By contributor Erin Long of Home & Grace
My appointments with the NICU lactation consultants usually ended this way:
“This is your third breastfed baby — you’re fine. We’re not worried about you”
Well, I was getting worried about me. My son was two weeks old and my breast milk supply was a fraction of what it was ‘supposed’ to be. I appreciated the lactation consultants’ confidence and encouragement but as the weeks went on it became clear something needed to be done to kick my body into milk-making gear.
My son was born 10 weeks early and at the time was receiving my pumped milk and donor breast milk through a feeding tube. While my biggest issue was that I wasn’t actually breastfeeding him, I was determined to do whatever I could to get my supply to a level that would sustain him and allow us to enjoy breastfeeding for the long-term.
Through working with lactation consultants, implementing some of my own research, and diligently pumping I was eventually able to get my milk supply up to a level that set us up for breastfeeding success.
Here’s what worked for me and what will hopefully work for you, too!
1. Drink, drink, and drink some more
Breast milk is liquid so the more liquid you take in the more liquid your body has to make breast milk. While most of your liquid intake should be water, milkmaid tea is made of herbs, primarily fenugreek, that specifically work to increase milk supply.
2. Rest and don’t stress
It’s a good thing that whenever someone suggested I get more rest and not stress about my milk supply, they prefaced it with saying, “I know this is hard, but…” Because if they hadn’t I would have punched them in the face.
So that’s how I’m going to say it here: I know it’s hard, but the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to rest as much as possible and not worry. Exhaustion and anxiety can sabotage your milk supply and cut back your production levels so do whatever you can to take it easy (at least as easy as you can when you have a newborn).
Supplements such as brewer’s yeast, fenugreek, blessed thistle, garlic, anise, and specific lactation blends can give your body the support it needs to get the milk flowing.
If you’re drinking milkmaid tea, you’re getting enough fenugreek so you don’t need to also supplement.
But before you take matters into your own hands consult a healthcare professional; supplementing should not be taken lightly.
4. Eat lactogenic foods
Nursing mamas are hungry mamas. Fortunately there are foods work to increase milk supply. The foods I found easiest to fit into my diet or just eat more of were: oatmeal, flaxseeds, healthy fats such as coconut oil and coconut milk, flaxseed oil, avocados, garlic and raw nuts.
I made Beth’s coconut milk smoothie and added a handful of greens and flax seed oil. As an added bonus because it only takes one hand to drink it was easy to fill up on some healthy fats while still nursing!
5. Get support and encouragement
Every breastfeeding mom needs a cheerleader and a mom who is persevering though breastfeeding struggles deserves a full cheering squad. Find at least one person who will encourage you to keep trying and work through the hard times. You need to be reminded of why you’re working so hard to give your baby the best food and most nutritious food there is.
Don’t hesitate to get professional help if you feel you need it. A lactation consultant can provide you with fantastic insight and and groups such as La Leche League can give you invaluable support.
For me this was the big one. Because my son was so premature he was immediately whisked off after birth and I was only able to briefly hold him several hours later. Fortunately the NICU we were in was extremely supportive of kangaroo care, or skin-on-skin time, and I was able to hold my son as much as he could tolerate. As he grew older I was able to hold him in his diaper on my bare chest as much I was able and the more I held him the quicker my supply increased. When I was finally able to breastfeed my body fully kicked into gear and made enough milk without any additional support from supplements or foods.
Having your baby on your breast or chest sends messages to your body, telling it that your baby needs milk. Breastfeeding often creates a need for more milk and a healthy cycle of milk production. And holding your baby in this precious and tender way can help with point #2.
7. Give yourself grace
You’re not any more or any less of a mother if you breastfeed or formula feed. Yes, breast is best and it is worth doing everything you can to breastfeed your baby but it’s not the end of the world if you’re not able to, whether because of supply issues or anything else. Maybe taking the pressure off yourself is just what you need.
If you haven’t yet read Beth’s post My Top Ten Breastfeeding Essentials do yourself a favor and read it right now. I said ‘amen!’ and ‘preach it, sister!’ throughout the whole thing, especially about the Bamboobies – they truly are amazing.