Is your milk supply really low?

May 2, 2016

My breastfeeding journey has had it’s fair share of ups and downs. I remember being utterly exhausted from continuous hour long feeds every single day and up until her 7th month- Baby G sucked all through the night despite being on solids. If I dared to pull away for a little relaxation, she would wake up and cry. She also preferred to sleep in my lap with nipple in mouth and the minute I put her down- she’d cry as if in intense pain.  During my pregnancy , I thought breastfeeding was as simple as attaching a baby to nipple where he’d meet with an endless supply of my bosom nectar. Boy! Was I wrong!. Breastfeeding is HARDWORK ( sorry mommy’s to be- not putting you off) but it’s also worth it. It connects you with your baby in an unexplainable way and when you cradle your baby and feed it- you feel intense love and immensely rewarded for nourishing your baby.

I had decided to exclusively feed my baby for at least 6 months and went to the length of searching for a pro-breastfeeding doctor ( not all doctors are pro- BF). I would search endlessly for online support groups to make my journey easier and help me with all my queries. But as is common in desi culture where everyone is entitled to an opinion once you have a baby, whenever I met someone ( usually an elderly acquaintance) , they’d have all sorts of opinions regarding breastfeeding that left me confused and unhappy. I felt that by insisting on exclusively breastfeeding,I may actually be harming my baby.

  • Your baby looks weak- Put her on formula!
  • Your supply is low
  • Your milk quality is poor
  • You’re not feeding enough
  • You’re feeding too much
  • Your baby looks hungry all the time

Did it make me question breastfeeding? Yes, but I’m glad I turned a deaf ear to it all. We, women, are incredible beings and our bodies can do all sorts of amazing stuff. Our breastmilk is literally liquid gold and scientists have yet to discover all the components that makes it so full of nutrients. And not only is breastfeeding a source of  nourishment for our babies, its also a great source of bonding, comforting and connecting with our little ones.

Here are some of the myths related to BF :

