How to Establish & Protect your Breastmilk Supply: 3 Key Places
Updated: Jan 12
Knowing how to establish and maintain your milk supply postpartum, in hospital, at home, and at work can empower you and help avoid stressful situations - read on to learn more!
Top 4 Ways to Establish your Milk Supply in the Hospital
For many parents, their first breastfeeding experience will be in hospital. The first few days are important in establishing one’s milk supply and, if you are in a hospital setting, here are four ways to get things off to the best possible start, despite whatever situation you might face:
Initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after delivery, ideally within the first hour - not only will your baby get the immune-boosting benefits of colostrum, but your body will get critical feedback that your little one is there and needs milk so your body will begin to establish the supply/demand relationship.
Practice skin-to-skin - research has shown that a lactating parent’s oxytocin hormone levels flow when spending time skin-to-skin with their baby which increases milk supply. So, consider doing the breast crawl with your little one right after delivery, allowing your baby to use their keen sense of smell to navigate your inclined body to get to the nipple. Kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin, also regulates the baby’s body temperature as they navigate this new world, provides the security of the smells of the birthing parent, and they get exposed to bacteria on the parent’s body that will help develop their gut, just like the colostrum does.
Room in with your baby while in the hospital - hospitals sometimes still offer to take the baby to the nursery - whereas this is tempting, having the baby in the room with you provides you the opportunity to get to know your baby and their hunger cues so that you respond to their needs and feed them on demand. The on-demand feeding is critical in the first few days of life to get one’s milk supply off to the best possible start
If you cannot have your baby at the breast due to medical complications and formula supplementation is necessary, start hand expressing - Maya Bolman's video is a great resource - within the first hour after delivery and request a hospital-grade pump and start pumping. A baby typically feeds every one to three hours within the first few days of life. If you are separated from your baby and they are unable to feed at the breast, do schedule your pumping sessions within that time frame
Remember that connection and attachment releases oxytocin for both the birthing parent and the baby. Oxytocin helps to deepen emotional connections and helps with milk supply and regulation.
3 Tips to Increasing and Maintaining your Milk Supply At Home
Transitioning from hospital to home or from having your midwife and or doula with you can be an adjustment. Knowing these three helpful tips will help you protect your milk supply at home and solidly establish your milk supply in the first three months.
Tip 1: Breastfeed as consistently as possible
Breastfeeding and milk production is quite literally a supply and demand relationship. In the first three months of life, often referred to as the fourth trimester, almost all of the time is focused on feedings which helps to build and establish your milk supply. An infant’s stomach goes from the size of a cherry at birth to the size of a chicken egg by one month. That’s not so big if you consider it. Therefore, a baby is going to need frequent feedings. Anywhere from 8-12 per day, round the clock. Follow your baby’s lead. You are not spoiling them; you are satiating them and by following their cues (as exhausting as it can be to feed on demand and that frequently for three months) will help to establish their food source for the next six months and beyond!
Tip 2: When a feeding at breast/chest is omitted, pump or hand express
Remembering that within the first three months of your baby’s life they will be eating 8-12 per day, round the clock. It is critical during this time that if one of those 8-12 feeds is missed that you pump or hand express your milk to match that number of feeds so that you maintain your supply and avoid painful engorgement. Rest assured, as you exit the fourth trimester, feedings will begin to space and when following these tips, most lactating parents find that their supply is well established.
Tip 3: Eat & drink when baby eats; snack while breastfeeding, right before or after
In order for a breastfeeding parent to fuel metabolic demands AND maintain an abundant milk supply, they need to remember to care for themselves. Drinking to satisfy thirst is sufficient for most lactating parents to stay hydrated. The Institute of Medicine shares that the average amount of fluids typically consumed by breastfeeding parents needs to be about 3.1 liters (13 cups) daily. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation shares that the amount of calories a lactating mother needs, in most cases, is 400-500 calories more than what is needed to maintain that mother’s usual body weight, which is average, a total of 2200 calories daily. How can one ensure they are getting what they need to fuel their milk supply?
Sneak in a few minutes when your little one is sleeping (right before you sneak in a nap for yourself) or ask a loved one to help you place water glasses or bottles around your home in the spots where you typically pump or nurse, to serve as a reminder and make it easy for you to take a couple of sips while you pump or nurse.
When planning for a trip to the market or asking a loved one to get food from the store, add snacks that are easy to eat with one hand to your list. Suggestions: fruit, nuts, eggs (hard boiled), cheese, whole wheat crackers etc. Place non-perishable foods in baskets around your home in the spots where you typically pump or nurse, to serve as a reminder and make it easy to grab a snack while you are pumping or feeding.
Spend some time prepping food once weekly or ask a loved one to prepare some of your favorite meals in individual, easy to eat/grab containers so that when you are looking for a meal you can just reheat and eat instead of having to prepare something. This will also free up your time for more rest too!
4 Tips to Maintaining Milk Supply when you Return to Work
Transitioning back to can feel overwhelming - leaving the baby after being together almost non-stop, worrying about child care, and trying to manage pumping and working can weigh heavily.
Here are four tips to help you keep your supply going strong as you transition back to work:
Tip 1: Make sure you have the correct flange size and know how to use your pump
Did you know that having the correct-size flange can, on average, improve milk extraction up to 20%. Not only will it improve your output, but it will also ensure you are comfortable during your sessions. Maximum output during a pumping session will also help you maintain your milk supply during this transition. In conjunction, knowing how to use your pump correctly will help you know the settings that work best for YOU so that you are comfortable with the sensation and get the best results in an efficient, timely manner.
Tip 2: Try to empty breasts parallel to the baby’s feeding schedule you followed at home
Ideally, if you can, especially within the first month back to work, plan your pumping sessions (which are protected under the law) around the schedule you followed at home with your baby.
Tip 3: Pump both breasts at the same time
Pumping both breasts at the same time will save time AND promote stronger let down for larger volumes. As a result your body will be receiving the message that it needs to continue producing milk.
Tip 4: Take a break from your work, whenever possible, during your pumping sessions
Putting your computer to the side and or going into the designated pumping location in your office to minimize the stress of the workday and it can help you lessen your distractions. During your sessions, listen to calming music, look at pics of the baby when pumping, listen to recordings of your little one’s voice to help you feel connected despite being apart. All of these suggestions can help you relax and make your milk flow easier.
Need some help with establishing, maintaining, or increasing your milk supply? Schedule a lactation consultation with me; I would be honored to help you along your feeding journey.