Many new mothers are concerned about their breast milk supply and the impact on their baby’s growth and development. If your baby has been breastfed from birth, chances are that your breast milk will be sufficient and most of your concerns are totally unfounded. However, if you are hesitant about breastfeeding, limiting your baby’s suckling time or away from your baby for long hours, hormonal changes may affect your breast milk production and hamper your milk supply.
Your breast milk is all the nutrition that your baby will need – no additional fluids or foods need to be started before 6 months. This includes water, baby cereal and bottled vegetable puree. Breast is best and no other form of nutrition like baby formula, vitamin and mineral supplements or organic vegetables can match the nutritional value of breast milk.
Not breastfeeding is a growing problem in South Africa as a large proportion of mothers immediately start with bottle feeding . This is one of the leading causes of infant mortality. The hesitance to breastfeed is not only seen in working mothers – many women are concerned about their physical appearance, weight gain and large droopy breasts, or do not want to be inconvenienced by the needy infant. One of the common excuses from women who do not want to breastfeed is that their breast milk supply is low.
The other excuse is that the baby is not willing to ‘take to the breast’ (breastfeed). While this may be true in some cases, many South African women are using these excuses as a means of getting away with not feeding their newborns. Although the Department of Health has made every effort to increase awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding, this has not stopped the phenomenon of robbing the newborn of breast milk.
Signs of Sufficient Breast Milk
If you are concerned about your low breast milk supply, there are a few signs that will indicate if your baby is getting enough milk. It is important to remember that a problem may not only be your milk production and supply. Sometimes, the baby may not be feeding properly due to an underdeveloped suckling reflex, common in premature babies, or a poor latch-on technique.
- Weight gain is always a good sign that the breast milk is sufficient. Remember that newborns may lose up to 10% of their body weight in the first few days of life. This is not related to nutrition.
- An active baby is another good sign that the child is developing properly, however most newborns will tend to sleep most of the day.
- Baby sleeps well after feeds – up to 3 to 4 hours.
- Baby does not cry continuously but is not dull and listless.
- You can hear and see baby swallowing during feeds.
- Baby wets (urine) 6 to 8 diapers per day.
- Baby passes stool at least 3 times a day in the first month of life.
- After feeding, the baby breaks wind (burps) and even regurgitates (vomits) a little milk.
Do not judge the feeling of ‘fullness’ in your breast as a sign of a sufficient milk supply. Similarly, the feeling of an ’empty breast’ is also not a good indication of your milk production. While some women may report that their supply is in such excess that they ‘leak’ milk between feeds, this is not the case for every woman.
These signs are not a true indication of whether your breast milk supply is sufficient for your baby.
As your baby feeds more frequently, your body will cope accordingly and produce more breast milk. The less frequent and the smaller the feeds, the less breast milk is produced. For the enthusiastic mothers who do want to breast feed or express their milk for baby’s feeds but have a limited supply, certain drugs known as galactagogues will assist with milk production. These are prescription drugs and should only be prescribed by your doctor.