I’ve never texted more in my life!
I was on double baby watch this weekend, and although it’s really common for me to go 24+ hours before I even see a text, I was hovering over my phone like crazy!
Two dear ones to me were due on the same day and both went into labor Friday. It was so exciting! How to hover without actually checking in on them, I don’t know. Lots of waiting for the text tone!
Both healthy babies were born that day, and I can’t wait to meet them.
So I’ve been thinking a lot about babies and childbirth this weekend, about Gabe being so tiny (and now is so big already!), and about all those crazy first days of parenthood which for me, were exactly ten years ago. (I fall right out of my chair when I write that, just so you know.)
That may have clinched the timing of this post, but it was actually inspired by some other situations:
- Gabe got cranky cranky right around the time I went grain-free for Lent as part of my anti-cavity diet, and although I thought it was just a normal Kimball kid thing (they just. don’t. sleep. EVER.), a friend emailed and happened to mention that a grain-free diet can hinder milk supply in breastfeeding mamas. It’s a little note buried in the back of the GAPS book, apparently. Very interesting…and his mood did even out after a week or so.
- I got an email from a concerned grandmother whose new baby grandson had meningitis (scary!!!!!) and wondered if I had any tips for her daughter to best nourish herself to nurse him. Gulp. Humbling, not only to be asked such an important question, but that there are grandmothers reading KS, even though I feel like I’m always writing to young moms just like me! Perhaps I, like my oldest son, am an old soul.
There are two potential issues breastfeeding mothers want to keep in mind as they work to make milk for their babies – not exactly something that comes with an instruction manual!
1. Milk Supply (Quantity)
2. Milk Composition (Quality)
This post is sponsored by TriLight Health.
My Sad Skim Milk and Skinny Baby
When I was personally a first-time mom, I had trouble with both, although since then I’ve nursed for a cumulative ~7 years and had no problems.
My firstborn was a healthy, natural birth but for meconium in the amniotic fluid which meant he was on oxygen for the first hour. He was a jaundiced little tot, so unfortunately he was sleepy and had trouble nursing well.
I didn’t help the situation because I didn’t realize for quite some time that the little bugger could gently suckle while he was sleeping until I caught him moving his precious lips in the cradle one day, dead asleep. I always thought that if he was suckling and still “sealed” on the breast that he was eating and I mustn’t interrupt since he was having trouble gaining weight.
Of course that means he nursed about 18 hours a day but much of it was “nap-nursing” and not getting much real sustenance at all.
When I did pump, very, very little came out, which was so discouraging (even though I knew my body might be making more than we could manually pump and visibly see, it was still a psychological hurdle), and for his whole infancy the pumped bottles I left with caregivers during my short times away were what I would now call “skim milk.” The creamline was pretty pathetic, so I’d judge my own breastmilk as pretty low quality with baby no. 1.
My diet was far from optimal, simply because of ignorance and buying into the low-fat mentality of the culture.
I was super stressed out – we were buying our first home during the first month of baby’s life, trying to pack and do paperwork; my father had a frighteningly serious medical incident just a few days after the birth; and when baby wasn’t gaining well, that stressed me out all the more.
I still remember the nine ounces of formula we felt we had to give him, doctor’s orders, during the first or second week of his life because he was so slow to gain. The fact that I remember the number of ounces (probably 5 total bottles?) tells you how much that stung me to the core! I didn’t want baby to have formula and I felt as though I had failed.
I was pretty hard on myself, which unfortunately didn’t help the situation at all.
Breastfeeding isn’t a competitive sport where adrenaline inspires success.
My firstborn finally did regain his birthweight by 3.5 weeks (way too late!!), but he has been a rail-thin child ever since. Whether that’s 100% his genetics or somehow related to the early days, I’ll never know.
How to Increase Milk Supply and Quality
We’ll look at three major categories to help moms keep their milk supply up and the quality of their milk as good as possible as well:
1. What Should Nursing Mamas Eat?
This could be a whole post in itself, but the very basics for quality of milk (which also impacts quantity) include:
- Enough calories – don’t restrict your food, moms, as long as it’s healthy stuff.
- Enough carbs – as I learned this spring, a grain-free diet can be hard on milk supply. If grains don’t agree with your body, at least eat lots of baked potatoes, slathered with butter, bananas, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.
- Healthy fats – breastfeeding is not a time for a low-fat diet either (actually, there’s never really a time for that, but that’s another post). Nursing moms need plenty of animal fats, whole milk, butter, cheese, fish, meat, coconut oil, etc. Skip the industrial oils as much as you can, but since breastmilk is 50% fat, you’ll need to be consuming some. It’s not as easy as “eat fat, make creamy milk,” but healthy fats are always good for recovery and good general health, and medium chain triglycerides like coconut oil are a great source of energy (which every mama needs!).
- Cutting down simple sugars – nobody needs white sugar, white flour, and corn syrup. The empty calories might give a quick boost of energy, but that baked potato with butter would do better.
Foods that can help moms increase the quantity of their breastmilk are called “galactagogues,” and there are a number of them that are actually decently common foods:
- Oatmeal, quinoa (like these Quinoa Oat Protein Bars)
- Garlic, ginger
- Beet leaves, spinach, dark leafy greens
- Flax seed
- Sources: 1, 2
And finally, the importance of staying hydrated can’t go unmentioned.
