Understand how your body establishes a milk supply
When I started nursing my first baby, I realized I had no idea how my body knew how much milk to make. As you learn more about breastfeeding, you will hear a lot about milk supply. There are a lot of articles about all kinds of ways to increase your milk supply. But really the best way to ensure your body is producing enough milk is to nurse often enough in the beginning.
Frequency is key. Your goal is every two hours during the day and whenever your baby wakes at night, for at least the first three months. Babies need to nurse this much not only because their tummies are so small but also to increase the amount of milk you make.
How the body knows to make more milk?
Every time a baby latches (attaches onto a boob) a few minutes of baby sucking will result in a letdown (milk will flow). The boob will “empty” (a breast is never completely empty of milk). The beginning of the letdown will be watery, and the end of the letdown will be fatty. After a while, milk will stop flowing.
When milk leaves your breast, your body gets the signal through a feedback molecule to produce more milk. The more frequently you nurse, the more times the body is told to produce more milk. This results in your body increasing its supply.
With my first, I was so annoyed because I felt like I had just nursed, and she wanted to nurse again. I could not believe she was hungry again. Remember, baby knows best. Only they know if they are hungry and they also instinctively know how to increase your milk supply.
Expect cluster feeding
Before I left the hospital, my lactation consultant told me around day 9 to expect a Velcro Baby as in constantly attached to the boob.
When babies want to nurse on and off for hours, they are trying to get multiple letdowns (staying on until the next letdown or wanting to nurse again after popping off). This is called cluster feeding and is a way to increase your milk supply. Cluster feeding usually happens during a growth spurt and there is a lot of these during that first year.
Learn the newborn hunger cues
Something that helped immensely was knowing when my baby was hungry. They can’t tell you they are hungry. Learning hunger cues helped me realize when they were hungry. I then knew not to give a pacifier and instead to work on latching (or calming and then latching) baby.
When a baby is trying to tell you they are hungry, they will:
- Move head from side to side (searching for a nipple)
- Root (if being held, will turn head and bob head towards the person’s chest)
- Put hand in mouth (this is a hunger sign until ~4 months, then it is them exploring)
- Open and close their mouth or smacking their lips
When a baby is really hungry and you missed the early signs, they will:
- Move their bodies, a lot
- Turn red
For the first three months, you can really follow the idea that if baby is awake, then baby is hungry. A tip that I got from the lactation consultant was to immediately nurse baby once I saw her start to wake.
It was SO much easier to latch and nurse before we got to the crying stage. Once crying, I would have to soothe her first and that would take time and she would just get hungrier.
Did baby get any milk?
You can spend a lot of time nursing and baby might not get any milk. You need to ensure that baby is getting milk. Here are the best ways to do that.
Are they swallowing?
When baby latches, they will suck until a letdown. Once your milk flows, you should see and hear a switch to swallowing. You can watch their throat to see the swallowing motions and you should hear them gulping.
The rate of gulping also tells you where they are in their letdown. If they are gulping fast, then they are at the beginning. The fast flow that is mainly water. Once they are on the fatty part of the milk, they will slow down to a few sucks occasionally followed by a swallow. It might seem like they are done but keep them on until they fall off because they are getting the fatty milk that will keep them full.