Are you breastfeeding and concerned about low supply?

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Breastfeeding is one of those mysterious things that for me sums up motherhood – you start off with neither you or your baby knowing what to do, you learn together, but it is something that you have only your instinct to rely on that it’s actually happening properly; there is no way for you to measure how much milk your baby is actually taking. For me as an insecure first time mum, it was this complete unknown and need to rely on instinct that led me to feel that I may have a low supply issue.

It’s important to remember that very few mothers actually experience low supply. The best indicators of a healthy supply are wet and dirty nappies, and that your baby is steadily gaining weight. If these two things are being met, then it’s unlikely that you have a low supply.

Things that are not indicators of a low supply:

  • Your baby wants to feed often. Breastmilk is easily digested, so breastfed babies tend to feed more often that formula fed babies. There is also the sense of comfort that babies get from sucking and the close contact with you, that can mean that often, feeding is as much about comfort as it is about nourishment.
  • Your baby suddenly increases the frequency and length of feedings. All babies experience growth spurts where the milk supply increases to meet the new demands of your baby. To do this, your baby will feed for longer and more frequently – best advice from me is to write that week off, buy a box set and just camp out in bed until the growth spurt is over.
  • You get very little milk when you pump. Pumping is not an indicator of how much milk you are actually producing. A baby is far more efficient at extracting milk than a machine – I would pump for well over 20 minutes to see only a couple of ounces in the bottle. Pumping for me was a frustrating experience and I hated the whirr of that motor.

My experience

Max has always been a small baby – although he was born 7lb6, (at the 50th percentile) he lost just over 10% of his birth weight in the first week (unsurprising really as my milk was late to come in, somewhere around Day 4) so we revisited the hospital to check him over. The hospital confirmed he was fine and we headed home to continue as we were. On getting him weighed at the Baby Clinic, it was confirmed that he had dropped from the 50th percentile at birth, to the 25th, and then a week later, to the 9th, where he continued to track for the next 8 months.

There is such an emphasis placed on the importance of a baby’s weight and healthy weight gain – all along my Facebook feed I would see boasts from other mothers about how ‘X has gained Xlbs since birth, and all from me!’ As a first time mum, I felt worried and insecure, and despite reading endless amounts of advice along the same lines of what I’ve posted above, I was still concerned about whether I was doing the right thing in continuing to breastfeed. I received what seems to be the standard comments from relatives about how he couldn’t possibly be hungry again, and how small he was, and how ‘he’d love a bottle’. When Max reached 5 months I decided I would start topping up his feeds with 3oz of formula in an attempt to see whether he would gain more weight. He happily drank this and it gave me peace of mind that I knew he’d had at least those 3oz, even if he’d had nothing from me (Note: happily drinking extra milk after a feed is also no indicator of low supply, read why here).

But hindsight is a wonderful thing. Even with adding the extra top-up feeds, Max continued to track along the 9th percentile, and this continued even after weaning when it became clear that he actually had a huge appetite and would happily eat all day. Apart from the peace of mind it gave me, all that the top-up feeds added was an extra level of faff with having to make up feeds and sterilising bottles. Even now, Max is a boy who adores his food, and will happily devour an adult portion – and yet he remains small for his age. I’m pleased and proud that we managed to achieve 12 months of breastfeeding, but I wish that I’d trusted in my body and not given myself such unnecessary guilt trips about our feeding.

Recommended breastfeeding resources:

La Leche League – fantastic resource, with online forums, articles, and helpline

KellyMom – the best online resource, a mine of information, including this great article on what to do to increase your supply if you really do think it’s low

The Baby Cafe – Run by breastfeeding supporters, these are a great place to go for breastfeeding advice, to meet other mums, or just to get out for a coffee and cake!

This little infographic is a great resource for ways to increase your supply without stress.

