I Thought I Didn’t Have Enough Milk: On Successful Breastfeeding

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For 7 years, I struggled with low milk supply. I tried every natural remedy with no success. Eventually, I resigned to conclude that I simply didn’t have enough milk. Amazingly, after I gave birth to my 5th child, I was able to figure out what I was doing wrong all that time.

I had always wanted to breastfeed my babies for a full year, but I could never make my supply last longer than five months. When I had my 5th baby, I was desperate to find an answer. After polling my breastfeeding mama friends, I decided to ditch my schedule and offer the breast every time my baby cried. A remarkable thing happened– my supply picked up! For the first time ever, I exclusively breastfed my baby for 8 months. I was ecstatic. And then I continued to breastfeed till he turned 16 months. I was overjoyed.

Looking back, I’ve analyzed what I was doing to cause my low milk supply all those years. If you’ve ever felt like you just couldn’t produce enough milk for your baby, maybe you can learn from my mistakes.

  1. I was too strict with their schedule. I practiced Parent Directed Feeding with babies #2-4. The benefit to this eating/sleeping schedule is it helps them to start sleeping through the night by 8 weeks old (which is awesome!). But I believe I was way too strict with it. I was spacing out my baby’s feedings too far out. When I decided to abandon my schedule and offer the breast every time he cried, I noticed a significant boost in breastmilk!  Yes, I lost my precious sleep, (I was still getting up at night to breastfeed my baby when he turned one), but it was worth it to still be breastfeeding at all! Perhaps there’s a way to get the best of both worlds, but I’m not there yet.
  2. I didn’t permit dry sucking. They must be done. They’re not even getting anything anymore, is what I’d think once I could no longer I could hear them swallowing. I should’ve realized that dry sucking signals more milk production in my body. Instead, I’d pull them off, assuming I was empty and had no more milk to offer. What I should have done was allow them to suckle as long as they wanted because our bodies respond to dry sucking by producing more milk.
  3. I relied on my breast pump to inform me about my milk quantity. I wanted to know how much milk I was producing. So when I expected that my baby would be drinking a 3 oz. bottle, I’d be utterly dismayed when I could only pump out less than an ounce. How can they survive off of this?! I’d worry. But after abandoning the use of a breast pump, I now believe that a breast pump is just not a reliable way of determining the quantity you have. A baby is more effective at extracting milk than a machine, and I think your baby’s demeanor is a much more accurate way to determine if you’re producing enough. For years I measured my milk quantity by my breast pump, and it was always so discouraging. But once I dumped the pump, things just worked out.
  4. I interpreted all fussiness at the breast as indicators of a low milk supply. It was probably my low-milk-supply-paranoia that caused me to blame my babies’ fussiness at the breast on not having enough milk to offer. Eventually, I’d turn to a bottle just to see if they’d settle down with that (which usually didn’t work, but my insistency eventually won out). With baby #5, I started considering other causes for their crying such as gas, discomfort, dirty diaper, etc. So instead of offering a bottle whenever they cried at the breast, I began to burp them, run their legs, change their diaper, or just cuddle for a while. If they still refused the breast, I’d let them of the hook, and offer again at another time. Interestingly, though, helping them burp or release gas usually did the trick.

I know first hand how devastating it is to feel inadequate as a nursing mom. If you have questions or would like to share your own breastfeeding tips or resources, leave them in the comments below!

7 thoughts on “I Thought I Didn’t Have Enough Milk: On Successful Breastfeeding

      • All Dr. Jack Newman’s stuff is just absolutely invaluable. If you can track down a copy of his book, “Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding,” it is well worth the read (reads a bit like a textbook at times, but really just so informative).

        He’s a super nice guy, too. I once e-mailed him in a panic because I’d been bitten by a venomous bug while vacationing in Arizona and I wasn’t sure whether it was safe to feed my son. He very kindly e-mailed me what must have been before his clinic even opened and reassured me that it was, in fact, safe to nurse. I’d never been a patient of his or had any other ties to his clinic, but he still took the time.

  1. Great article. I’m dealing with this now. I often worry about my supply. I wondered if I should supplement. Once I had to (extremely beaten up nipples and I couldn’t even pump) and I cried and cried. It ended up being only 2 days just a few bottles but it was not what I wanted. I’m sticking to it and since it’s summer I have time to demand feed. I’m not sure if it’s because we’re sharing a room or not but he is constantly wanting to nurse during the night. For the time being I oblige but I am exhausted.

    • @April, from my own experience, I’d say feeding on demand will your best friend to breastfeeding successfully. It’s always exhausting never getting a full night’s rest. You may have heard this already, but sleep when the baby sleeps. Don’t feel guilty taking a nap during the day. You’re on call 24/7, and you don’t get a day off. You need to be creative about getting rest so you can do your job as a mom well.

  2. Yay!! I am so excited for you that you’ve had so much success with breastfeeding this time around. I remember that Facebook post you made asking people about their experience with breastfeeding and I couldn’t believe the overwhelming concensus to feed on demand! I always thought I’d be a scheduled mom and often wonder if I’m being lazy by not sticking to a tighter schedule (for both my girls as infants and even now as they get a bit older). It’s definitely not an easy choice to feed on demand and breastfeed for an extended amount of time. My kids seem harder to get sleeping through the night, harder to put down for naps and near impossible to leave with babysitter for more than a few hours at a time compared to the babies of my friends and family who either don’t nurse as long and/or stick to a tighter schedule. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who can’t seem to get this sleep thing figured out! But it’s a sacrifice that I feel is worth it overall.

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