Many of you may have come across the movement, “Breast is Best” among nursing mothers. This is primarily because nursing or breastfeeding for this group of moms is going well. However, there is also a group among nursing mums that often face concerns or difficulties. These may range from nipple confusion to maintaining an adequate amount of milk production to ensure the healthy growth of their offspring.
To ensure nursing mothers meet their breastfeeding goals, it is important to consider practices that help stimulate and increase the production of milk. For starters, you must begin breastfeeding as soon as possible unless special circumstances such as premature birth or cesarean section, inhibit it. Skin-to-skin contact helps release hormones that stimulate milk production. Moreover, it also helps identify when the child is hungry based on the “rooting” concept.
Here are some tips to help you get started:
Frequent emptying of the breast
One of the most important factors that help sustain adequate milk production is the frequent emptying of the breast. A nursing mother’s breast storage capacity determines the number of times her breasts need to be emptied or drained via breastfeeding or expression. Although breast storage capacity greatly varies, on average most mother’s “magic number” or need to drain is between four to ten times per day. While larger breasts tend to have a greater capacity, upon reaching maximum levels, the body sends a signal to slow down production hence reducing milk production. Therefore, timely emptying the breasts will result in faster milk production.
Additionally, a great way to ensure adequate milk production is by ensuring your child’s nursing consumption is met. If the baby is nursing efficiently, it is a sign that your milk production is matching their feeding requirements. Look for cues like thumb suckling and rooting for the breast to meet the milk demand. The natural demand and supply process of breastfeeding is regulated via the production of Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL) protein found in the milk. When the breasts are full, there are high levels of FIL found, thus emptying the breasts ensures the remotion of FIL and the start of new milk production.
Other than ensuring your baby is properly latching and swallowing while feeding, it is important to make sure both breasts are being emptied. While this helps regulate milk production, it also prevents painful issues like mastitis from occurring. If you are struggling or unsure of the proper technique, a specialist can help you out. Additionally, if you think your child’s consumption is lesser than your milk production, opting for pumping the excess milk is a great idea.
As breast milk digests faster, you may find yourself considering alternate feeding options especially if your milk production is slower. Formula milk may help keep your baby full for longer periods because it’s heavier to digest and it takes more time for the baby’s system to process it. Additionally, bottle nipples have a different mechanism of sucking than the breast nipple and tend to have a comparatively faster milk flow. However, by giving your baby the bottle, you might not only risking nipple confusion but also, unintentionally signalling the body to reduce milk production because the breast will be less used.
Avoid Pacifiers or Dummies
Pacifiers and dummies can reduce overall milk production through two functions:
● These can prevent babies from learning the proper latching technique thus reducing the time they spend at the breast which would cause the milk production to drop.
● Giving a baby a pacifier or dummy early on in their life can hinder the bond between the mother and child that develops through breastfeeding. The baby is conditioned to seek comfort or soothe itself through the pacifier instead of the breast.
Be cautious of nipple shields
As a general rule of thumb, nursing mothers should not depend on nipple shields for prolonged periods. Additionally, these silicone nipples should not be ideally used in the first few weeks after the birth. In terms of adequate milk production, nipples shields may under stimulate the breast. Moreover, the let-down may get disrupted as the baby doesn’t naturally latch on and suck directly from the source.
Pumping sessions between or after nursing can help stimulate milk production. By removing more milk from the breasts, you are essentially partaking in emptying the breast.
There are few points to keep in mind regarding pumping.
It’s important to select a good pump because an ineffective one might not extract enough to sustain new milk production. Generally speaking, a baby latching properly on the breast extracts more milk than a pump. Pumping both breasts simultaneously has been proven to save time and increase milk yield.
If you are pumping to increase milk production, it is recommended that you pump an additional five to seven minutes after draining the last few drops. On the other hand, pumping for even short bursts without emptying the breasts can help achieve the same results.
For an effective pumping session, you may also consider investing in a breast shield. However, it is recommended that you choose one that fits properly. Researchers have found that mothers with larger nipples benefitted more from a breast shield with a tunnel diameter of 27mm and 30mm compared to the common 24mm ones available (Prime, Geddes, Spatz, Trengove, & Hartmann 2011).
Finally, you should express milk frequently and regularly. Some mothers prefer to wait several hours before pumping milk because they might be rewarded by the higher amount of milk produced which might also seem a way to save time. However, as the breast gets fuller the production of milk slows down yielding less amount of milk in a day. For instance, if you express 3 times a day and extract 100ml per session you have 300ml of milk per day. If however, you express 5 times per day with an average 80ml yield per session, you would have 400ml of milk expressed in a day. A very full breast might also be difficult to drain completely, which might slow down milk production again.
Indulge in self-care activities
Always remember a healthy mom means a healthy baby. Therefore, taking care of your health will go a long way in ensuring adequate milk production. Other than sleep, eating, and drinking well, it is important to regulate your mood. A nursing mom may be hormonal thus more susceptible to experiencing anxious thoughts or general stress regarding adequate milk production.
Research has found that distractions or stressful stimuli in the nursing environment can cause delays in achieving optimal let-down reflex or milk ejection reflex. This means your child may have to wait longer for an uninhibited meal. Scientifically speaking, the time it takes to start lactating is dependent on the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream. Additionally, since this hormone is released in bursts following certain cues that indicate a milk requirement, the time between each release can vary and often may be minutes apart. While the amount of milk produced is not impacted, the time it takes to appear may result in tensions soaring especially if you have a hungry baby.
Ultimately, if you ever find yourself worried about producing less than optimal milk, don’t be shy about seeking out the necessary help from specialists. Besides that, there are tips and steps that you can partake in to help stimulate milk production.
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