We know the motivating factor for many women on the Mums programme is to be healthy and energized to look after their new baby’s. However, often when we change our diet or lifestyle we can question the effects of this on our breastfeeding relationship. Afterall, what is the point in giving our own bodies optimum nutrition if doing so affects our milk supply; the source of nutrition for our babies?
In this blog we’re going to run through common questions we get about diet, exercise and milk supply. In particular, “do I have a low milk supply? What can I do?”
First and foremost, here at Recal we are fully supportive of the breastfeeding relationship. We are Mums ourselves and we appreciate and acknowledge how difficult it can be navigating those early days with a new child, while also accepting the changes that have happened to your day-to-day life and to your body.
There is no getting around this. It is hard. We want to look and feel like “ourselves” again while also cherishing these precious early days with new babies. One worry we can help to ease is questions around milk supply.
Disclaimer; Kylie and I are not lactation consultants. If you have a genuine concern about your milk supply please contact La Leche League or a Lactation consultant. The advice I impart here is sourced from evidence-based literature and standard practice for breastfeeding Mothers.
Do you actually have a low milk supply?
When my first child was 4 months old I joked to my friend who bottle-fed her son (conceived via surrogate) “It would be so much easier if babies had mL marks on their stomachs so I could know how much they’ve had!”
I was only half joking. My baby who had started sleeping through the night suddenly stopped and I wondered if I’d stopped producing as much milk. I’d recently returned to the gym 2 days per week and began having mummy guilt that it was affecting him.
It isn’t uncommon for women to think they have low supply. Our breasts, let down, speed of feeding, feelings of fullness in our breast tissue and leaking all change as our babies grow. You may even notice changes in the amount and speed of milk you collect if you are pumping. The changes can be gradual, or they can be sudden. All the while, we’re left wondering if things are still working effectively. Because babies don’t actually have mL marks on their stomachs!
But none of these things are indicators of a low milk supply.
You don’t have low milk supply if your baby feeds frequently. Cluster feeding is a very real thing. We are told it happens with very young babies because they sleep so much during the day the feed a lot during their wakeful hours. However, cluster feeding can happen right throughout the breastfeeding relationship. When children are sick, having a growth spurt or even if they just want the comfort of nursing, cluster feeding can - and will - happen. Make sure you have a large glass of water and some good books close by!
You don’t have low milk supply if your baby doesn’t sleep through the night. Some babies sleep through, some don’t and the mother who tells you her baby sleeps 13 hours a night and never cries is probably lying. She might not be of course but comparison helps no one! After three children I can tell you this; each child is different and wakefulness at night time is not a good indicator of the quality of your milk.
You definitely do not have a low milk supply if your baby will drink a “top up” of formula or expressed milk. The suckle reflex in babies is instinctual. If you put a teat in a babies mouth, he or she will most likely take it whether or not they are hungry. I’m pretty much the same with anything salted caramel, it doesn’t mean I don’t have a steady supply of food!
What are reliable signs your milk supply is low?
Lack of weight gain
After the first two weeks when baby may lose weight, he or she should put on between 100 and 200 grams per week. Obviously this will vary and should be discussed with your midwife, doctor or maternity provider if you are at all concerned. However, if your baby is steadily gaining weight your milk is doing it’s job.
During the first 4-6 weeks your baby should have 4-6 wet nappies in a 24 hour period and 2-3 dirty nappies. The poo may only be a small amount - remember their tummies are very small - however, you should see regular soiled nappies. If your baby does not have regular wet or soiled nappies it can point to issues with your supply.
What can you do if you do have a low supply?
A whole foods based diet - as laid out in the Mums Program - helps promote milk production and let down. In particular, important foods to include are quality fatty rich sources of energy and micronutrients such as bone broth, soups, fatty fish, avocados and nuts.
That being said, the most important breast milk consideration is to simply eat! The recal nutrition guide does not restrict calories or energy for new mums. It simply focuses on nutrient dense sources of calories to promote a healthy metabolism and hormone levels so your body can return to homeostasis.
You could also consider increasing certain foods which boost milk supply called galactogogues. Oats fennel, flaxseed certain legumes and brewer’s yeast are all considered galactogogues. You can find a recipe for delicious breastfeeding cookies from Chantal Cuthers - a NZ degree qualified nutritionist here. Many nursing teas also contain galactogogues.
This is key, and I can’t overstate it. We often try and manipulate our food or add in supplements first before addressing stress and sleep. We now know that breast milk is produced by certain hormonal interchanges within your body. Prolactin is responsible for milk let down and while you can eat all the oats and fennel you like, elevated cortisol levels will inhibit the production of this hormone. This is why knowing what are true signs of low milk supply is so vital. We can overthink and stress ourselves out about how much our baby is getting, but if they are growing and their nappies are wet you’re probably fine.
Finding a lactation consultant or specialist is vital if you suspect you have low milk supply. Sometimes it may not be a supply issue but a “delivery malfunction”. Your baby may have a tongue tie or need help getting their latch right.
Take your time
There are two people involved in your breastfeeding relationship. You and your child. It takes time to get to know each other and to figure it all out. This is true if you’re a first time mum, or if you’re on to your 8th child. This is also the reason we haven’t included any form of exercise other than walking in the Mums program. Establishing milk supply and connection with your infant is the most important part of the immediate postpartum-period.
We can alter our diet to include nutritious wholefoods and we should; because the best foods for giving you energy, increasing your fullness and helping to sustain your mood are also the best foods for your baby. It’s a win win. But the exercise can wait for when you’re well slept, your pelvic floor is recovered and the mere thought of physical activity won’t spike your stress hormones.
P.S I wrote this with a baby attached to me. Mums are the multitasking masters.