One question that is constantly on every new mother’s mind is is my baby getting enough breast milk? Even worse, there are several signs that can have you doubting your milk supply, but do not actually indicate you have a problem with your milk supply. Read on to learn about these false warning signs that you are not producing enough milk.
Myths about Producing Enough Milk
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In this age when we measure and quantify EVERYTHING about our babies, it seems totally frustrating that you can’t ever know exactly how much breast milk your baby takes in. Trusting that you are producing enough milk is a leap of faith and can be really scary for new moms.
Educating yourself on breastfeeding is important in order to gain confidence in your ability to feed your baby. The more you know, the more prepared you will feel to take on this important task (read this post on more info about breastfeeding a newborn).
Knowing what to expect from your baby and your body as you settle into your breastfeeding journey is important and can erase self-doubt you will inevitably feel.
Below are common signs that often lead new moms to believe there is a problem with their breast milk. Many moms make the switch to formula after experiencing one or several of these signs. Actually, all are normal for healthy breastfed babies!
Your Breasts Feel Empty
For the first three to four weeks of breastfeeding, your breasts are full and probably leaking (see my favorite breast pads here!). Once breastfeeding has been established, from about four to six weeks on, your body starts to adjust and produce only as much milk as your baby needs. Your breasts may seem like they’re empty, but really your milk is just regulating itself.
This is a happy time because leaking and engorgement stops, as does a lot of the discomfort associated with early breastfeeding. However, this can often have new mamas wondering if they are not longer producing enough milk for their growing baby.
Actually, your breasts SHOULD feel empty if baby is getting enough milk. If baby is getting milk, your breasts empty. It’s a bigger problem if your breasts are still full after a nursing session (after the first few weeks of engorgement pass).
As long as baby is growing and having lots of wet diapers, there is absolutely no cause for concern about milk production! There is lots of milk in those boobs, even without engorgement (thank goodness!)
Just be thankful that the pain of engorgement and leaking is coming to an end (if breastfeeding pain continues, read this post for help) and keep right on going, mama!
You Don’t Pump Much
If you began pumping in the early days of breastfeeding, you may have found you produced quite a bit of milk. After your milk regulates, you may notice a significant drop in the amount you are able to pump. This is not a sign you’re not producing enough milk, but rather a function of your milk supply regulating.
Your baby is far more efficient at extracting milk that a pump is. Even moms who are unable to pump can produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed their babes.
Pumping an ounce or two of milk in a session is totally normal, especially if you are also feeding baby full-time at the breast (read this post on how to pump more milk if you’re trying to build a freezer stash).
Your Baby is Gassy
Some moms fear their breast milk doesn’t agree with baby because baby is having lots of gas pains. This alone is NOT a sign there is a problem with your breast milk.
Most newborns are gassy and have tummy pains, no matter what. Gas pains typically begin when baby is two-three weeks old, intensify until six to eight weeks and then mainly resolve themselves at around three months. Baby’s digestive system is maturing during this time, and is unlikely that your milk is causing the digestive problems.
It’s absolutely heart wrenching to hear your baby be in pain due to gas. As a mommy of a very gassy baby, I understand you want to try everything in your power to fix it. You may wonder if you should switch to formula to see if it agrees more with baby’s tummy.
In fact, it can be a lot trickier for many parents and babies to find a formula that agrees with baby’s tummy. Breast milk is nature’s perfect food and is suited to baby’s needs. The problem with switching baby to formula is that many moms make the switch, realize that it doesn’t solve the problem and often exacerbates it, and then are unable to switch back to breast milk.
Feeding Constantly, Especially at Night
Constant feeding are another charming part of being a breastfed baby, and NOT a sign that you are not producing enough milk. New babies often want to cluster feed in the evening. My first baby was basically attached to my boob from 6 pm to 9 pm every night for the first three months.
Feeding constantly may also be a sign of a growth spurt. Baby needs more milk to fuel their incredible growth.
Breastfeeding constantly is baby’s way to get your body producing more milk, not a sign of a problem. Keep baby at the breast as much as possible and your body will produce all the milk he/she needs.
Not Sleeping Through the Night
Breastfed babies do need to be fed more often at night as newborns than their formula-fed counterparts (breast milk is easier to digest and breaks down more easily than formula). However, this does not mean baby is not getting enough milk, just because they are waking often.
The myth that formula fed babies will give you a better night’s sleep is just that, a myth. There are many other reasons babies wake up at night other than hunger, including sleep regressions and sleep props (see this post on building healthy sleep habits).
Baby’s Growth is Slowing Down
You may wonder if you are producing enough milk for your baby if your four to six month old baby’s weight appears to be slowing based on the growth percentile chart at your doctor’s office.
This can be quite unnerving. Your breastfed baby has been growing consistently. Suddenly before four and six months, baby’s weight gain has dropped off substantially.
This is another normal part of being a breastfed baby and in no way indicates your baby is not thriving on breast milk alone.
Don’t fear if this happens to you! The growth charts used at your pediatrician’s office are based on formula-fed babies. Breastfed babies grow differently than formula-fed babies. Usually, breastfed babies gain weight slightly quicker than formula-fed babies from one to three months, then their growth slows from four to six months before picking up again (height and head circumference are not affected, just weight gain).
This can be very disconcerting to new parents, as it appears that their precious babe is not thriving. Actually, the problem is the growth charts, not with your milk or your baby!
In my experience, my first baby dropped from the 75th percentile to the 15th percentile between four and six months. We continued to breastfeed exclusively in addition to slowly introducing solids after six months. Her weight shot right back up and we had no other difficulties!
Some parents or doctors may suggest introducing solids at this time to help improve weight gain. Actually, the World Health Organization recommends to wait to introduce solids until six months.
The Vicious Cycle of Milk Production and Supplementation
You may feel you need to begin supplementing with formula if you are concerned about your milk production. This can easily turn into a vicious cycle.
Remember, milk production all depends on supply and demand. If your baby demands it (by being put to the breast and nursing), your body will supply it.
If you begin to supplement with formula, even one feeding a day, your baby will be full and will not demand as much milk from you. Your supply will be reduced if your baby isn’t demanding milk by feeding.
This can turn into a viscous cycle is you continue to supplement more and more, and thus your body will produce less and less.
Putting baby to your breast as much as you can signals to you body to produce more milk. If you are concerned about not producing enough milk, this is far and away the best way to tell your body to produce more milk.
Remember that the two most important signs of a well-fed baby are wet diapers and weight gain (other signs include meeting milestones, good muscle tone and baby seeming content at the end of a feed). As long as baby is gaining and having plenty of wet diapers, you have nothing to worry about!
One Final Note on Milk Production
Of course, everyone’ situation is different and this advice is not meant to replace that of your physician. If you feel that there is a real problem, trust your mommy instincts. I would urge you to seek advice from both your doctor AND a certified lactation consultant before making the decision to stop breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is truly one of the most wonderful gifts you can give your child, but feeling confident that you are producing enough milk CAN be tricky and confusing, especially for first time moms. Keep on trucking and kudos to you for embarking on this journey!
What’s the most valuable breastfeeding advice you’ve received? Share the wealth by commenting below!