There’s no denying it. Breastfeeding isn’t always an easy journey! From supply issues, sore nipples, to finding that perfect latch – not to mention dreaded mastitis! – breastfeeding certainly has its challenges…
As a first-time mum, I didn’t exactly know what to expect asides from that it probably wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. My own mother had never been able to breastfeed me or my brother as a baby and I naturally assumed that genetically, and because I have a history of PCOS, that it also would be something I’d struggle to achieve. When my daughter, Billie, came along this September however, I found myself actually getting the hang of it pretty quickly. The midwives looking after us seemed impressed with how much colostrum I had, how quickly my milk came in, and after a few lessons on proper latching, Billie and I work working together as a great breastfeeding team! We left Birthcare feeling confident and arrived home ready to settle into life with our new precious bundle of love. But things all changed suddenly when Billie was 12 days old.
Billie had been a bit fussy on the boob for a couple of days and I just noticed she wasn’t feeding as well as she normally had been. I assumed it was gas as she’d been really unsettled and would only want to sleep on us. She was making lots of grunting noises, breathing quite fast, and we had noticed her feet had been a little blue too. After speaking with our midwife (and consulting Dr Google as we all do), we were assured that this was all very common and normal in newborns. It wasn’t until I picked her up that afternoon that Billie felt extremely cold to the touch and wouldn’t wake up. When I tried taking her temperature, it was unreadable on our digital thermometer as it was so low, but the battery was also dying… was it just a faulty reading?? My mother’s instinct that I’d heard so much about immediately kicked in. I called Healthline and an ambulance was sent straight away. Next thing we knew, we were at Middlemore hospital where we found that Billie’s heart was failing due to something called SVT, and she was in shock. After a gruelling 2 or so hours in resus, we were eventually transferred to Starship intensive care where we ended up staying for two weeks. Needless to say, the whole ordeal felt like a living nightmare.
The first few days at Starship we were unable to hold Billie or feed her, and this meant that my milk supply was hugely affected. The stress of being so close to losing our child, not being able to cuddle her or stay with her – plus a pandemic thrown into the mix – was enough to make my milk almost dry up completely. My days at the hospital were spent going back and forth between sitting with Billie and being isolated in the expressing room every 2-3 hours. Between seeing the lactation consultant and making a solid pumping plan, plus doing our best to remember to eat and sleep, I was slowly able increase my supply little by little over the week. And, as Billie continued to improve thanks to the incredible team of doctors and nurses, I was finally able to breastfeed her again – a day that I will never forget!
Tips to support your milk supply
As a nutritionist and naturopath, I frequently work with clients on supporting both their pregnancy and breastfeeding journeys, and when Billie came along it was really time to practice what I preached! Along with doing my best to manage stress, focusing on a good diet and prioritising sleep was paramount. This wasn’t always easy, especially when it came to the limited hospital food and the stress of leaving Billie keeping us up at night. But, thanks to our amazing friends, family, and the Ronald McDonald House, we were very well taken care of with dinner deliveries and an endless supply of snacks to keep us going and my milk flowing.
All in all, if you need some help to support your milk supply, here are my top tips that I can recommend from my professional and now personal experience.1. Speak with a lactation consultant.
I cannot recommend speaking to a lactation consultant enough. Lactation consultants are breastfeeding specialists who are specifically trained to help mothers and their babies with breastfeeding or lactation concerns. They will be able to help you with latching, finding the best nursing position that works for you and bub, and can help with any other difficulties such as low milk supply, oversupply, nipple pain and expressing. They truly are the experts, and some simple recommendations may just be all it takes to make your breastfeeding journey a success.2. Don’t forget to eat.
When you’re busy (and sleep deprived) with a newborn, finding the time, the hands, or even remembering to eat can be an issue! But breastfeeding takes up a whole lot of energy and to support your milk supply you need to be getting in around 500 extra calories per day. Be sure to have some easy grab and go snacks on hand, like muesli bars, bliss balls, fruit, nuts, and seeds. Smoothies make a quick and nutritious snack or breakfast too. Try whizzing up some banana, berries, oats, nut butter, a handful of greens plus your choice of milk, and sip away while you’re feeding.
3. Focus on protein.
Getting enough protein each day is not only important to support your milk production, but also to help your body’s recovery postpartum. Approximately, breastfeeding mums require an additional 25g of protein per day. To meet your requirements, focus on including a good source of protein at each meal and snack. Good sources include meats such as chicken, beef, lamb and fish, eggs, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and tofu. Having protein with each meal will also help to support balanced blood sugar levels and help to keep you fuller for longer too.
4. Stay hydrated.
Breastfeeding is thirsty work! Did you know that the hormone oxytocin which is released during feeding also stimulates thirst? It’s your body’s natural way of helping to make sure you’re drinking enough water to support a healthy milk supply. As a general rule, aim to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water each day, and drink when the baby drinks!
5. Feed or express regularly.
As you may know, breastfeeding works as a supply and demand system – or rather, demand and supply! Put simply, the more your baby nurses, or the more you express, this will signal to your body that you need to make more milk to meet this demand. If you’re trying to increase your supply, it’s best not to go more than 2-3 hours without feeding during the day, or 4 hours over the night. Doing a 10-minute pump after a nursing session can also help to boost your output. If you’re still having trouble, it’s best to see a lactation consultant who can identify any underlying issues and make a plan for you and your baby.
As a naturopath and medical herbalist, I frequently use herbs to support breastfeeding mums with their milk supply, in combination with following a healthy diet and managing any stress. Herbs such as Fenugreek, Fennel and Goats Rue are known “galactagogues”, which work in the body in a way that increases milk supply. While these herbs are sometimes used in lactation cookies or smoothie blends, they are extremely bitter tasting and therefore often can’t be used in the amounts needed to noticeably boost supply. I therefore always suggest a capsule formulation or visiting a naturopath who can make up a personalised liquid herbal blend for you.
From one new mum to another, I wish you all the best in your breastfeeding journey!