Breastfeeding - Why it's probably not true that you don't have enough milk
It's Breastfeeding Awareness week, so I wanted to learn more about some of the problems that new mums trying to establish breastfeeding come up against to help arm you with the right information to start or continue your breastfeeding journey.
So I spoke to midwife and breastfeeding specialist Clair McVean about whether it's common to not have enough milk to be able to breastfeed successfully.
When a baby is born they come out programmed to do one job, and that job is to instigate lactation and the production of mature milk. Colostrum is produced approximately midway through your pregnancy, some women might not see it, but it is there. When the placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus after a baby is born, this sends a "we have a baby!" message to the brain, setting in motion the process of production of mature milk. Every time baby latches to the breast and takes the small amount of colostrum present (a small amount as their tummies are so small), they are also sending a message to the brain that they want more milk.
Over the course of the first three days this message becomes stronger and stronger. Baby will often start to feed what feels like relentlessly, and usually most of this feeding occurs overnight. The levels of prolactin (which is the hormone that helps to make breastmilk) are higher at night between 12am and 6am, for this reason babies know that they need to feed more throughout these hours.
When baby is going from breast to breast, never seemingly satisfied with what they are getting, new parents will worry. Often, without knowledge that this is normal behaviour for a breastfed newborn, they will assume that their baby is starving. In most cases this simply isn't what's happening.
Colostrum is perfect for baby, and there will be enough to give baby everything they need, no supplements are needed in the first few days. Breast milk supply is created by demand; the more baby sucks and removes milk, the more milk will be produced. If you have twins or triplets (or more) your breasts can make enough milk for them. If you have a big or hungry baby, your breasts can make enough milk for them.
To establish the milk supply in the early days babies need to feed a lot. As long as weight loss/ gain is appropriate for age, and output (pees and poops) is normal, it is fine to trust in your body and your baby and feed responsively to your babies requests for milk.
We know that statistically speaking less than 5% of women will not be able to make enough milk for their baby. This is generally because of a problem with hormone levels, a problem with breast glandular tissue, or because of breast surgery. Things such as a poor attachment to the breast and tongue-tie can affect supply in the short term too.
The most important thing if you have any concerns about breastfeeding and your milk supply is to seek help and support. Get in touch with a breastfeeding specialist, they will be able to troubleshoot and find out if there are any issues and support you through them.
Also make sure that those around you are aware of your desire to breastfeed, and inform them what normal breastfed newborn behaviour looks like, so they are not unintentionally undermining your efforts with negative comments and suggesting formula.
As women, we tend to blame ourselves when things don't go to plan and think it is our fault, the fault of our broken breasts. But actually the blame lies with our lack of understanding of what is normal for a newborn who breastfeeds. Trust your body, trust your breasts to nourish the baby that you have grown so well.
Thank you so much Clair, such excellent advice. As Clair says do seek out support and help with your breastfeeding journey if you are struggling, as so many of us do in those early days.