I was just recently asked to write a post about building a milk supply, not because of difficulties in latch or getting the milk let-down going, but how to amplify a breastmilk stockpile and what to do to make sure your supply is maintained. So here goes:
So my passion for breastfeeding first started back in my days spent as a summer intern at The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, & Children (WIC) in Lafayette, Indiana. In the weeks leading up to our World Breastfeeding Week Celebrations August 1-7 (World Breastfeeding Week), the other interns and I worked tirelessly to artfully craft displays, flyers, educational games for kids to learn about breastfeeding, and other materials to promote breastfeeding. During the celebrations, we sat in breastfeeding workshops to help mothers learn about baby latching and baby holding techniques, helped educate WIC clients, and played games to create a positive atmosphere surrounding “Breast is Best.” I remember that even at the young age of 20 I was really looking forward to breastfeeding my future baby. My most impassioned presentations in my undergraduate studies, particularly in my Nutrition Communications class (F&N 424 taught by Barbara Mayfield), surrounded the physiological/immunological benefits of breastmilk to the infant. I even flirted with the possibility of becoming IBCLC Certified to be a Lactation Consultant (I decided not to because it would be way too expensive and take way too long to complete while working full time as an ICU nurse).
Fast forward nearly a decade and here I am exclusively breastfeeding my 6 month old. Let me just start off by saying that there was no question on whether or not I would breastfeed Jia. My husband knew how determined I was to exclusively breastfeed her in order to give her the best chance at a strong immune system and high IQ, almost to the point where I was a little afraid I’d jinxed myself and would encounter difficulties once Jia arrived.
So, after Jia was born, I continued steadfast with this same degree of determination. (See the above picture, that was my stockpile that I donated to a Children’s Hospital Milk Bank)
My husband’s close friend Justin’s wife Armita has been such an invaluable resource. Once Jia was born, I didn’t have a friend who lived nearby who’d semi-recently had a baby to the point where she was past the “what am I doing?” stages but still had all her experiences still fresh in her mind. She had her baby Axel in March the previous year and guided me through figuring out when to pump to maximize my supply. Thanks Armita!!!
Baby is the best at getting milk. As they should be, right? Second best – the pump.
I have a Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breastpump and I love it. It’s effective, comfortable to use, and it’s very straightforward. My health insurance covered the cost of my pump (I searched Medela’s website for medical suppliers that take insurance and called each one to see if they took my insurance. I was determined to use a Medela, since it’s the best out on the market). I paid something like $25 extra to get the tote bag, and the tote bag didn’t even have the peekaboo spot for the pump, so I’m not sure what the point was…
Some of my friends have other pumps, and quite frankly, most have had problems with theirs. The suction is too weak, the parts are confusing, the suction isn’t comfortable, the list goes on. When I was pregnant, I asked women what pump they used. The ones that had Medelas were very satisfied.
Your pump shouldn’t feel uncomfortable. If yours works and is comfortable, then that’s all you need!
Whether you are pumping to amp up your milk supply and/or you’re stockpiling for your return to work, below are some pearls of wisdom from my experience.
What I Learned and Did:
- Get to know your breastpump. They are intimidating at first. There are so many tubes, flanges, tiny little plastic parts, little membrane circles, it’s all a bit daunting. Just read the picture manual and try it when you have a good 15 minutes to relax and let it sink in. I felt overwhelmed, but Armita told me – “Just sit down and try it. It’s really not bad.”
- Having trouble pumping? Try a few things: Check to make sure the breast shield fits you (picture on right from medelabreastfeedingus.com). If the pressure is painful, try to start at a lighter intensity of suction by turning down the knob. Readjust the breast shield so that it is centered on your nipple. Sometimes the pump can feel so mechanical and foreign that it’s hard to relax to get your milk to let-down. A warm compress can help your milk ducts release. Lightly massaging the breast tissue can help this too. Sometimes looking at pictures or videos of your baby can help stimulate the milk let-down. If you’re stressed out or anxious, this can DEFINITELY affect your let-down. Try to turn on some relaxing music or put on a TV show that you like. My let-down takes a long time when Jeff watches Sons of Anarchy…
- Start pumping when your baby is about 1 month old. That way you get a feel for how much your baby will be eating and how often.
