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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!