The quantity and quality of a mother’s milk supply are two of the most hotly deliberated topics within breastfeeding.
One of the most common blows dealt to new mums is that their milk supply is too low, and yet there is little understanding around how to increase supply in any real way. Furthermore, barely discussed is the impact maternal diet has on the composition of breastmilk, and therefore the nourishment baby receives.
Milk production increases when your baby nurses and when milk is removed from the breast. When your baby suckles, a hormone called prolactin is released, which is responsible for increasing the production of milk. When milk is removed from the breast, the breast is refilled. This means that ending feeds early, going too long between feeds when milk supply is already low, and introducing supplementation (formula) or pacifiers will have adverse effects on your overall supply.
Those who have been told to supplement baby’s food intake with formula may also want to consider allowing baby to nurse before or after each feed to increase prolactin levels (depending on how frustrated baby becomes) if they desire to continue breastfeeding.
When it comes to pacifiers, although they can be beneficial to help settle fussy babies, if you have a low supply, then a pacifier may only serve to rob the strength of baby’s suckle from the breast. This will in turn inhibit the production of prolactin, necessary for increasing milk supply. Until your supply increases and is at a satisfying level, perhaps keep pacifiers in a safe place for later.
Dehydration is another reason why milk supply may appear low. This is why health professionals recommend doubling your intake of water during nursing.
Aside from breastfeeding, another way to remove milk from the breast is to express after each feed. The expressed milk can always be fed to baby in the afternoon when milk supply may be at its lowest. This removal of milk will encourage the breast to refill.
Alternative health practitioners and some mainstream doctors may recommend the use of galactagogues (foods or drugs that help increase milk supply). Traditional galactagogues typically administrated are fenugreek, oats, milk thistle, and that good old excuse for a beer, brewer’s yeast. However, there is surprisingly little evidence to suggest that galactagogues have any real effect on milk production. As previously explained, current research indicates how quantity of supply has more to do with nursing frequency, the use of supplementation, and quenching mum’s thirst.
Lastly, there is evidence suggesting that for some mothers a “low supply” may only be a perception. Without significant testing, what may be observed or even confirmed by a-not-so-thorough health professional as “low supply” could in reality be a completely sufficient batch.
Breast milk is primarily comprised of triglycerides, indicating that fat is the most crucial macronutrient in breast milk for infant development. These fats are encased in a membrane, which are used to help build the cell membranes of the infant. Research shows that levels of saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, and DHA found in breast milk are the fats most impacted by a mother’s diet. Inadequate intake of these fatty acids during pregnancy and nursing could severely impact the nutrient-density of breast milk, and could possibly harm neurological development. Furthermore, optimum maternal fat intake ensures baby will receive certain enzymes necessary for digestion.
A mother’s intake of micronutrients also impacts the composition of her breastmilk. Vitamin A, C, B12, B6, and choline all participate in the development of the brain and nervous system of your baby.
A Breastfeeding Mother’s Favourite Foods
- Coconut oil and grass-fed butter are both extremely rich in saturated fat and can be consumed daily in around 1 – 2 tablespoons per day. In New Zealand, we are lucky to have grass-fed butter at our fingertips.
- Olive oil, avocado oil, and other cold-pressed oils are all rich in monounsaturated fats. Avocado is obviously another wonderful source of monounsaturated fat, it is just less concentrated than oil.
- Cold-water fish, cod liver or krill oil, and animal fat are excellent sources of DHA. Research has also shown that quality DHA supplementation postpartum has a positive effect on preventing postnatal depression.
- Meat, organ meat, and dark leafy greens are rich in vitamin A.
- Eggs and liver provide ample choline.
- B12 and B6 are mainly found in animal products; meat, poultry, and unpasteurised dairy.
- Vitamin C is found in dark green vegetables like kale and broccoli, as well as red- and orange-coloured fruits and vegetables such as capsicums and oranges.
Getting the right nutritional balance during breastfeeding is not only important for infant development, but is also essential for keeping mum’s energy levels stable and her morale in check. Remember: Happy mum = happy baby.
- Bravi, F., Wiens, F., Decarli, A., Dal Pont, A., Agostoni, C., & Ferraroni, M. (2016). Impact of maternal nutrition on breast-milk composition: a systematic review. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 104(3), 646-662. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.120881
- Innis, S. M. (2014). Impact of maternal diet on human milk composition and neurological development of infants. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99(3), 734S-741S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.072595
- Lonnerdal, B. (n.d.). Effects of maternal dietary intake on human milk composition. The Journal of Nutrition.
- Morell, Sally Fallon. The Nourishing Traditions Book Of Baby & Child Care. 1st ed. Washington, United States: New Trends Publishing Inc,US, 2013. Print.
- Tay, C., Glasier, A., & McNeilly, A. (1996). Twenty-four hour patterns of prolactin secretion during lactation and the relationship to suckling and the resumption of fertility hi breast-feeding women. Human Reproduction, 11(5), 950-955. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.humrep.a019330
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