I’ve been a breastfeeding mom for 9 years, and I’ve counseled hundreds of breastfeeding moms as a volunteer and lactation consultant for the past 7 years. That’s a lot of moms, babies, boobs — and a whole lot of QUESTIONS.
Hands down, though, the No. 1 question I get asked most as a lactation consultant is this: “Do I have enough milk for my baby?”
It’s a very natural and real concern for new breastfeeding moms to have, so it never surprises me. After all, when you feed your baby by bottle, you can see how many ounces the baby is drinking, and bottle-feeding is the model of feeding that most of us are used to. But breastfeeding is, understandably, different — since there’s no way to actually see how much your baby is getting, the way milk production works can often feel very mysterious and confusing for moms.
And it’s something I know firsthand.
When my first baby was a newborn, I would study him after he finished nursing to see if he seemed satisfied. I’d try to peer into his throat to see if milk was on his tongue, or dribbling out of his mouth. I would even give my breasts a little squeeze to see if they felt emptier than when we started. (Come on: we all do it!) Looking back, it was all totally ridiculous, but I was just so unsure what was going on with feeding that I desperately needed to know the whole system was working right.
Two kids, nine years, and one IBCLC certification later … and I am definitely well-acquainted with the “system.”
I’ve also been asked about milk supply a million times over, in various different ways. Here are just a few:
- My baby wants to nurse all the time, and is never settled. Does that mean he’s not getting enough?
- My breasts don’t feel as full as they used to. Has my milk supply gone down?
- My baby used to nurse every 2 hours on the dot, but today she wants to nurse every 5 minutes. Where did all my milk go?
- I fed my baby, he fell asleep, and then 20 minutes later, he woke up screaming. I must not have enough milk for him, right?
Thankfully, the answer to all of the above is a pretty simple one: If your baby is growing well on your milk alone, then YES, you do have enough milk.
It will always be impossible to see just how much of your milk is trickling into your little one’s tummy, but their weight gain gives you that information in a very concrete way. Luckily, babies get scheduled for a million doctor’s visits in those first few weeks and months, so you can keep checking that weight gain if you need reassurance. And if you have extra concerns, call your pediatrician and go in for an extra weight check. Scheduling a visit with a lactation consultant can be invaluable too, and many of us have scales.
However, once you know that your baby is gaining well, it’s best not to get too obsessed with the scale. If breastfeeding is working, just go with it, and try to trust your body and your baby. And remember: having a baby who wants to nurse very frequently — even hourly sometimes — is normal, and doesn’t mean you don’t have enough milk. Babies who fuss while nursing are also normal. (Babies cry sometimes: it sucks, but it’s just how they are.) And a baby who suddenly wants to nurse a lot more is usually just having a growth spurt.
But what if your baby isn’t growing well on your milk alone? What if you’re supplementing with formula? What if your baby is gaining weight too slowly, losing weight, or not gaining at all?
Well, there are lots of reasons this could be happening. Usually coming up with a good plan of nursing more frequently does the trick. Milk supply works by good old supply and demand, so nursing more frequently will almost always increase your milk supply. It’s also really important to make sure your baby is latched deeply and sucking efficiently.
Of course, it’s true that some moms are physically unable to produce a full milk supply (for reasons that include thyroid issues, hormonal imbalances, previous breast surgeries, and insufficient glandular tissue). As a lactation consultant, this is one of the most difficult situations I face. Having to tell a mother that her breasts aren’t working the way they need to in order to produce a full supply of milk absolutely breaks my heart. But the good thing is that breastfeeding isn’t all or nothing, and even if a mother can’t produce all the milk her baby needs, there are ways for her to continue breastfeeding.
I know that for me, once I knew that my baby was getting enough milk, things became a lot easier. Of course, breastfeeding wasn’t easy, exactly. I think it’s important not to gloss over the fact that breastfeeding can be intensive and difficult. I mean, it’s your body alone sustaining your baby, which can feel like a huge responsibility for mothers, especially brand new ones, who aren’t used to the insane demands of motherhood in general.
If you’re starting to feel like breastfeeding makes you feel chained to your baby, you are not alone. And you need a break! It’s OK to pump a bottle of milk every once in a while, have someone else feed the baby, and get out for a few hours alone. Even going to the nail salon or the freaking grocery store on your own can feel like a much needed vacation.
Most importantly, remember this: If you are struggling with milk supply, having another breastfeeding issue, or just feeling overwhelmed by new motherhood in general, don’t be afraid to reach out. There are lactation consultants, breastfeeding support groups (both online and in real life), therapists who specialize in postpartum issues, as well as new mom meetings and other ways to connect with awesome, supportive people.
And finally: However you feed your baby — whether it’s exclusive breastfeeding, breastfeeding with supplements, or feeding your baby formula only — you are doing great. You are keeping your baby fed and happy. And you are an amazing mom.