, & nuts are fantastic, easy options. You also want to be drinking *at least* half of your body weight in ounces of water, so if you weigh 150lbs, you need at least 75oz of water each day. Caffeinated drinks do not count! Water, herbal teas, soup broth, and fresh juices all count toward your water intake.

4 – If your baby is growing and making dirty diapers, you are probably making enough milk. It’s easy to freak out because you don’t know exactly how many ounces of milk your baby is getting each time he or she nurses. That stress can hinder your production, so trust what is right in front of your eyes – wet diapers, poopy diapers, and that beautiful baby who keeps growing and gaining!

5 – Know that it’s totally normal for your baby to feed often! Newborns have tiny stomachs which don’t have a huge capacity. Your breastmilk is also very easily digestible and passes through your baby’s system quickly, at which point they need more! There is also a capacity related to your breasts and how much milk they can store, and it is not necessarily indicated by their size. If your capacity is on the lower end, your baby may continue to feed often, even when they are older and their stomach is large enough to hold more milk.

6 – If you know your supply is on the lower side, or want to ensure that it stays where it is there are some things to consider, including foods and herbs (known as known as galactogoguges), along with other natural methods that have been used traditionally to encourage milk production:

  • Breastmilk is made on a demand basis. The more often to feed your baby or pump, the more milk you will make. If you supplement with formula instead of feeding at the breast, your body will naturally make less milk due to the reduced demand. So if you supplement, add in a pump session.
  • Don’t skip the overnight feedings or pump sessions. As tempting as it may be (and contradictory to survival tip #1) to sleep through the night when your baby night weans, if your milk supply is in question, nurse or pump at least once between 11pm and 6am. This is when your milk making hormone levels of prolactin are highest, and not draining the breast during this time may cause your body to produce less milk.
  • Oats, barley, beets, carrot juice, almonds, avocados, leafy greens, and brown rice may all help support lactation and are healthy choices, so try including them in your diet daily. There are many lactation cookie recipes to be found on Pinterest that include oats for an easy (and tasty!) way to try and boost your supply.
  • Herbs that have been traditionally used for supporting lactation include alfalfa, blessed thistle, dandelion root & leaves, marshmallow root, nettle, red raspberry leaves, and fenugreek. Many of these can be found in lactation teas which are sold in health stores for an easy way to incorporate some of these herbs into your diet.
  • Fennel essential oil, diluted in a carrier oil like olive oil and applied to the breast (not the nipple) 2-3 times per day for a week or two has been successful in promoting supply for many breastfeeding moms that I know.
  • Take a one day “nursing staycation” – stay in bed for a day with your nursling, snuggling skin-to-skin, nursing, and napping together.

7 – For pumping mamas, know that the amount you pump is not necessarily representative of the amount your baby gets when nursing. Your baby is much more efficient at removing milk from the breast than a machine can ever be. There is a hormonal component that a pump cannot mimic, and some women have a hard time letting down at the pump. Here are some strategies specific to pumping:

  • Think of your baby, look at pictures or videos on your phone. Keep a receiving blanket or yesterday’s onesie in your pump bag a smell it when you pump.
  • Make sure that your pump is ready to rock. Check the seals and tubing to make sure they are intact and have good connections. If you pump daily or are an exclusive pumper, know that most “off the shelf” pumps are only meant for light duty use and may lose suction power after 6 months of daily use 3x/day. If your pump is slowing down, it may be time for a replacement or consider renting a hospital grade pump.
  • Pump for at least 20 minutes, or 5 minutes past the last drop, to ensure that the breasts are drained. Double pumping is most efficient.
  • Halfway through your pumping session, unhook yourself and jiggle and shake each breast for 30 seconds to help encourage milk flow, then hook back up and finish.
  • Do breast compressions throughout the pump session.
  • A “power pump” day can help boost your supply.  To do this, leave your pumping gear out and ready to rock, and every time you walk by it, stop and pump for at least 5 minutes.
  • A time saving tip I wish I had known sooner was to stash pump parts in a large zip top bag and keep them in the fridge between sessions.  That way you can wash them at the end of each day and not every time you pump!

Breastfeeding can be challenging, but please know that you’re not alone! Reach out when you need help, whether it be to someone you know or even in an online parenting group. Chances are there’s someone who’s been there too and ready to listen to you.

However you feed your baby, whether bottle or breast, we here at Detroit Moms Blog think you are awesome! What are your best infant feeding tips?

 

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Hi! I'm Erica, mom to two awesome kids, wife, certified Natural Health Educator, and small business owner. I'm a perpetual student, and currently halfway through a 4 year program to become a certified traditional naturopath. I recently opened Nature's Wisdom in Saint Clair Shores, which houses a natural remedy shop and my natural health services. Outside of work and family life, I'm an avid yogi, amateur photographer, bookworm, and I love making time for my best girl friends. I was raised in the Detroit 'burbs, and now enjoy sharing my love of the city with my kids and husband (a Flint native) - You can find us exploring the flavors of Eastern Market and fishing on Belle Isle most Saturdays!

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