There are many things that can cause a breastfeeding mother to worry about her milk supply decreasing. As the body adjusts to the supply and demand of the child, and as the child itself becomes more proficient at nursing, a woman’s breasts will appear to stop producing enough milk.
Engorgement, over-active letdown, and regular leaking will diminish and may stop entirely. This is normal. The breasts are still producing enough milk to feed the nursing child; they simply aren’t producing twice as much as they need to, which causes the leaking breasts and powerful letdowns.
However, there are times when a woman’s milk supply will decrease on its own. If the demand for the milk lessens, which could be caused by a mother returning to work or a baby going on a nursing strike, the breasts will supply less milk. Stresses are a common factor of diminished supply. A nursing mother who becomes pregnant may find her milk supply decreasing as her body switches its attention to feeding the new fetus.
There are many ways to increase milk supply, even if the circumstances seem overwhelming or near impossible. The important thing is to nurse as frequently as possible and maintain a dedication and determination to breast feed.
Reduce your stress level. Probably the most overlooked factor of any change in the body is the lack of quality relaxation and a stress-free environment. Delegate tasks, put projects to the side until the breast milk supply is back under control. When nursing your baby, do so in a quiet room with no distractions. This is your opportunity to put your feet up for a few minutes and relax. The simple act of relaxing will encourage letdown; and at the same time there is nothing to distract the baby and make him stop nursing before he’s actually full.
Drink plenty of water. A body that doesn’t receive enough fluid intake is going to have a problem producing fluid! Drink at least a gallon of water a day. A good habit is to do this while baby is nursing; so that you do not forget.
Massage your breasts often. Babies will naturally knead the breast, triggering letdown. Take the time to massage your breasts while in the shower or bath, periodically throughout the day – such as when you’re in the bathroom, and especially while baby is nursing. Even though the letdown may not produce a leaking breast or a spray of milk, it will still occur. This will signal to the breast that the baby is nursing more often, even if in reality he isn’t. The breast will increase supply accordingly.
Watch your diet. A diet that consists of quick-fix food and loads of caffeine isn’t good for mother or baby. As well as needing plenty of fluids, your body also needs lots of nutrients to provide a nutritious meal for your baby. For a quick snack, grab some fruit instead of a candy bar or fast food.
For a nutritious, yet time-saving meal, throw something into a crockpot in the morning. At dinnertime, the meal will be cooked and ready, without you having to spend time watching over it. Vitamin-rich vegetables, protein-filled meats, and hundreds of different casseroles can be prepared in a crockpot with little or no effort, saving you plenty of time.
Use natural herbs. Even major chain department stores now carry various types of herbs in capsule form; freshly ground herbs can be purchased at health food stores and online. Fenugreek is an excellent herb to help increase milk supply.
It is an expectorant and has no side effects other than causing your milk to have a maple syrup scent. Milk Thistle is another wonderful supply enhancer, although not quite as effective as Fenugreek. There are also many brand-name teas available, such as Mother’s Milk, or Mother’s Milk Two for pregnant mothers who are nursing.
All of these things can increase a diminished milk supply greatly, even to the point of restoring the powerful spraying letdown if a mother is especially determined. The single most important factor, though, is letting the baby nurse on demand rather than on a set schedule. Allowing your baby to determine how frequently he needs to eat is key to coordinating an appropriate supply of milk.
If you can, carry your baby next to your body in a sling while you go about your day, so that a breast is readily available whenever the baby needs to nurse. Even if the baby is just nursing for comfort, an incredible bonding technique that formula does not provide, the breasts will see this as more demand and adjust their supply accordingly.
If nothing seems to be working or if the mother simply needs reassurance that her breasts are working as they should be, the La Leche League is only a phone call away. A La Leche League Leader can provide invaluable support, help a mother whose child is having trouble latching on or adjusting with new teeth, and can suggest many routes for increasing supply.
For a fee, a mother can visit a lactation consultant who specializes in supporting breastfeeding mothers. There are even supplemental nursing systems and lactational aids that will allow a mother to feed formula to her baby while the baby is nursing at the breast; which will stimulate the breasts to produce more milk while still assuring the baby is getting enough food in the meantime.
Take heart! There are ways to increase your milk supply or even bring back a supply that has completely dried up. Remember that your body grew your baby, and there is no better food than what your body custom-produces for your child. Formula does not provide the antibodies to illness that breast milk does, nor does it change and adjust according to the age and needs of your child like your breast milk does.
With a little effort and determination, you can overcome any breast feeding obstacle and give your child the food that Mother Nature intended!