  1. If babies feed a lot, it means they’re not getting enough milk:
    Not true. Breastmilk is gentler on the little tummies and easy to digest, hence babies get hungrier sooner than if they’re formula fed. It’s absolutely fine for a breastfeed baby to feed every 2-3 hours.
  2. Giving the breast a ” nursing” rest can help ensure more milk:
    Not true. The more you nurse, the more milk you make. Breaking your regular nursing schedule to rest may actually decrease your supply. It may so happen that a break from feeding in the day will lead to more supply at night, but it will decrease your supply the next day.  The only way to maintain a good supply is to nurse/ pump frequently.
  3. If you have small breasts, you won’t produce enough milk to feed your baby:
    Not true. Size isn’t an issue at all. The breast tissue you need to nurse a baby grows in response to your pregnancy regardless of your breast size. It is in this functional tissue- rather than your fatty tissue which determine breast size- that the milk ducts are located. So, whether you’re an A or D cup, you are very much capable of feeding your baby.
  4. You don’t produce enough milk if you don’t leak:
    Not true. Your breasts may leak a little in the first few weeks of breastfeeding, or may leak a lot more often or may not leak at all. Again, this has nothing to do with your supply. Sometimes you stop leaking after your milk supply has adjusted to your baby’s needs. Also, leaking has to do with the tiny muscles at the opening of nipple pores. Some women have stronger sphincter muscles there and don’t leak as much; others leak quite a bit.
  5. Your breasts don’t feel full so you aren’t making enough milk:
    Not true. If your breasts feel soft and empty, it is not a sign of poor supply. Sometimes breasts feel full in the early weeks of breastfeeding but once your body has adjusted to the needs 0f your baby; the breasts will make enough milk to meet the requirements of your baby and hence breasts will stop feeling full.
  6. If you don’t feel ” let-down”, you’re not making enough milk:
    Not true. Some women never feel a let down. This has nothing to do with your milk supply. I felt it initially a couple of times but haven’t since then and my baby’s 7 months old and gaining weight adequately.
  7. If you get little to no milk when you pump , you’re not making enough:
    Not true. The amount of milk you pump is not an accurate measure of your supply. Pumping, unlike nursing, is an acquired skill and it also depends on the type of pump you use. A baby with a healthy suck milks your breast much more efficiently than any pump.
  8. Most women don’t produce enough milk:
    Not true. A vast majority of women produce enough milk. In fact, an over abundance of milk is quite common. One can see women in the most under-developed areas feeding their child successfully despite a not so varied diet. Most babies gain weight poorly, not because of an undersupply of milk but because of a poor latch which hinders from feeding properly.
  9. It is normal for breastfeeding to hurt:
    Not true. Though there is a slight tenderness in breasts but it only lasts for a few days. Any pain that is more than mild is not normal and is almost always due to baby’s poor latch. Any nipple pain that lasts beyond a week should not be ignored. Any new onset of pain when things are going well maybe due to a yeast infection. Please keep in mind that limiting feed time will not prevent soreness and taking baby off the breast for the nipples to heal should be the last resort only.
  10. There is no ( not enough) milk during the first 3-4 days after birth:
    Not true. For the first few days, there isn’t a lot of milk but it is enough for the baby’s needs so it is imperative a baby latches on properly to get all that is available.  It is due to poor latch that we often hear mothers’ complain : “but he’s been on the breast for 2 hours and is still hungry when I take him off”.  Once the mother’s milk is abundant, a baby can latch on poorly and still may get plenty of milk, though good latching from the beginning, even in if the milk is abundant, prevents problems later on.
  11. A baby should be on the breast 20 minutes on each side:
    Not true! If a baby is actually drinking for most of 15-20 minutes on the first side, he may not want to take the second side at all. If he drinks only a minute on the first side, and then nibbles or sleeps, and does the same on the other, no amount of time will be enough. The baby will breastfeed better and longer if he is latched on properly. He can also be helped to breastfeed better and longer if the mother compresses the breast to keep the flow of milk going, once he no longer drinks on his own. Thus it is obvious that the rule of thumb that “the baby gets 90% of the milk in the breast in the first 10 minutes” is equally hopelessly wrong. Also, please do not time your feeds as it can disturb your supply and completely empty one breast before offering the other. Sometimes a baby prolongs feeds for emotional reasons ( comfort, likes the feel of mothers skin etc) rather than physical but do not put child away as it is equally  important to meet both needs successfully.
  12.  A breastfeeding baby needs extra water during hot weather:
    Not true. Breastmilk contains all the water a baby needs. Water should only be given to babies 6 months and above and that too should be limited or they will eat less and hence not gain weight properly.
  13.  A mother should wash/clean her nipples before every feed:
    Not true. Washing nipples before feeding is not only unnecessary complicated but also washes away protective oils from the nipples.
  14. If a mother has an infection, she should stop breastfeeding:
    Not true. By the time the mother has fever (or cough, vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, etc) she has already given the baby the infection, since she has been infectious for several days before she even knew she was sick. The baby’s best protection against getting the infection is for the mother to continue breastfeeding. If the baby does get sick, he will be less sick if the mother continues breastfeeding. Also, breast infections,though painful, are not reasons to stop breastfeeding. In fact, the infection is likely to settle more quickly if the mother continues breastfeeding on the affected side.
  15. If a baby has diarrhoea, he/she should be taken off breastmilk:
    Not true. The best medicine for a baby’s gut infection is breastmilk.
  16. Babies will stay on the breast for two hours because they like to suck:
    Not true. Babies need and like to suck, but most babies who stay at the breast for such a long time are probably hungry, even though they may be gaining well. Being on the breast is not the same as drinking at the breast. Latching the baby better onto the breast allows the baby to breastfeed more effectively, and thus spend more time actually drinking. You can also help the baby to drink more by expressing milk into his mouth when he no longer swallows on his own. Babies younger than 5-6 weeks often fall asleep at the breast because the flow of milk is slow, not necessarily because they have had enough to eat.
  17. A mother’s milk can just dry up:
    Not true- but it may occur in extremely rare circumstances. Though there are morning-evening variations with comparatively lesser milk in evening but if a baby has suddenly started demanding more, it may be due to a growth spurt. If this is the reason for the seemingly insufficient milk, a few days of more frequent breastfeeding will bring things back to normal.

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