Drink more water or water kefir than usual, consume bone broth, and eat water-heavy foods like grapes, cucumbers, watermelon, etc. to continue to keep everything flowing in your own body and avoid dehydration. If you don’t feel like drinking, you could try adding a splash of lemon juice to your water, making infused water with cucumber slices and mint leaves (or many other combinations of fruits, veggies or herbs), or trying hot teas or ice water. Don’t resort to sugary or caffeinated drinks though!
2. What Should Nursing Mamas Do During the Day?
What you DO is as important as what you eat.
First, nurse often!
I mentioned that my firstborn used to trick me into thinking he was nursing when he was really just napping, but at least my body was being stimulated by the presence of the baby at the nipple. However – it would have been better if I had gotten him to actively suckle more!
Switching sides regularly, starting the next nursing session on the side you left off previously, and working hard to get baby to get a full feed and drain the breast all really help milk supply increase.
When you’re not nursing (and it may feel like your time nursing is the majority of your day – that’s okay at first!), it’s important for nursing mothers to:
- Reduce stress as much as possible. Whether you can cut some obligations out of your life or add some deep breathing, prayer, or laughter with friends, try hard to avoid stress. It’s tricky because you’ll want to stress out about your low milk supply, I know, but nothing kills your supply like being too busy or worried.
- Sleep. Plain and simple. Get as much rest as you can, preferably with baby snuggled with you at least some of the time – simply being with your baby tells your body to make more milk.
- Skin to skin with baby. Whenever you nurse, if baby can be in a diaper only and mom can make sure her belly is touching baby’s skin, that helps all around (mom’s supply, baby’s overall health, etc).
Need help with the stress component? This simple step can greatly calm your nervous system and only takes a couple minutes. Plus you can do it while holding or breastfeeding a baby!
Breastmilk production is a supply and demand situation, so any nursing is good, and even supplemental pumping can help increase supply IF baby is having trouble nursing or is sick and can’t nurse well. You’ll have to decide if you store that milk or give it to baby.
3. A Little Herbal Help for Low Breastmilk Supply
Whenever I read recommendations like these, I come up with all sorts of excuses.
I can’t sleep when the baby sleeps anymore – I have three other kids!
I don’t have time OR energy to learn to cook new things or buy new kinds of fats. This is part of the problem!
So I get it, tired mamas.
If you’re already stressed out and stretched tight, it sure would be nice if there was something that didn’t take much bandwidth, learning, time or practice.
To help increase breastmilk and aid relaxation, it contains: Milk Thistle, Chaste Tree Berries, Fennel, Borage, *Red Raspberry and *Lemon in a base of Kosher Vegetable Glycerine and Reverse Osmosis Water. * Ingredients are Certified Organic.
I didn’t know about TriLight when I needed this product, but we love their Lympha Rub and other tinctures – you can get Lympha Rub free when you sign up for their newsletter and shipping is also free over $25, so try to take advantage of those things when you order! PLUS use the code Kitchen15 for an additional 15% off your order.
And if you’re worried about clogged milk ducts or mastitis, this herbal tincture would be good to have on hand – add to your order while you’re getting something shipped to you anyway.
You can also get herbs as supplements or as Mother’s Milk tea (found on Amazon). I drank the Yogi brand with Gabe because I got some as a gift.
Here are common milk-supply increasing herbs:
- fenugreek (can be found in capsules)
- blessed thistle
- brewers yeast
- fennel (best as tincture, ok as capsules – for increasing letdown)
- Here’s a really good source with dosage amounts.
Deeper Problems with Mom’s Body That Affect Milk Supply
If stress impacts milk supply, certain postpartum depression can play a major factor, too. PPD is far too often unrecognized and untreated, and many moms suffer.
It typically begins within four weeks of delivery and can be treated conventionally and naturally in many ways. A dear friend tried everything and finally found relief via natural progesterone therapy as described by the Pope Paul VI Institute HERE. I’d strongly encourage anyone who feels like they or a loved one has more than the “baby blues” to read that page and seek support.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
In my recent issue of Family Foundations (Vol. 41, no. 6, May/June 2015), a publication of the Couple to Couple League, there was an article about PCOS and milk supply. Perfect timing!
PCOS affects 5-10% of women of childbearing age, and it’s estimated that about 1/3 of these may struggle with low breastmilk supply – but the connection is often unknown by lactation consultants and doctors. One third also may produce too much milk – it’s a hormonal and insulin problem.
This doesn’t mean that if you have PCOS, you can’t nurse, but it’s something to keep in mind and research. Many women with low supply can still nurse with supplemental feedings of donated breastmilk, homemade baby formula or conventional formula through a tube. The baby is still latched on to mama’s breast and reaping the benefits of the closeness breastfeeding provides, plus getting some of mom’s own milk.
Problems with Baby That Affect Milk Supply
If you feel like you’re trying everything and your milk supply or nursing relationship is still suffering, try looking into:
- poor latch (find a good lactation consultant)
- tongue-tie or lip-tie
- jaundice/sleepy baby