I spend a lot of time making milk. I’m either nursing my baby or pumping while I work so our nanny can feed him. Sometimes he’s so distracted on weekends that I end up having to pump when I could have nursed, or I’m tied up cooking dinner or wiping my toddler’s butt so my husband gives him a bottle.
I am the mommy milk machine
Lactating isn’t a new experience for me anymore. I’ve actually been pregnant and/or nursing a baby nonstop since January of 2013. I had one baby, got pregnant while I was still nursing him and continued nursing him until the second trimester. I only had a few months where my boobs were my own before the second baby arrived.
Despite my time being the food source, I still worry about my supply. I even had an oversupply with my first son that took months to regulate, and I still worried. It’s a normal and common concern to worry about your milk supply as it’s literally a fluid issue. If you’re pumping and bottle feeding you can see how many ounces your baby is drinking. If you’re nursing, there’s no way to see that information unless you’re regularly doing a weigh-feed-weigh, which doesn’t sound realistic, relaxing, or sustainable at all. There’s no magic number when it comes to a breastfed baby; what they need falls within a range of normal and can be a daily moving target. There are calculators that can give a rough idea, but you will have days when your baby wants more or less.
Mind you, I’m not a lactation consultant. Those people are amazing and worth everything they cost when you need help nursing, and their services are at least partially covered in some insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. I needed a ton of help, and I’m passing on some of that information.
Establish the Supply
Establishing a good supply from the start is incredibly important. In the early days, enjoy that skin-to-skin with your fresh baby and nurse as much as the baby wants to. I am very pro nursing on demand, as the baby knows when he’s hungry and full and how often he would like to eat. It’s important to remember that even when the baby is hanging out on the boob using you as a human pacifier, it’s helpful to your milk supply. If it doesn’t make you nuts, go with it. It will get better and your baby will start to space out feedings without forcing them into a schedule.
Side note about scheduled feedings – you can and should do your own research if scheduling is something you want to do. There are those that suggest spacing feedings will get your baby to eat more at each sitting and then magically sleep longer. If this works for you and doesn’t negatively affect your supply, good for you! I tried this with my first son and it was a huge, miserable failure. He still didn’t want to eat more than he was comfortable eating in one sitting, and then he was just cranky, hungry and screaming while I was trying to make him wait longer. It was not restful and it didn’t improve sleep for either of us. I called that experiment off rather quickly, accepting that he wanted to eat smaller meals more frequently. His dad eats food like this – as do many adults – so I’m not sure it was fair to him as a baby to expect something different.
Breastfeeding is supply and demand. When you empty the milk from your boobs, your body will make more to fill it back up for the next round. It’s actually more like someone drinking a milkshake with one straw while someone else is pouring more milkshake into the cup to replace it and not that it totally empties: “I see you like this milkshake, so I’ll keep pouring more in for you to enjoy!”
There are times when the near-constant nursing in the beginning is challenging. Both of my boys had tongue ties, and I had to pump frequently with my first son to protect the supply and force it to come in while we waited to get his tie corrected. If I had just relied on his inefficient nursing to bring in my milk, it may not have come in as much as he really needed it to.
Protect the Supply!
I was panic stricken with the thought of tanking my supply inadvertently. With my first child I made sure that if I was away and may miss a feeding I brought my pump with me, or made up for any missed feedings as soon as was feasible. I brought my Freestyle with me on overnight work trips (obviously), but I also brought it with me to weddings if I was going to be away for more than a few hours. I’ve been more lax with my second son, and there are times I pay for it.
What I’ve relied on this time around are ways to sustain and increase my milk supply other than adding in an extra pumping session.
WTF is a Galactagogue?
Galactagogues are foods or drugs that help promote lactation, also known as things you can eat, drink or otherwise ingest that help the milk making.
You can take the milk promoting idea to whatever level you would like. There are herbal supplements you can take, like Fenugreek, and then there are things you can add into your routine that are easy, low-cost options that you may realize you already do naturally.
This is by no means a complete list of all options, but these are the things I do to help my milk supply:
- Stay hydrated. There are women that set a goal like drink a gallon of water a day. I pee my pants when I sneeze so I don’t like the idea of my bladder dangerously full like that. I do make sure that I always have a glass of water in front of me or a reusable bottle on me.
- Eat rolled oats for breakfast. Oatmeal – the real deal and not the powdering instant stuff – is one of the whole grains that is awesome for you in general and helps boost supply.
- Drink tea. Lactation tea is a thing, and it is delicious! I also mix it up and drink straight fennel and chamomile teas, either on their own or together, with honey. In the summer they were awesome iced.
- Lactation Cookies. This is a great excuse to eat cookies. I like this recipe from Weelicious, as it uses a good amount of flax, brewer’s yeast and oatmeal, but enough sugar that you can’t taste the brewer’s yeast. It has the added benefit of almonds as well. I like to make a batch and freeze them, pretending that it will take me months to eat them. I now really like barely thawed cookies and they’re gone faster than I would like to admit. (Note: I modified this recipe a bit. I like it with roughly chopped roasted almonds, reduced salt to counter for the almonds, and a bit more coconut oil and less butter. I’ve also throw in walnuts and semi-sweet chips when I ran out of dark chocolate. It’s a forgiving recipe. I made it this week with raisins instead of chocolate, more flax and yeast, less sugar and roasted unsalted almonds and it was delish.)
With two kids, I like the easy options that are also enjoyable, like my go-to tea and cookies snack.
The other thing that helps protect the supply is getting enough rest. This is an extremely hard thing to come by in the first year. I reached a breaking point a couple of months ago and I had to pump before bed, hand my husband a bottle and go sleep in the attic where I couldn’t hear the baby cry. It took two nights of undisturbed sleep before I felt slightly less frayed at the edges. I hate the suggestion to new and nursing moms to get more rest, as it’s not always feasible. If you can, take a nap. Or even better: have tea, cookies and a snooze – you deserve it for the excellent work you’re doing keeping another human alive.