Are you making some breastfeeding mistakes that are working against you to ruin your breast milk supply? Many moms do these things and don’t realize that they contribute to their low milk supply.
If you’re like most women, you started your journey into motherhood filled with high hopes and grand expectations. Perhaps you read all the books and followed the right blogs. You were excited to start breastfeeding and bonding with your new baby. Maybe you heard stories about other women struggling to maintain healthy milk supplies, but you held your breath, listened carefully to the lactation coach, and gave it your best try.
Regardless of where you are in your breastfeeding journey today, it’s important to pay more attention to the things that can go wrong. Armed with this information, you can adjust your breastfeeding schedule and develop good habits to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.
To help you out, we’ve create this list of 10 mistakes that you don’t want to make. If you’re currently concerned about your milk supply, you can use this list as a troubleshooting guide.
Top 10 Breastfeeding Mistakes That Moms Make That Can Lead to Low Breast Milk Supply:
1. Slacking on Your Breastfeeding/Pumping Schedule
Whether you decide to breastfeed and pump on a schedule or to give your baby unlimited access to your breasts without a schedule, it’s important to make sure that your baby is nursing often enough. Also, you should empty both breasts with each feeding. If your baby isn’t eating enough to empty both sides, then you can use a pump to finish the job. Your empty breasts will signal to your body that you need to create more milk. Breasts that are rarely to never emptied send the opposite message.
When you’re with your baby, it’s best to place no limitations on when and how long they can feed. Even if you have a schedule, keep it flexible so that you can accommodate more frequent or off-schedule feedings when your baby demands it. This will naturally keep your breasts stimulated for effective milk production.
If you’re a working mother, try to pump about 15 minutes on each breast every few hours while away from your baby. When you’re at home, go with the unlimited breastfeeding approach if possible. If you start skipping some of those away-from-home pump sessions, your milk supply could suffer. This sends the message that your baby is feeding less often and needs less milk, which really isn’t the case.
2. After-Birth Separation
Perhaps it’s too late to change a birth plan that has already played out, but this is good information for babies yet to enter the world. Birth plans should always include a stipulation that the baby stays with the mother if there are no medical conditions making that impossible or dangerous. There is a substantial field of research that proves mothers and babies are designed to search for one another after birth, and breastfeeding is most likely to succeed when you stay with your baby and offer skin-to-skin contact with immediate opportunities for feeding. (Crenshaw, 2007)
If you were separated from your baby after birth for periods of time, don’t worry about it too much. Some studies have shown that breastfeeding can still be successful in those circumstances, especially if you take other actions to establish a healthy breastfeeding routine once you are reunited with your baby. It’s best to stay with your baby, but you’re not doomed to failure if that doesn’t work out. (Elwald, 1997)
3. Supplementing with Bottles Too Early
It’s best to wait until your baby is at least one month old to introduce the bottle, even if you’re filling that bottle with breast milk (WHO Guidelines, 2010.) You want to give your baby time to develop his or her breastfeeding skills, especially the art of latching properly. Since bottle nipples feel, taste, and function differently, they can cause confusion for an inexperienced baby. Yes, you can buy nipples that closely mimic the shape and feel of the breast, but there is still a difference that the baby will pick up on.
The big threat here is that your baby will develop a preference for the bottle. Those nipples are often easier to latch onto and can deliver a faster flow of milk, so a young baby may start refusing the breast and demanding a bottle. This is less likely to happen if you give your baby more time to master breastfeeding and enjoy the benefits of feeding from the breast.
When you do introduce the bottle, use a slow-flow nipple that replicates the feel of the breast as much as possible. Make sure that you continue breastfeeding frequently so that your baby is less likely to develop a preference for one over the other.
4. Supplementing Too Much
Supplementing with a bottle is a convenience for some moms and essential for others. You may take this approach if you’re returning to work or just need to include another parent and other loved ones into your feeding schedule for other reasons. Doing this occasionally shouldn’t interfere with your baby’s breastfeeding habits as long as you wait at least one month to begin. The problems arise when you start filling the bottle with formula instead of breast milk or when you stop pumping regularly.
If your baby is taking more bottles and you aren’t sticking to a routine pumping schedule, your body will assume that your baby isn’t breastfeeding much and doesn’t need as much milk. Your milk supply will diminish rather quickly. You can avoid this by breastfeeding often enough that it remains your baby’s primary feeding method. When you aren’t breastfeeding, your pumping sessions are critical.
Once you start skipping the pump, you can expect to see a decline in the amount of milk produced. If you’re filling the bottles with pumped milk and don’t want to supplement with formula, those pumping sessions are even more important. You can run out of milk if you skip too many sessions and aren’t keeping an eye on your freezer stash.