How To Increase Your Milk Supply Without Losing Your Mind (By Mom Loves Best)

 

 

 

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

12 Comments
  • Avani
    January 27, 2016

    very well documented first hand experience goes long way in feeding babies. Feed often is the way to go.
    #BloggerClubUK

    • Katy
      January 27, 2016

      Thanks so much Avani. I searched for ages when I was feeding for people with similar concerns but couldn’t find a personal story (with a longer term reach as well) so I hoped this would be helpful for someone out there!

  • Cathy Winston
    January 27, 2016

    It is such an emotional minefield sometimes – I’m glad it was so successful for you though. And I know a lot if health professionals have said it’s consistency of what centimetre that matters most. Someone has to be bigger and smaller than average, after all! #bloggerclubuk

    • Katy
      January 27, 2016

      Thanks Cathy – it’s silly really how we attach so much emotional weight on how big / small our babies are. Like you say, the percentiles are there for a reason – if it’s a percentage, someone has to be bigger / smaller for the chart to work!

  • Coombe Mill (Fiona)
    January 27, 2016

    what a helpful post, full of information. Supply really does go with demand, I actually managed triplets with only a small top up with bottles #bloggersclubuk

    Reply ↓

    • Katy
      January 27, 2016

      Thanks so much Fiona. And wow! That’s an incredible achievement, and really does show what our bodies can achieve if the supply and demand relationship is trusted.

  • The Mum Project
    January 27, 2016

    Really great that you continued for a year! I’m hoping I can get that far, I think once there’s more of a routine established I’ll feel a bit better. I’m taking it in waves, if I hit the 6 week mark I will be happy. Then I’ll decide at the 6 week mark if I want to go to the 3 month mark and then I’ll decide if I want to go to the 6 month mark and so on. Giving myself goals to reach so it feels a bit easier.

    • Katy
      January 27, 2016

      It sounds like you’re doing really well so far! The lack of routine is one of the hardest things at the start I think, you just feel like you’re feeding all the time. We had a pretty tough start (difficult latch, and I found it painful generally) so I was pleasantly surprised to be able to carry on for so long. I think your laid back approach is the best way – it doesn’t put too much pressure on you.

  • Debbie Roberts
    January 29, 2016

    Hi Katy, I was so like you with my first one and my relatives were the same, making me feel like I was wrong to feed my child that often, but being the stubborn person I am I stuck with it and am so glad I did. We later found out that my son has a myopathy, which made it hard for him to suck. He was also a sickly child, which got me thinking that I’d done the right thing sticking to breast feeding.

    As a new Mum it’s difficult to know when to trust our instincts and stop listening to others. If you are planning on having a second one, just know that my second child was 100% different and was breast feeding with in minutes. She was a pleasure to feed and I felt sad when I stopped as I knew there would be no more.

    #BrilliantBlogPosts

    • Katy
      January 29, 2016

      Thanks so much for such a thoughtful comment Debbie. I think that’s the crux of it, isn’t it – as a new mum you’re full of insecurity and it’s difficult to trust that your instincts are correct when others are critical. I’m really pleased that you also managed to stick with it, and also that your second was so different – that’s really reassuring as I am keen to have another (at some point anyway!)

  • MudpieFridays
    January 31, 2016

    I am really interested to read this post, as after 10 weeks of nagging by my mother in law (who never breastfeed) I gave in and combination fed. However I had no reason to Monkey was doing really well dropping from 92nd to 50th where he stayed (he was 16 days over hence the reason he was 92nd!!) I am going to pin this as when I have our second in a few months I would like to not combination feed if possible, so this will come in really useful when I need reminding. Thank you so much 🙂 and thank you for joining us at #BloggerClubUK. Hope to see you again next week xx

    • Katy
      January 31, 2016

      Thanks so much for commenting Clare, I really hope it can be helpful for you if you start to have doubts this time around. I think the family pressure which stems from a general lack of understanding of the realities of breastfeeding is a big factor in why many people stop – certainly it was a big factor in why I ended up topping up. I suspect (or am hoping anyway!) second time round it’s easier to have a bit more confidence in your decisions. Wishing you all the best for no.2!

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