Breastfeeding might be the most natural thing in the world but it is also bloody hard work!
I thought that breastfeeding would just involve lovingly placing my baby to my breast and, hey presto, we would be off!
In reality it involved tears (both mine and my baby’s), blistered nipples, breast pumps, mastitis, sleep deprivation and, ultimately, an insufficient milk supply.
Low milk supply is not uncommon in breastfeeding mummas. In fact, it is one of the most commonly cited reasons for early cessation or decreased exclusivity in breastfeeding mums.
I struggled with low milk supply for many months and there were times that it felt like my whole life was spent trying to produce milk (I actually developed quite an affinity to dairy cows during this time).
However, I am happy to report that, with the right steps and supports, I did eventually manage to increase my milk supply. I have been able to achieve and maintain a successful breastfeeding relationship with my son, something I treasure more than words can say.
So, if like me, you have low milk supply, here are 6 steps to boost your breast milk!
- Back to Basics
The key to increasing milk supply is to increase the frequency and efficiency of removing milk from the breasts.
Before you do anything else, ensure that you have covered the breastfeeding basics.
- Ensure you have good positioning and attachment (a lactation consultant or GP can help you with this)
- Have plenty of skin-to-skin cuddles with your baby. Skin-to-skin contact helps stimulate the hormone oxytocin and the release of prolactin, which helps with milk production.
- Relax and take care of yourself (easier said than done, I know). Try to get some rest, drink plenty of water, and eat well.
- Breast Compressions
I found this to be the most simple and effective method for increasing the amount of milk drained from my breasts. If you take nothing else away from this, take this: learn to do effective breast compressions!
- Ensure your baby is in a good breastfeeding position with a deep latch.
- Hold your breast with your free hand and place your thumb on one side of your breast and your fingers on the other (ensuring not to disturb baby’s latch)
- Watch for baby to be actively sucking, and gently squeeze your breast (it shouldn’t be uncomfortable or painful!)
- Maintain the pressure while bub is actively sucking and release when bub pauses from sucking
- Repeat this action each time baby starts sucking and continue until you have finished feeding from that breast. Repeat this process when feeding on the other breast.
This video demonstrates it quite well.
This technique is also useful to do whilst using a breast pump or hand expressing. In this case, hold the compression on your breast for the count of 5 seconds and then release and for 5 seconds, repeating until you have finished your pumping session.
Breast milk production works on the premise of demand equals supply. The more often milk is being removed from your breasts, the more milk your body will produce.
Therefore, in order to increase your supply, it is recommended that you breastfeed at least every 3 hours (night and day), aiming for at 8-12 feeds per day.
- Enlist the help of a Boobie Brigade
Just like how it takes a village to raise a child, I believe that it also takes a village to breastfeed a baby!
In order to overcome low milk supply and achieve a successful breastfeeding relationship, you will need a team of people to help and support you (aka your Boobie Brigade).
Surround yourself with people who support you and who value your breastfeeding journey. Friends and family can provide practical assistance by helping out around the house, whilst you focus on skin-to-skin time with your baby. Moral support and encouragement are also essential.
The help of a qualified lactation consultant is also invaluable! You want someone that will take the time to help you find the root cause of your low milk supply and work with you to develop an individualised management plan.
As someone who developed a deep resentment for my breast pump, I hate myself a little for recommending this, but alas, I must.
Expressing after each breastfeed will increase milk production by removing more milk from your breasts than breastfeeding alone.
Power pumping is another expressing technique that can boost your supply (warning: the exciting name is misleading in how fun this activity actually is). For 1 hour a day, express intermittently by pumping for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, and repeat. I used to do this in the evening whilst binge watching Netflix.
- Give yourself permission to stop.
The desire and drive to breastfeed my baby was deeply ingrained in me. So strong was this desire that I preserved through pain, sleep deprivation and anxiety.
There were times when the weight of the task was so immense that it threatened to undo me. At times I had to ask myself, ‘is it time to give up?’
I know that there will be mums out there that are currently asking themselves the same question. Mums that, in spite of their best efforts and for a multitude of reasons, are losing their breastfeeding battle.
To those mums I want you to know that it is ok to give yourself permission to stop.
Forgive yourself this perceived failure. Because the truth is that you have NOT failed. You did your best and now it is time to try something else. It is ok to give yourself permission to rest.
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P.S. If you enjoyed reading this article you may also like to read ‘MY EXPERIENCE WITH POSTPARTUM PTSD‘