5. Allowing Dehydration to Set In
Your milk is more than 80% water, so what happens when you’re dehydrated? You simply don’t have the ingredients needed to make the milk that your baby demands. It’s no different than baking or cooking. If you don’t have the required ingredients, you are forced to supplement with something similar or go without. If you don’t want to supplement with formula, staying well hydrated will ensure that you have enough water in store to make the milk that your baby needs.
Drinking at least 36 ounces of water daily is a good guideline for most mothers, but you may want to drink a bit more to be on the safe side (Montgomery, 2002). In addition to water, it’s beneficial to drink Gatorade and coconut water for the electrolytes. This will give you some variety, but adding fresh fruit or lemon slices to your water will work as well.
6. Eating the Wrong Foods
There are three reasons to pay close attention to your diet while breastfeeding:
- A nutrient-dense diet adds nutritional value to your milk, boosts your immune system, and keeps you healthy enough to continue breastfeeding long term. If you’re eating a lot of greasy or sugary foods that lack nutritional content, it can negatively impact your health and put your ability to breastfeed in danger.
- Some foods are believed to help boost your milk supply naturally. Some of these foods include barley, oats, fennel, spinach, and brewer’s yeast.
- Some foods may infuse your breast milk with a stronger taste or odor, impacting your baby’s reaction to the milk this includes strong foods like onions and garlic. Other foods may give your baby gas, including beans and some vegetables. Pay attention to how your baby reacts after you consume certain foods, and adjust your diet accordingly.
Notice that cow’s milk isn’t on the list of foods that you need to boost your milk supply. You’re creating a more nutritious milk designed just for your baby rather than passing on milk from another animal.
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7. Accepting Rather than Fighting and Eliminating Stress
One common of the common breastfeeding mistakes that is often overlooked is excess stress! Stress can sabotage your body in devastating ways, including compromising your immune system and negatively impacting milk production. The great news is that breastfeeding is known to release the “feel good” hormones to combat depression and can help lower the impact of stress on your system. It’s still important that you identify the causes of ongoing stress in your life and take action to eliminate them. Not only will you feel better, but your baby will thank you with for protecting his or her milk supply.
It’s not likely that stress alone will diminish your milk supply, so don’t allow this idea to cause you even more stress. The danger comes when routine and excessive stress is combined with other factors known to interfere with milk production. If you can control stress better to eliminate some of the risk, why not do it today?
8. Not Prioritizing Sleep
Sleep is a sensitive subject for all new moms. Whether this is your first baby or your fifth baby, you know that the first year is going to leave you exhausted. Perhaps more sleep deprived than you have been in your entire life. This is something that many mothers simply accept, but that could become just another red mark against your milk supply. While your new baby may want to feed during the night and may take some time to work up to sleeping through the night, you should still do everything possible to prioritize sleep in your life.
Lack of sleep is like stress in that it isn’t going to bring your breast milk production to a halt on its own. It is a factor in reducing the strength of your immune system and increasing the chances that you may skip feeding or pumping sessions if you have the opportunity to rest. This could lead to a reduction in your milk supply if it happens too often.
So, how can you get more sleep when you’re exhausted in that first year? Start by investing in a good co-sleeper or side sleeper for your baby. These lightweight, portable beds give your baby a safe place to rest while sleeping in or next to your bed. This allows you to breastfeed without getting up and going to the nursery, and your baby can drift off to sleep without you trying to put them into a crib or bassinet. You can simply drift off along with the baby.
You can also discuss your sleep needs with your spouse and other family members willing to help. Sometimes just having a teenager come over to babysit your older children for a few hours each day can give you enough time to sneak in a nap.
9. Wearing the Wrong Bra
There’s a reason that there are so many nursing bras on the market. Some women think of them as a waste of money at first, but it isn’t long until they realize how essential those bras are for moms who must get dressed and leave the house at times. The bras that you wore prior to pregnancy and nursing will fit too tight for comfort and can put your breasts at risk of mastitis and other complications that put your ability to breastfeed at risk.
Selecting a bra is like a science, as most women know even without adding breastfeeding into the mix. If the back band is too thick or you select the wrong size and style, you will feel uncomfortable and increase your risk of clogged ducts and other issues. The best nursing bras allow you to easily breastfeed no matter where you are, and they should accommodate expanding breasts if you can’t get to the pump immediately at times.
10 Not Asking for Help When Needed
This is last on the list because it’s not a practical tip, but it really deserves to be number one. All mothers need to reach out and ask for help if they are experiencing problems with breastfeeding, postpartum depression, or any other aspect of parenting. You can start with your significant other, a parent, or another trustworthy adult figure in your life. If that doesn’t work, keep searching for help through medical professionals, religious leaders, and even other moms that you meet in real life or online.
While all topics discussed on this list will help you establish a healthy breastfeeding routine, the last one is critical to your long-term success. The only bad questions are the ones that you don’t ask, especially when your baby is concerned. It’s always better to ask for help than to wait for the situation to grow worse. The faster you receive help, the faster you can get your breastfeeding routine back on a successful track.
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