This is not a post I ever thought I would have to write. However, it was a very valuable learning experience for me and maybe my experience can help other people who are struggling with low milk supply.
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Last August my sweet baby girl was born. This was baby number three and I kind of thought I was an old pro at breastfeeding. With my first child I remember he was a couple of days old and it was 2 or 3 in the morning and I was rocking in a chair, nursing him, and just crying. Of course I was recovering from a very traumatic birth and major abdominal surgery, but I just remember being so overwhelmed thinking I just couldn’t do it any longer. Time went on and I did make it. Nursing got easier and just became the new normal.
By child number two I truly enjoyed nursing my babies. I loved it. It was a special bonding time, I love when their little hands explore my face and grab their toes and I just soaked it up. He nursed past 2 years old.
Fast forward a couple of years to baby number three. She came straight out of the womb, latched on, and nursed like a champ. We all laughed at what a little pro she was from the very first time. She was 7 pounds, 3 oz of pure joy.
The transition to three kids went smoothly. After taking a couple of months to rest, we got back into the swing of things. Life was busy but full. Then she had her four month appointment.
I still remember my husband texting me. I had a meeting so he was the one who took our daughter to her four month appointment. “The doctor is going to call you, she’s not gaining weight.”
It felt like such a punch to the gut. What?! How can this be?!
Sure enough, from her two month appointment to her four month appointment she had hardly gained any weight. Her length and head circumference did not grow much either.
I freaked out. I felt completely terrible that all this time I thought things were going just fine.
Note: Before I go on, it’s important to know that having a low milk supply is rare. If you think you might be struggling with milk supply, I suggest reading this. The amount of milk you are able to pump, your baby being fussy at the breast, and feelings (or lack thereof) of fullness or milk letting down are not reliable indicators of milk supply!
The Reasons for my Low Milk Supply
Looking back, I can now see several reasons that I began to lose my milk supply:
- Busy – Looking back I could see that being busy played a definite role in not getting her to the breast enough. Without even thinking about it, I had put her on a schedule. I thought I was feeding on demand, but when I really analyzed my behavior I realized I was just putting her to the breast whenever I thought about it which happened to be during natural transitions in the day. Add to the fact that I have a 5 year old and a 3 year old, I was almost always distracted while feeding her.
- Diet – I thought I was eating enough food, but when I really started to analyze my eating habits I realized I really wasn’t getting enough calories. Also, I had done an experimental trial with gluten for one month when she was three months old and it did not go well. I do wonder if the gluten somehow affected my milk supply. If it increased inflammation in my body (which it certainly did!), then it is certainly a possibility!
- Sleep – Baby girl has always loved sleeping. It wasn’t unusual for her to sleep 10-12 hours at night. While that made for a well-rested mama, it did not make for a well-nourished baby.
- Thyroid – People with thyroid issues can struggle a little bit more to make enough milk. I knew this was a possibility, but I just didn’t think it would be true for me. I think because of my thyroid, all of the previous issues I mentioned above affected me more than they would the average mama.
As soon as I found out my milk supply was suffering, I did a lot of praying, a lot of researching, and tried really hard not to stress out (because stress affects milk supply!). I had two weeks to drastically improve my milk supply before her next weigh-in.
How I Improved My Milk Supply
- I cleared my schedule and nursed her more. Sounds simple, but it was very intentional. I stayed home as much as possible and just kept offering the breast to her every single chance I could. Sometimes she accepted and sometimes she didn’t.
- I added night feedings. Yes, I started waking my baby up every 2 hours to nurse her throughout the night. I found it quite ironic that while most parents are trying to train their babies to sleep through the night, I was trying to train my baby to stop sleeping through the night. I think this was one of the biggest factors in improving my milk supply!
- I got a fancy pump. I had a simple little hand-held pump, but I read that the electric pumps were more efficient at pumping milk. I was able to get one through my insurance at Target. (You can go here to see if you can qualify for a free pump as well.) Anyways, in my experience, the electric pump was no more effective than the hand held pump. With either pump I was lucky if I pumped 3 oz. If I was stressed, I could only pump 0.5 oz. Most sources will tell you that the amount of milk you are able to pump is not a reliable indicator of your milk supply. I believe that’s true. Even now when my milk supply is much better, it still takes me two days to pump one bottle’s worth of milk.
- I bought a huge bag of Fenugreek and started taking it in capsules. I carefully followed these directions on kellymom.com and did not do it as a long-term solution. Also, I smelled like maple syrup for several weeks. Just a fair warning for any moms that are considering this. 🙂 However, I do believe that, along with the tea, there was a noticeable improvement in my supply after consistent use.
- I made a lactation tea and drank a lot of it. I plan on posting the recipe soon, (update: here’s the recipe) but it’s basically a mixture of herbs that are known galactagogues. I also tried the Traditional Medicinals Mother’s Milk Tea, but didn’t seem to notice it helping as much as the herbal tea I made.
The result? Two weeks later she had gained almost 6 ounces. Those were the most hard-earned 6 ounces of my life – talk about
blood milk, sweat, and tears! But she had gained so we knew we were on the right track. The pediatrician said to keep doing everything we were doing. At her 6 month check-up she had gained 2 pounds from her 4 month check-up. She’s still a small baby, but she is gaining weight and length, and that’s what really matters! I also learned a very valuable lesson about self-care and the dangers of being too busy!
So if you’re a new mama reading this, learn from my mistakes. If you’re a mama in the breast-feeding trenches and worried about your milk supply, take a deep breath, slow down, and try some of these things. It worked for me, although it took time (no quick solution here) and may not work for everyone. If you’re a mama and you tried everything and have to supplement, take a deep breath – it’s going to be OK. Give yourself some grace!