By Lela Davidson
Women are built for breastfeeding. No matter your age, weight, or cup size—if you can make a baby, you can probably make his perfect food, on demand. While it’s the most natural thing a mother can do, breastfeeding can be challenging. However, childbrith and postpartum doula Jennifer Rokeby-Mayeux, says not to worry. “Almost all women will make enough milk to nourish their baby or babies. Some justneed extra support to overcome obstacles.” Use these tips to help pump up your volume.
Start Right Away
“Babies are hard-wired to breastfeed,” says Certified Birth Doula and Childbirth Educator, Kim James. “Their reflexes, cues, and competencies at birth lead to the ability to breastfeed within hours after birth.” James says the best way to enhance both oxytocin and prolactin, the two hormones that are responsible for breast milk synthesis, is immediately after birth. “Skin-to-skin is magic,” she says. The more time the brand new baby spends in contact with mother the better. “During the first four days after birth, treat the mother and baby as if they are still umbilically linked.” In fact, James says that too much handling and holding by other people actually shuts down baby's feeding cues and reflexes. “If in-laws are available to help, they need to be doing household chores and feeding the dog instead of holding the baby, at least in the first week.”
To produce breast milk, you have to be hydrated. Seems logical, but most of us don’t drink enough water even when we’re not nursing. Rokeby-Mayeaux works with new mothers who are having trouble breastfeeding. The most common reason for difficulty is the mother not getting enough fluids. This challenge is easy to remedy. “Every time she nurses she needs to have a glass, mug, jug, or canteen filled with water to drink during the nursing session.” It’s important to take in plenty of water, but other liquids can contribute to the hydration efforts too. And what about a glass of vino? Rokeby-Mayeaux has many clients who swear by an evening drink. “Wine and beer are well and good as long as you don't overdo it,” she says. “If a glass of wine helps you relax and you have a great nursing session, then go for it.”
Stress can affect milk production and maybe, more importantly, make breastfeeding less satisfying than it could be. Try to think of nursing time as your break. Some mothers enjoy reading during feedings. Others are able to catch a quick nap, which can be a real stress buster since lack of sleep is one of the biggest contributors to stress. Rokeby-Mayeux suggests new moms set a goal of getting as much sleep in twenty-four hours as they used to require at night before they got pregnant. “If you needed seven hours of sleep each night to be rested, then you need to get in at least seven hours of naps and real sleep over the course of twenty-four hours.” This expert also stresses the importance of sleeping for a minimum of three to four hours straight each night.
Latch On, Latch Off
How you sit, hold your baby, and offer the breast all affect lactation. Vary your breastfeeding positions from feeding to feeding. Try several techniques and then settle on a few that are most comfortable. Your goal is the best latch, which means the entire areola—not just the nipple—is in the baby’s mouth. Look for baby’s upper and lower lips turning out and his chin touching the breast. James advocates a new method called “biologic nurturing” that increases comfort for mother and baby, encourages better initial latches, and ultimately leads to better milk supplies. “It’s all about tummy-on-tummy, laid back breastfeeding.” According to James, baby should be doing most of the work. “It turns out, we may have been over-thinking this whole breastfeeding thing.” Bottom line: keep switching the positions until you find what works best.
Eat a Sandwich
Hollywood presents an unrealistic ideal of childbirth and recovery. Why let a desire to get back into your pre-pregnancy jeans sabotage your breastfeeding efforts? – Just as when you were pregnant, you want to eat the most nutrient-dense food as possible, but a little avocado on your salad and some crème Brule aren’t going to hurt anyone. Remember, your baby is literally sucking those extra calories right out of you. According to the La Leche League, even mothers in famine conditions can produce nutritionally perfect milk. However, caring for a baby takes a lot of energy. If you don’t eat enough while breastfeeding, your body will begin to rob from its own reserves—in effect eating you. La Leche League recommends "eating to hunger" and "drinking to thirst."
Flash Your Breasts (More Often)
The best way to increase breast milk volume is to nurse frequently. “Babies can't tell time,” says Rokeby-Mayeux. This is her rationale for not putting babies on a schedule. James agrees, and explains why milk is made fastest when the breasts are emptied often. “When the breasts are empty, the prolactin receptor sites are shaped best to receive the prolactin hormone signals that say ‘turn on breastmilk making.’ When the breasts are full or haven't been fully emptied, the prolactin receptors change shape and won't allow the hormone to fit, essentially saying ‘turn off breastmilk making’.” James reminds new moms to offer both breasts at each feeding and be sure to empty both breasts, even if means pumping the other side.
Just Say No to Pacifiers and Bottles
Most experts agree that using pacifiers and bottles can slow down breast milk production, especially for mother with a baby younger than six months. This is because mother nurses less and the baby satisfies his sucking urges on the pacifier or bottle. What about those times when it is necessary to supplement breastfeeding with the bottle? If you have to miss a feeding, pumping will help to maintain milk production. However, because the hormone Oxytocin is released during breastfeeding and creates milk production, the body will produce much more with actual nursing over pumping.
Pump Up the Volume
If you must be away from your baby during feeding times, or if your breasts become injured, using a breast pump can make the difference between the breast and the bottle. But even if you never miss a feeding, pumping can be a great way to increase breast milk volume. Pumping breasts in between feedings can help build up and inventory of breast milk (which can be safely stored in the freezer) and, like frequent breastfeeding, essentially trains breasts to produce more milk. James says that women who want to increase their supply have to work at getting more milk out. The trick with pumping is frequency, not duration. “If mother can get five minutes of pumping in every forty minutes, she'll significantly increase her supply within forty-eight hours.” Of course, this presumes she is eating enough calories and getting enough fluid and rest to sustain the increase in production. “Get those in-laws back in to fix meals, vacuum and take out the dirty diapers so mother can kick back on the couch, eat, sip, nap, breastfeed and pump.”
If you are having trouble there are a lot of resources that can help, but don’t be surprised if your baby's pediatrician or your own health care provider is not especially knowledgeable or supportive of breastfeeding. Call the local La Leche League or a lactation specialist.
More information about how to increase breast milk supply is at your fingertips.
La Leche League, http://www.llli.org/
Breastfeeding Made Simple, http://www.breastfeedingmadesimple.com/
Biological Nurturing, http://www.biologicalnurturing.com/
Kelly Mom, http://kellymom.com/category/bf/
Lela Davidson is a frequent contributor to many local and regional family magazines and the Editor of ParentingSquad.com, which receives more than 75,000 page views per month.