This is one of the most commonly asked breastfeeding questions. When mothers observe certain normal changes and behaviors, they may assume their milk supply has decreased. This is often a "false alarm." Other times, a mother's milk supply may truly need to be increased.
At times, mothers are unnecessarily alarmed about their milk supply. They may not be aware of the normal process of breastfeeding. For example, by about the time a baby reaches 6 weeks to 2 months in age, mother's body has learned how much milk to make. Around this time, many women no longer feel "full." In addition, baby may be only nursing for five minutes at a time. These are not signs of decreased milk supply. They simply mean that both mother and baby are becoming more adept at breastfeeding. Mother's body has adjusted to the requirements for her baby and baby has become very efficient at removing the milk.
Some mothers become concerned about their milk supply if their baby begins to have fewer bowel movements. By about 6 weeks after the birth, colostrum is no longer present in a mother's milk. So this may mean that baby's bowel movements will decrease to one every day or even a few times each week. This is normal.
Another age-related "false alarm" is that babies will experience several "growth spurts" in the first few months of life. Generally, these occur around two to three weeks, six weeks and three months of age or they may happen at any time. These are days when baby wants to nurse longer and more frequently to build up mother's milk supply. Follow baby's lead on this by letting him breastfeed as often and as long as he wants. This will help bring up milk supply quickly. The breasts work on the law of supply and demand. The more baby "tells" mother's breasts to make milk, the more milk she will have.
By allowing your baby to nurse more frequently for a few days, your body will receive the message that more milk is needed for your growing baby. Once your supply has increased, your baby will usually return to his usual routine.
If your baby is not gaining well or is losing weight, you will want to keep in close contact with your baby's doctor. Often, improving breastfeeding techniques will help resolve the situation quickly, but in some cases slow weight gain may indicate a health problem.
Here are some ideas that may help you to increase your milk supply. Look them over and consider which might work for you.
- Contact a local La Leche League Leader for information and support.
- Encourage your baby to breastfeed frequently and for as long as he will.
- Offer both breasts at each feeding. Allow baby to stay at the first breast as long as he is actively sucking and swallowing. Offer the second breast when baby slows down or stops. "Finish the first breast first," is a good general rule. (This technique gives baby lots of the fatty "hindmilk.")
- Baby should end the feeding. He may do this by falling asleep and detaching from the breast after about 10 to 30 minutes of active sucking and swallowing.
- Be sure baby is latched on and positioned correctly at the breast, that is, lips should be on the areola (the darker skin area), well behind the nipple. An LLL Leader can help fine-tune positioning as well as suggest ideas to ease soreness. Breastfeeding isn't supposed to hurt.
- A sleepy baby may benefit from "switch nursing" that is, switching breasts two or three times during each feeding. Switch breasts when baby's sucking slows down and he swallows less often.
- All of baby's sucking should be at the breast. Limit or stop pacifier use while encouraging baby to nurse more effectively. If you are supplementing, even temporarily, you can give the supplement by spoon, cup, or with a nursing supplementer. Contact an LLL Leader for assistance in using these.
This may be a stressful time. Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own need for rest, relaxation, proper diet and enough fluids.
If you have more breastfeeding questions, visit the La Leche League website.