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I have a confession to make: I was nothing short of over-prepared when we were expecting our first little bundle of joy. I had my hospital bag packed at 20 weeks (just in case), I read all of the latest baby books and did substantial research about how to care for babies. I had several baby food recipes filed, and while I can’t quite remember, I am pretty sure I already had a daily schedule jotted down somewhere of when our little one will sleep, feed and be bathed.
Then, at 41 weeks, our daughter was finally born (I really shouldn’t have packed that hospital bag so early, right?). She was born at around 10 pm and as they put her in my arms, it was as if I suddenly forgot everything I have ever read or heard about babies! She cried so loudly that a nurse thought I might have dropped her and she continued to cry throughout the night – well, she only really stopped crying when she turned one year old, or at least, that is what it felt like!
I decided that I wanted to breastfeed even before I got pregnant and our little girl latched on quite easily during feedings at the hospital. It seemed like she never managed to drink much at a time though so when she was still crying on day three, we did what all new parents do: We checked her fever, checked her diaper, rubbed out winds and when she was still crying, we made our first mistake, assuming that the crying was due to hunger.
My second mistake was trying to express milk with a manual breast pump to see whether or not I had enough milk. Needless to say, hardly anything came out in the space of a half an hour, and I came seriously close to buying formula that day. I didn’t though, and I am so grateful that my mother encouraged and supported me to continue breastfeeding during that time.
What I’m getting at though, is that becoming a new mom can be so exciting and yet so overwhelming at the same time. I managed to continue breastfeeding without any supplementary formula, and our little girl nursed like a champ as time went by – I just needed to relax a little. So I would like to offer new moms encouragement and a few tips on how to increase your milk supply during those first few weeks so that you can avoid supplementing if that is what you wish to do – no judgment if don’t – your little one will still grow up to wonderful, so no pressure!
Let’s start with the dos:
- 1 1. Eat well and get enough rest
- 2 2. Stay hydrated
- 3 3. Feed your baby regularly
- 4 4. Make use of a breast pump
- 5 5. Make use of both breasts during a feeding
- 6 6. Proper latching
- 7 7. Drink your postnatal vitamins
- 8 Things to Avoid
1. Eat well and get enough rest
While we understand that taking care of your new baby is your priority now, do not forget to take care of yourself. I remember rolling my eyes when friends gave me this advice because seriously, a tiny human depends on you now! The truth, however, is that a lack of sleep and a poor diet could influence your milk supply negatively.
Breastfeeding moms need approximately 300 – 500 additional calories per day and while it may be tempting to go for fast food when the house is a mess, and you are tired, try going for healthier options that will provide sustainable energy throughout the day. If friends come by asking if there is anything they can do to help, don’t be shy to opt for a home cooked meal. Also, sleep whenever your baby is sleeping – You never know when your next nap will be, and quite honestly, the dishes and social media replies can wait.
2. Stay hydrated
Ensure that you drink enough water throughout the day. If you are dehydrated, you will hinder your body’s ability to produce breast milk effectively and efficiently.
I always used to have a bottle of water on the table next to me whenever I sat down to breastfeed and never went to bed without a bottle of water at night. You are going to have to get up for feedings during the night anyway if that is what you are worried about. Good hydration will aid milk supply, and if that is not enough motivation, you may even avoid dreaded constipation as well as reduce your chances of hemorrhoids during those early weeks if you stay well hydrated.
3. Feed your baby regularly
Forget about even trying to establish a feeding schedule within the first four to six weeks. When your baby is hungry, feed him or her.
Breast milk pretty much works on a supply and demand principle – The more your little one feeds, the more milk your body will produce. This is also why many people will advise you against supplementing a feed during this time – your body will assume you don’t need extra milk and your milk supply will automatically decrease. Sometimes just letting your little one suck for a few minutes will trigger your body into increasing milk supply.
4. Make use of a breast pump
I have to admit, I was rather appalled when someone even suggested that I make use of a breast pump – I was dead set on exclusively breastfeeding, using breasts only. There would be no room for breast pumps of any kind my baby room. Needless to say, I was just naïve and stubborn.
Using a breast pump will stimulate the breast and send the message through to your body to increase the milk supply. You don’t even have to use the milk you’ve expressed if you want to avoid nipple confusion (which is something to keep in mind), but you can also freeze the milk for down the line when you and hubby are ready to go on that special date night.
