The biggest source of stress among breast feeding moms is often related to her milk supply.
“I have a low milk supply.”
“I struggle with my milk supply.”
“I am worried about my milk supply when I return to work.”
We openly talk about milk supply, however what exactly is a milk supply and how to we maintain it? Our milk supply is the general term for how much breast milk we make for baby on a daily basis. When baby is first born, our body produces only teaspoons of colostrum (early breast milk) and as baby nurses frequently at breast, our bodies are told to accelerate milk production until we start making several ounces of breastmilk every few hours. By the time a baby is 3 months old, a mom who is exclusively breastfeeding (or pumping) will generally have a milk supply ranging from 24-30 ounces of breastmilk every day.
Establishing a Milk Supply
The most important time to establish a solid breast milk supply is the first few days and weeks of your baby’s life. You will need to put your baby to breast as often as he demands. He may demand to be at breast 8-12 times in 24 hours (or more) and may be sucking at breast for 40 minutes at a time. This exhausting process is an investment in building our breastmilk supply. These frequent feedings (or pumpings) at breast will lay the foundation for your breastfeeding journey.
Making breastmilk is all about supply and demand. When we remove milk from our breast either through pumping or breastfeeding, our body is told to replace the milk that was removed. When baby is very young, our body is bursting with hormones that tell our bodies to start making milk. The hormones start making milk, however the process of removing milk is what tells our bodies to keep making milk. Each time you put baby to breast or attach a breast pump to drain your breast, the hormones begin to circulate through your body and your body will continue to make milk. Typically, it is recommended to pump or breastfeed at least 8 times in 24 hours consistently until your full milk production of 24-30 ounces is reached. Once you have established this milk supply, you need to maintain the same amount of pumping or nursing sessions necessary for your body to keep making that target volume in 24 hours.
In the early days of your baby’s life, he will likely have his days and nights confused. It is common for newborns to have nocturnal behavior and feed frequently in the evening and late-night hours. We gradually flip this behavior so that your maybe will consume most of his calories during the day and sleep overnight. However, newborn babies will wake for nighttime feedings for weeks or months, necessary for adequate weight gain. In order to establish and maintain your breast milk supply, you will need to breastfeed (or pump) when your baby wakes to eat in the middle of the night to eat. Night feedings relays the important message to your body that your baby is still eating during the middle of the night and therefore your body needs to maintain that milk production. If you choose to sleep through a night feeding while baby is bottle fed by another caretaker, your body will begin to slow down the process of making breast milk because it no longer thinks that baby is requiring those middle of the night calories. Once your body slows making milk and drops below your baby’s minimum volume threshold, baby will become more fussy at breast, may not make enough wet and dirty diapers, may not be settled to sleep after breastfeeding, and will begin to slow his weight gain or maybe even lose weight. Once this process starts, we need to offer more supplements at bottle and in-turn we begin to produce less milk and the struggle with low milk supply begins.
Sleeping Through the Night
The secret to confidence in your breast milk supply is reflected in your baby’s feeding demand. Put your baby to breast (or pump) for every feeding. This exhausting and demanding process will begin to become less frequent and take less time as your baby grows. Eventually, your baby will begin to sleep through the night. When that miraculous moment happens, take in every bit of that precious sleep possible. When your baby sleeps through the night, you no longer need to remove milk from your breasts during the middle of the night. At this point, baby takes enough volume during daylight hours to maintain adequate weight gain and therefore your body will maintain adequate milk production throughout the day.
Boosting Milk Production Through Night Pumping
If you lack confidence in your milk supply or struggle with milk production, you can continue to pump once or twice during the middle of the night once baby sleeps. By adding additional pumping sessions during a time where your breast milk making hormones are high, you can boost the amount of milk your body makes. If you have questions about milk production or struggle with your milk supply, you can always reach out to your local lactation consultant or join a community breastfeeding support group. Always remember, breast milk supply equals baby’s breast milk demand.