- Know this – The breast is an “organ of active production,” as Marie Davis, RN IBCLC says on her website, lactation consultant.info. This means that when the breast is stimulated to produce, it will produce. When the demand for more milk is sensed, the breast will produce more in response – Boobie-nomics!
- If your baby eats from one breast, make sure that breast is completely empty by pumping it after baby is done eating, then pump the other breast. Empty breasts re-fill faster. Partially empty breasts are slower to re-fill. (Obviously if I was out in public I wouldn’t do this, but when I was at home, this is what I did) Do this in the daytime and at nighttime, once you put your baby back down to sleep or hand her over to your partner so you can pump.
- When your baby goes to sleep for the night, pump 3 hours after the last time you fed your baby (Jia fed at 7:15 PM before bed, so I made sure to pump at around 10:30 PM, since she would wake up at about midnight for a feeding when she was still eating at night). This will stimulate your body that there is still a demand for milk, so it’ll maintain and increase your supply!
- Don’t skip night feedings and let someone else do the feeding [if you’re not pumping instead]. You don’t want your body to think it doesn’t need to make milk.
- When you wake up in the middle of the night because your breasts feel full, go and pump them. If you’re worried your baby may wake up for a feeding soon, do what I did: I pumped one entire breast and partially drained the other. That way I still had some for when she was hungry, but the pressure from one was relieved (whew! It can be painful!) and one breast is empty (and ready to fill). After Jia was weaned off of night feedings (the last time I pumped in the middle of the night), my body slowly learned that we don’t feed the baby at night. So I wake up really full and pump, getting 10-11 ounces, putting 7 ounces in a bottle for Jeff to feed Jia for breakfast and the rest gets reserved for later freezing.
- When you’re still establishing your supply, do not pump a bottle to later let your partner feed the baby without pumping while they are feeding the baby! You don’t want your body to think the baby didn’t need to be fed in the absence of feeding. Example: If you pumped at night, so your partner could feed the baby the next evening while you slept, your body isn’t getting the trigger to produce milk. Instead, your body thinks the baby didn’t need to eat during that time. If Jeff fed a bottle to Jia before bed so I could go to the gym, I pumped immediately after I came back from the gym. This did two things: I replenished the stockpile, and I told my body to still keep making milk!
- Eat lots of carbs, don’t go on a diet, and drink tons of water. Water intake means milk output. Carbs (bread, pasta, muffins, cookies, etc.) help stimulate milk ducts, mostly because of the yeast in them. I’ve learned that oats, flax, and yeast help stimulate milk production. If you’ve heard about lactation cookies (to increase/maintain milk supply), read below for the recipe I used, it includes all 3 of these ingredients.
- If you’re leaking, use a Milkies Milk-Saver. (TMI – Before I knew of this genius invention, I hovered over 2 empty Avent bottles to collect whatever was dripping before and after a shower, and even when I was nursing on one side, I let the other side drip into a bottle) Milkies is an awesome invention that lets you slip this soft silicone pod into your nursing bra/top of the side that you’re not using to nurse, so your let-down reflex milk doesn’t go to waste. It collects in the pod. I saved about 2 ounces every time. Add that up and with a baby 0-3 months, you’ll have a full feeding after two uses without even trying! Milkies is responsible for a good bulk of my early freezer stockpile. I got mine on Amazon.com. After a while, you stop leaking so much and a little disposable nursing pad keeps you from leaking. I use Lansinoh Disposable Nursing Pads. (They’re not eco-friendly, but the organic reusable nursing pads I bought got soaked through in an instant and even 6 months out, I still leak if there’s cotton next to me). I’ve found they are cheaper at Target than Amazon.
