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Breastfeeding? Here's How to Keep Up Milk Supply

Breastfeeding is the best way to give babies the proper nutrients and antibodies they need. Decades of research have shown the many developmental benefits of breastfeeding. But breastfeeding can sometimes be challenging. Because newborns and infants are continuously learning and their mood swings are unpredictable, a breastfeeding mother may experience many changes in milk supply.

Supply and Demand

Frequent feeding is the key to keeping up breast milk supply for the majority of lactating mothers. This starts in the hospital within the first hour of birth with the removal of colostrum. This helps get the breastfeeding journey started for both mother and baby.

A newborn will feed frequently—about 8 to 12 times in 24 hours—but inconsistently. They may eat every hour or two for several feedings but then take a break. As babies grow older, their feedings will become more regular and spaced out—about every 2 to 4 hours. This will gradually change over time as other foods are incorporated into their diet, which shouldn't occur until the child is at least six months old.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for at least six months and then continue to be breastfed while introducing other foods until a child is at least 12 months old.

Development and Well-being

A baby's development and well-being can impact breast milk supply. A baby that's going through a growth phase might consume more milk. This may cause a lactating mother to feel that they aren't producing enough because the baby is demanding more breast milk. Eventually, the body will catch up.

The opposite can happen if either the baby or mother isn't feeling well. A sick baby may nurse less, which can slow down the mother's breast milk production. Maternal illness can also negatively impact supply. If a mother has concerns about their baby or breast milk supply, they should contact their doctor.

"It's important to look at what's going on with both the baby and the mom."
Elizabeth Kirts, MPH, IBCLC, ICCE.

A lactating mother may experience conditions or infections that could impact breastfeeding, such as:

  • Cracked or damaged nipples can lead to an infection. There are many causes of cracks or blisters, but the most common is due to incorrect latch.
  • Plugged milk ducts can cause pain or discomfort at the breast, which can lead to an infection if not addressed immediately.
  • Lactation mastitis is an infection of the breast caused by internal inflammation at the breast that can result in breast pain, swelling, fever, and chills.

Diet and Nutrition

Maternal diet and hydration play an essential part in breast milk production. A well-balanced and nutritious diet is important while breastfeeding. The rule of a colorful diet remains the same. A plate should include half fruits and vegetables with the other portions containing protein and carbs. Plus, an additional 500 calories a day should be added.

Drinking the appropriate amount of water is key to proper hydration during pregnancy and postpartum. But don't overdo it! Drinking an excessive amount of water is a myth. "A good rule of thumb—drink to thirst and not a set amount," says Elizabeth Kirts, MPH, IBCLC, ICCE, a lactation consultant and business operations manager of Women's and Children's Service Line at University of Utah Health. "Drinking too much water could, potentially, decrease breast milk supply."

Stress and Postpartum Depression

Other factors, like stress or postpartum depression, can influence breast milk production. The birth of a child can cause many changes for a mother and her family. For example, new routines and going back to work can cause more stress and potentially impact breast milk supply.

There are also major hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and postpartum. This could sometimes lead to the baby blues or postpartum depression. Up to 85 percent of women experience baby blues for a week or two, but if it lasts longer, it could be postpartum depression. Postpartum depression affects one in eight new mothers.

If You Don't Breastfeed

Not all babies and lactating mothers are the same. While most women can breastfeed, there are circumstances where some lactating mothers aren't able to nurse, such as:

  • Low breast milk supply
  • Health conditions
  • Physiological reasons
  • Psychological reasons
  • Medications
  • Babies with anatomical issues
  • Babies with medical conditions

"It's important for a family to have a good feeding experience," says Kirts. "This could be partial breastfeeding, formula feeding, or formula feeding with a supplemental nursing system."

The good news is there are other options to help babies get the proper nutrition they need. If you're having problems breastfeeding, you're not alone. Your doctor, a lactation consultant, and other women's health services can help you in your breastfeeding journey.