...even if your breasts are small, even if you have twins, even if you're worried.
The secret to an abundant milk supply is frequent, active feeds. For newborns and even many older babies, this usually means 12-16 feeds in 24 hours. When weight gain is steady, predictable and feedings are easier, it's ok to drop to 8-12 feeds in 24 hours, if your baby is content doing so.
Pay attention to the baby's sucking and behavior.
When babies are rooting or looking hungry, they probably need to breastfeed, even if they don't need to "eat." If you aren't sure, it's fine to offer your breast. You can't overfeed a breastfed baby! We aren't used to breastfed babies and often moms will compare breastfed babies with formula fed babies who typically eat every 3 or 4 hours.
If we remember that a baby's stomach is the size of their fist and that breastmilk is digested easily, it makes sense that they would eat frequently. But why is this important? For one, humans are species that carries its babies. Frequent feeding is easy to accomplish when you carry your baby everywhere you go.
Another reason is that breastfeeding is so much more than food for a baby. It's a source of comfort, connection and soothing. It is a way of feeding that fills all five senses at once and gives both mother and baby a dose of oxytocin, the love hormone.
When we look at other species, it's easier to understand the unique qualities of human milk.
Cows grow about 1000 pounds in the first year. Their milk is highest in protein because this is the essential nutrient for muscle and bone growth. Whales live in the ocean, which is cold. In order to thrive, they have a thick layer of blubber. Their milk is highest in fat.
Humans develop their brains during the first year. Human milk is full of special sugars that feed brain cells. In addition, constant engagement with the mother means that with every feed, their brain is connecting neural pathways. Breastfeeding means that babies smell, taste, see, hear, and feel their mom. Each sip is not just a sip! It is a brain-bursting experience!
Don’t wait to feed!
One of the biggest misconceptions I run into is "waiting for breasts to fill up" before you feed your baby. The fastest way to make abundant milk is to keep your breasts empty. Empty breasts signal your body to make milk while full ones tell your body to stop making milk.
It's like being at a buffet. When the serving dishes get low, a waiter keeps bringing new ones. If no one eats anything, the tray just sits there. Your body will continue reabsorbing and producing fresh milk, so, unlike the buffet, the milk is always fresh and ready to eat, but over time, you will make less and less milk. Your baby may show signs of hunger and be less content. Their weight will plateau or drop.
In the early days and months, you will feel your breasts filling and emptying. Between 4 and 6 months, the amount of milk you make between feeds decreases. In other words, you won't feel as full. Your body starts to make most of the milk when the baby sucks, rather than between feeds.
Increasing your milk without pumping or galatagogues
If your baby doesn’t seem hungry, and also, is not gaining or only slowly gaining weight, increase the number of feeds in every day using a "mother led growth spurt." Many babies actually prefer to feed every hour or two all the way through the first year and beyond. A good rule of thumb is if your baby is gaining weight and staying on their curve, 8-12 feeds a day is fine. If they aren’t gaining, or they seem to need more, nurse 12-16 times in 24 hours.
A practice that goes along with this is switching sides frequently. A sleepy baby can suckle gently on one side for an hour and receive little or no measurable milk. If you watch them feeding and switch sides soon after they are done gulping, they will receive more milk with less effort. You may feed on each side several times and notice that each time, their sucking happens in short bursts and then slows down.
If your baby suddenly seems hungry after a few weeks of predictable feeding, follow their cues and feed as much as they want - it's normal and nothing to worry about - it's called "frequency days" or "growth spurts". After a few days of nursing more frequently, you should notice more fullness in your breasts and hear more swallowing when they breastfeed.
Worrying about having enough milk may be the #1 worry of all new mothers!
Research shows that only 1 to 3% of women should worry about it! The first step, and frequently the shortcut, to a bountiful supply of milk is to offer your baby the breast frequently and encourage your baby to drink as much milk as they can. If you are worried, ask for guidance so that you can be really sure your baby is getting enough milk.
Conventional advice of nursing 10-20 minutes on each side is correct in one way- most babies do nurse about this long - but it does not take into account the QUALITY of the session. Watch the baby - when they are getting milk, you should hear gulping, see the jaw moving. and feel a rhythmic pull on your nipple.
How frequently you feed your baby is always the first benchmark to compare if you feel you need to increase the amount of milk you make.
If you feel anxious, check your baby's weight once a week. Ask to make an appointment at your pediatrician’s office, buy a scale or drop in to New Baby New Paltz any time we are open. We have a scale next to the changing table and a 3 ring notebook if you want to keep a chart.