- Save bags in volumes that your baby eats. This is so there is minimal waste. Time, date, and write down the volume on the bag, then freeze. or refrigerate. When Jia was 0-2.5 months, she ate 3-4 ounces per feeding (one side). After 3 months, she started needing more, so she ate 5-6 ounces per feeding. We found this out because Jeff would try and feed her before bed when he came home from work in time, and when she started needing more, she would give him an ear full! She’s 6 months old and eats about 5-7 ounces per feeding, 4 feedings per day and solids once a day. The Lansinoh bags are my favorite. They have a writeable space on the tab, the volume increments are accurate, they stand upright on a flat surface after filling, and they have a double zipper that clicks as you seal them. I got mine on Amazon.com
- Limit alcohol consumption (til you know how it affects you, or you have a good supply). For some people, alcohol dries up their supply, due to dehydration. If you have more than one drink, you may not want to keep that milk for your little one. Our pediatrician told us that one drink is fine as long as you don’t consume alcohol immediately before you feed the baby. She said no need to “pump and dump” with one drink, if a couple hours before the next feeding.
Doing what I’ve listed above, I was able to donate over 564 ounces of milk to the King’s Daughters Milk Bank! I donated because I had about 5% of freezer space left for food. And, because Jia had an intolerance to soy and dairy the milk I’d saved wasn’t safe for her. Even now after donating, we have an entire shelf in a second freezer in the basement that is getting full!
3 main ingredients to help boost one’s milk supply are: oats, flax seed, and brewer’s yeast. Nutritional yeast or baking yeast will not work, it must be brewer’s yeast. You can find it on amazon for about $5, or in Whole Foods for about $15 for a large canister. I read on Baby Belly’s website that raw cookies (like my recipe) are more effective than baked cookies. Or, you can always toss some flax seed, oats, and brewer’s yeast into one of your cookie recipes, too!
- 1/2 c coconut oil (or 1 stick of butter if you can have dairy)
- 1/2 c milk (I use almond milk)
- 4 Tbsp cocoa powder (I use organic unsweetened cacao)
- 1/3 c agave or honey (I use organic agave from Trader Joe’s)
- 1 c peanut butter (I use Trader Joe’s Organic Unsalted Creamy)
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/3 c ground flax seed (I got mine from Trader Joe’s, theirs is ground with blueberries but beware if your’e avoiding soy, it has soy lecithin)
- 1/4 c brewers yeast (I bought a canister of un-bittered yeast from whole foods)
- 3 c rolled oats (I use Trader Joe’s organic old-fashioned whole grain oats)
Mix first 4 ingredients over medium high heat in a large pan/wok and boil for 1 minute. Lower heat to medium. Add peanut butter and vanilla. Once mixed together, add the flax and yeast, then gradually add the oats. Turn off heat once well mixed, then wait til the mixture isn’t hot. Roll into little ball/cookie shapes onto wax or parchment paper. Refrigerate and done! I ate about 3-4 a day, mostly because I craved sweet and salty. It’s like a chunky Reese’s ball. I’ve shared this recipe with many friends and they love them. Tell your partner they will lactate if they eats them (haha, they won’t) because they are so good you’ll want them all for you!
Lactation Smoothie: (I got this from Pinterest from here, it has the power of half a batch of Lactation Cookies):
- Whole banana
- 2 Tbsp almond or peanut butter
- 1 Tbsp brewer’s yeast
- 2 Tbsp ground flax
- 1/3 C oats
- 2-3 Tbsp cocoa powder
- Agave/Maple syrup to taste
Put all ingredients in a blender. Top with almond milk and ice cubes, blend!
Other ingredients known to help milk supply: fenugreek (often in Mother’s Milk tea, you can’t donate milk if you take this) and fennel tea.
Disclaimer: If you are having trouble with latching or if you’re unsure if your baby is getting enough milk, speak with your pediatrician or lactation consultant. Try to consult with these professionals to ensure you are not missing anything! Breast is best and there are so many health benefits of receiving breast milk! Some moms have insurmountable difficulties with breastfeeding which makes them ultimately unable to feed their babies. It’s OK if this is you, your baby will thrive and will still be happy, healthy, and above all, loved!
Sources for increased lactation with supplementation:
BabyBelly.com.au Lactation Cookies Recipes
The effects of supplementing diets fed to pregnant and lactating ewes with saccharomyces cerevisiae dried yeast. Zabek K., Milewski S., Wojcik R., Siwicki AK. Turk J Vet Anim Sci. 2014. 38 (2): 200-206.