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!

Decoding Your Infant’s Cry

20140402-070406.jpgOne of the worst things ever is having a crying baby and being clueless on how to fix it. It’s terribly stressful! Now that I’m on my 5th bout of caring for a baby, I’ve come to notice a method I’ve developed for figuring out what’s wrong. Here are some of the clues I consider when I’m consoling my little ones.

1. Are they hungry? This is usually an easy one to figure out. They start rooting. They’ll turn their chin towards their shoulder and try to find something to suck on. Often times their crying is interrupted by an anxious gluttural stop. This is hard to explain, but imagine the non-verbal sound a toddler makes when he’s extending his hand, trying to reach something he wants. Kind of a repeated, “Ah-ah-ah.” Another test is to see how they react when you insert your finger or pacifier in their mouth. If they start sucking excitedly, then they’re probably hungry.

2. Are they sleepy? Yawning and heavy eyelids are easy tell-tale signs of tiredness. Try comforting them and swaddling them before you lay them down for a nap. If I see my baby having a hard time getting settled in his crib, especially if his arms are flailing around while he cries, I know he probably wants feel more secure. Re-swaddle. Re-swaddle almost like a straight-jacket. Put his arms down at his side, and wrap tightly so he can’t bring his arms up. Babies like feeling secure and being held tight- especially when they are trying to sleep. (Although, this usually only works for babies under 6 months who haven’t learned to crawl yet.) If your baby still does not settle down, pick him up, and let him be comforted by simply looking into your smiling face for a while. It’s amazing how a little focused attention can be calming for a baby.

3. Do they need a diaper change? Usually if the first two don’t seem to be the problem, it could be that they are uncomfortable. Nobody likes to be sitting in their own… you-know-what. If they have a diaper rash, they might be crying rather angrily. Dry up and soothe that poor bum with some baby powder and zinc oxide. If it’s really bad, you might want to give them a warm bath, and let their rashy bum air out while you hold them in a towel.

4. Are they gassy? Usually gassy babies will cry, grunt, then cry, then grunt some more. They’ll stiffen up their bodies- especially their legs. Their discomfort also makes their cries sound pretty angry. Try running their legs while they’re lying on their back on your lap. It will be like massaging their tummy with their knees. This helps get that gas out and provide them some comfort. You can also lie them tummy-down on your lap while you gently bounce your legs. This will help relieve their gassy discomfort.

5. Are they tired and hungry at the same time? This is a tricky one because they can be too sleepy to eat, but too hungry to sleep. It’s what I call “The Perfect Storm.” These babies are nearly inconsolable, and their parents are stressed out! I always suggest that the babies get their sleep first if they can. Rock them, wear them, do whatever to help them sleep. Then as soon as they wake up, give them their meal. They’ll be awake enough to get a full tummy. And try to never let those two needs cross paths again! A book that has helped me understand my baby’s needs and taught me how to have a happy, content baby is Babywise by Gary Ezzo. Check it out!

5. Do they just want to be held? I’ll notice that sometimes my babies just want to be held- especially 30 minutes or so before a nap. They’re not tired enough to sleep, but they’re not content enough to lie there by themselves. Baby-carrying is really great for this part of the day.

6. Are they hurt? This cry is easy to decode since it’s usually a sudden, loud, high-pitched scream. The baby will sound alarmed. Maybe another child dropped a toy on them, or they got bit by a bug. It could be any number of things. Look them over to see if they’re injured.

Good luck with your baby!