5. Make use of both breasts during a feeding
During the first few weeks, you should offer both breasts to your little one during a feeding – the key is just to keep alternating whichever breast to offer first. There are wonderful armbands such as the Breastfeeding Reminder Bracelet from Milk Bands to help you remember which side baby nursed from last time. However, I had a good old rubber arm bracelet laying around, and I just used to put it on whichever side baby nursed from last.
The trick is to offer the one breast as a proper feeding, and the second sort of like “dessert”. This means your little one will get most of their feed from the one breast and will only feed for a little while on the second, enough to signal the body to increase supply.
6. Proper latching
It is essential for a good feed that your baby is latching correctly. If your little one is not latching correctly, they may not be able to efficiently drain your breasts, which will lead to decreased milk supply and may cause the baby to still be hungry after feedings.
If you are unsure of whether or not your sweet pea is latching on properly, be sure to ask the nursing staff in the hospital or make an appointment at a lactation specialist. They will be able to guide you and assist you in creating a proper seal around the areola. They will also be able to give you some handy tips and tricks on how to get baby to drink well.
7. Drink your postnatal vitamins
We all understand the value of taking prenatal vitamins when pregnant but did you know that postnatal vitamins are just as important? Many women will disregard their importance because the baby is no longer inside your body but trust me when I tell you that they are essential.
Not only have you probably lost a fair amount of blood during birth that could cause an iron deficiency, but your body is also in a state of healing, requiring a fair amount of vitamins and minerals. Add to the fact that you are not getting much sleep, it will also help build your immune system so breastfeeding or not; you can still benefit from them.
That being said, we’ve already mentioned that your body will need more calories than usual when you are breastfeeding and while you won’t get any calories per se from vitamins, they do ensure that your body gets what it needs during a time where it seems like utter chaos descended upon your household.
On a side note, some doctors will also prescribe medication that can increase milk supply so don’t be shy to discuss this with them if you feel that you need the help.
Things to Avoid
There are also a few things you will probably want to avoid if you are trying to increase your milk supply:
1. Bottles and pacifiers during the first few weeks
Using bottles or pacifiers during those early weeks could cause nipple confusion which will lead to baby not wanting to suck on the breast. That considered, it is probably best to avoid them during the first month or so.
Breastfeeding is also hard work for your little one whereas drinking from a bottle has a better milk flow. This could lead to baby not wanting to drink from the breast but preferring the bottle only simply because it is easier for them. Take note that this only applies if you want to feed from the breast exclusively. If you plan on pumping and bottle-feeding, disregard this little paragraph.
2. Formula feeding in between
If you want to establish or increase good milk supply, avoid alternating between formula feeds and breast milk. As we’ve mentioned earlier, breast milk operates on a supply and demand principle, and by supplementing with formula, your body is getting the message that it doesn’t have to produce as much milk. This will lead to decreased milk supply
3. Foods that can dehydrate such as caffeine
Some foods may aid dehydration such as alcohol or caffeine. While you should try to avoid alcohol altogether while breastfeeding, you might be tempted to fuel up on coffee due to a lack of sleep.
Dehydration will, however, decrease milk supply so instead go for a tall glass of water with a few lemon drops instead. Also be on the look-out for foods that contain hidden caffeine such as brown chocolate, some teas or energy bars.
4. Supplementing feeding with liquids
Avoid filling your little one with unnecessary liquids such as water or teas during the first six months. The fluid will fill their teeny tiny tummies up, causing them to drink less milk than they should be getting.
Remember that your body already has the perfect recipe for breast milk, and those first few sips that are made up of a more runny consistency will be enough to quench your little one’s thirst, even on hot days.
5. The well-meaning advice from Tom, Dick, and Harry
Believe it or not but this last one can be the most difficult piece of advice to follow. While people generally mean well, more often than not they will give advice (without you asking, of course) that leads to more harm than good. I’ve had people suggest weighing your baby before and after feeds, which is also a terrible way of telling whether or not your baby is getting enough milk and that the only reason our little girl is not sleeping through the night at six months old, is because she is hungry. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to discuss it with a trained professional such as your GP or pediatrician – They won’t steer you wrong.
Last but not least, you have been given great instincts, and soon you will know every inch of your beautiful little boy or girl. Trust your gut, believe that you can do it and just relax a little. You are doing an amazing job and if you do decide that breastfeeding is not for you, remember that that is also okay and your little one will still grow up to do great and wonderful things!
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