Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tips on how to boost your breastmilk - my breastfeeding journey

Before I had my own child, I often thought that breastfeeding is something that comes naturally and easily as breathing. Well, now I know that it is natural, but it is definitely not easy! I thought that the milk would always be there like a water pipe; the baby wants milk, just turn on the faucet, it’ll come out. The baby doesn’t want milk, turn it off and it’s gone. Just like magic. How na├»ve of me!

My baby boy has turned 14 months old and he’s a fully breastfed baby, despite my contracting breast abscess when he was just 1 month old. I’ve a lot of friends and relatives, even strangers, asking me, “How are you able to produce so much milk?” FYI, I don’t actually get 12 oz at each pumping session. I used to be able to pump about 6 to 8 oz of milk every session, 6 times a day, before my baby turned 6 months old. That means the total milk I produced for the day would be about 36 oz, give or take (this doesn’t include night feedings).

I guess it’s kind of a no-brainer when I tell you, that the best way to boost your breastmilk is by increasing the number of times you pump or breastfeed. The best time to do this is during your maternity leave days when your baby is still young.

I’m telling you this because I’ve learned it the hard way – during my breastfeeding my eldest daughter. She was 14 months old when I decided to wean her off altogether as I was already pregnant with our son. My first breastfeeding journey with my daughter was far from easy. I had started mixing her feedings with formula right from the start. It was a combination of not having enough knowledge plus the influences of the more experienced group – our mothers. My mother, specifically. I had cracked and bleeding nipples right from the start; latch on seemed so difficult!

Breastfeeding was so traumatic that I did not even dare to try breastfeed while lying down at night. I figured that I couldn’t even relax in broad daylight, let alone in the dark at night. So for night feeds, I would get up and prepare formula milk in a bottle for my daughter, only pumping in the morning when I wake up. Nevertheless, my breastmilk dwindled quickly as none were coming out at night for at least 7 or 8 hours.

But I wouldn’t give up entirely. I keep on working on latch on during daytime. When I returned to work after my maternity leave ended, I was pumping 3 to 4 times a day, getting only 2 or 3 oz each time. At times I felt like a total failure, not being able to breastfeed my firstborn child properly. Then sometime during the fourth month, I decided to wing it and give night feeds a go. One night, when my daughter started to cry, I pulled her close while lying on my side and nursed her, just focusing on keeping both of us comfortable. She seemed okay, nursing until she nods off to sleep. From that time onwards, I never woke up to prepare formula again (until I weaned her off, of course).

So when my son was born, I don’t have too much trouble with breastfeeding him. Because the first time with my daughter seemed like torture, at least at first, the second time I breezed through it smoothly. I nursed him for the first time about an hour after the birth, and I had him roomed in with me at the hospital after he was born. The lactation counselor even called me the “expert” breastfeeding mom when I told her that I breastfed my firstborn until she turned a year plus. Yeah, right. She didn’t know how hard it was for me to become that “expert” mom!

But then, this “expert” mom contracted breast abscess. Not very expert of her, huh? The breast abscess itself was a tremendously emotional and physically painful, long story. I’ve already poured my heart and soul on this subject; you could read all about it here.

Like I mentioned before, the single thing you absolutely must do to boost your breast milk is to pump or breastfeed more frequently during your maternity leave. This is the most ideal time, as you have, hopefully, more time to waste on pumping and more time to spend bonding while breastfeeding. The focus at the time would be for you to recover, take care of yourself and the baby, so nobody expects you to do much else.

You need to offer the baby your breast at least every two hours, or every time your baby gives out hunger cues such as crying, turning her head towards you to search for your nipple or any type of restlessness. Don’t limit the suckling time; it’s her food after all! How would you like it if someone takes away your plate while you were eating? Wait until she lets go, or until she’s sound asleep, then break off the latch gently by inserting your little finger into the corner of her mouth. If she normally takes a long time suckling and falling asleep at your breast, lie down, relax, close your eyes and take a nap (you deserve it!).

If you’re too agitated to sleep, or you want to watch a favourite movie or tv show, (moms are nothing if not multi-taskers) first of all, make yourself comfortable. I used to prep myself on a comfortable sofa with lots of pillows with a laptop in front of me so I can surf the Net while nursing. My trick was I nursed my baby using the football hold so I have my hands free to do other things. The football hold was my favourite position in those early days, because it was the easiest latch method for my baby. If I want to watch tv, I would settle myself and the baby in an armchair, with lots of pillows and the remote.

Right after nursing, pump until no more milk comes out. This is what stimulates your breast to produce more milk. Think of this metaphor; imagine you’re at a restaurant eating dinner, and you drink half of your glass of orange juice. The waiter will come and fill up your half empty (or half full, whichever you prefer) glass, right? If you finished the whole glass off, the waiter would fill up the whole glass. The point is, you need to finish off the whole glass, so you can get the waiter to refill up more. So the faster you finish up your glass of orange juice, the faster the waiter refills it for you (this waiter is a very efficient worker).

This is exactly what you’re trying to get your body to do; you need to empty your breasts completely and faster so they can ‘refill’ it back quickly. To summarize this


Here’s the rationale - During the early weeks of the baby’s life, your breasts will usually produce more milk than the baby’s needs. This is the time of engorgement, breast fullness and leaking breasts as they are adjusting their milk production according to your baby’s (or babies, if you have twins or more) actual needs. This is the best time to set the high bar for your milk production. Pump or breastfeed until your breasts are completely empty every 2 hours for the first 2 to 3 months of your baby’s life, and you’ll never have to worry about your milk supply.

Around the 3rd month, your breasts will have regulated their milk production up to the 6th month, and there’ll be another slight dip in your milk output as your baby starts eating solid food.

If you read about my breast abscess experience, you’ll know that my affected breast was producing about 1 oz due to the leak the incision made. You’ll also find out that my mom’s fridge broke down, destroying about 50 bags of my frozen milk stash. It was definitely not an easy time for me.

There are also proven research that shows milk volume or quantity is normally higher in the morning, and the quantity lessens as the day progresses. So it is imperative that you empty your breasts the first thing in the morning. What I do is, I would breastfeed my baby right before I wake up. Then after taking a shower and getting dressed for work, I would pump another 10 to 15 minutes, right before leaving for work. I won’t get much milk as one breast would be almost empty, but the purpose here is to empty both breasts.

When you get to my stage, (my baby is 14 months old now) you’ll be heartbroken to dump 2 to 3 bottles of breastmilk everyday, as you are still producing more than your baby’s needs. I’m used to this, so I no longer get heartbroken. My baby is currently a reverse cycler; he drinks just one bottle of milk during the day and nurses like crazy when I get home from work.

Even though he’s a little small for his age, but he’s eating well and he’s very active, so I’m not too worried (He’s even began to play ball with daddy, a soccer star in the making. I hope). A few weeks back, I threw out about 50 bags of frozen milk, some dating back to 5 months ago. I can actually get by without taking out the frozen stash, but it’s always comforting to know that backup milk is there if and when I need it.

So there it is, the proven method to boost your breastmilk. Pump often in the early days, and you’ll reap the benefits later. So don’t be lazy, get out that pump and get moving!
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