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.
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
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)