Producing milk for your baby is a complex process involving physical, emotional, and hormonal factors. Luckily our bodies are really good at it and create the best food for our babies.
It can be hard for you and your baby to get the hang of it at first. The baby is learning how to coordinate sucking and swallowing. You are learning how to position the baby, recognize when the baby is hungry, and make sure that the baby is latched on well. It is natural to be anxious and worry about your baby getting enough to eat.
During the first few days of your baby’s life, your body produces colostrum. Colostrum is thick and yellowish, and at first, you only produce small amounts. These small amounts are perfect for your baby’s stomach size and are made of all the nutrients and immune-boosting substances your baby needs. Breastfeeding your baby frequently in the first few days helps stimulate more milk production. After about 3 days, you will begin to produce whiter, thinner milk.
Some issues may affect your milk supply. These include not having a good latch or being separated from your baby for long periods of time. It is important to establish a good latch, which decreases pain and damage to the nipples.
A common reason for discontinuing breastfeeding is the belief that a person has a low milk supply. So how do you know that you have enough milk? Signs of a good milk supply include frequent feeds (8-12 times per day), the baby has steady weight gain by day 4-5 of life, and the baby has 6-8 wet diapers on average per day by days 5-7 of life. Signs that your milk supply might be low include not enough wet or dirty diapers, the baby is extremely tired or lethargic, the baby’s stool has not switched in color to bright yellow by day 5, and the baby is not gaining weight. These concerns should be addressed immediately with your pediatrician to determine any underlying causes.
When it is time for you to return to work or school, it is important to take steps to maintain your milk supply while you are separated from your baby. Be aware of your rights as a lactating person. Businesses with greater than 50 employees are required by law to provide time to pump for baby’s first year of life. They must provide a private space that is not a bathroom. Make a plan with your employer prior to returning to work. Practice with your breast pump if you are not familiar with how it works. Make sure you follow CDC guidelines on properly storing breast milk. When you return to work, establish a pumping schedule and be consistent.
The best thing that you can do to maintain your milk supply is ensuring that you frequently and effectively remove milk from your breasts, either by feeding your baby often and with a good latch or by pumping regularly and properly. Feed your baby on demand and try to only give your baby breast milk if possible. Supplementing with formula could reduce your milk supply.
Before you decide you don’t have enough milk, be sure to talk with your lactation consultant or pediatrician. They can evaluate whether you have an adequate supply, assess if some underlying medical concern needs to be addressed, and can help troubleshoot breastfeeding management.
Lactation Assistance Resources:
U.S. Lactation Consultants Association – find a local lactation consultant
UofL Hospital Lactation Center: 502-562-6081
Appalachian Breastfeeding Helpline (4:30 p.m. – 8:30 a.m.) 1-888-588-3423
La Leche League International