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Health, Home, and Happiness: Lifestyle and Breastmilk Supply

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lifestyle and Breastmilk Supply


Reading Real Food for Mother and Baby reminded me of some things about breastfeeding, specifically the relationship between 'traditional parenting' and milk supply that I've noticed as I've been a mother. I researched breastfeeding while pregnant with my first, subsequently putting away my 'if they're old enough to ask for it, they're too old to have it' bias. In looking at traditional cultures, the nutrition needs of toddlers, and my own experience in working with little ones, I decided that it was my goal to nurse my children until they were two and then I would consider weaning, depending on the individual child's personality and needs.

Through various parenting trials and errors I found that the more traditional-parenting approach (keeping the children with Mom as their primary caregiver, not using bottles or artificial nipples, remaining in close contact throughout the day, resisting strict schedules) helped prevent nursing strikes and keep my milk supply up. I'm not one who always has an abundance of milk.  If I'm stressed at all, my milk supply starts to drop.  I can tell that my milk supply is dropping by the baby; he starts thrashing more at the breast (the milk isn't letting down), and his diapers aren't as wet as they are when I have plenty of milk.  Breastfeeding into the second year is a priority for me, personally, so at the first sign of a supply dip I figure out how to relieve stress, I drink Mother's Milk Tea, and I make sure to encourage nursing often. 

Key elements that help me maintain milk supply and keep a good nursing relationship with my little one:
  • Sleeping together.  We choose to keep the baby in our bed to sleep.  Honestly, I tried having my first sleep in a bassinet next to my bed and then getting up to nurse her, then put her back in her own bed, but that didn't even last a full night.  Sleeping together allows me to nurse while mostly asleep so I'm well rested for the day ahead. It also helps when baby becomes more active; he is so busy doing everything else during the day that he may decide to reverse cycle and do most of his nursing at night. I know it sounds like a pain, but most moms can learn to nurse as they sleep.  
  • Having baby drink 'from the tap'.  Again, with my first I experimented with allowing others to feed her by pumping and filling a bottle with milk.  This resulted in me leaking all over and having my milk supply be generally out of whack with her needs.  With my second, I didn't pump at all and that seemed to help my supply keep up with demand more efficiently.
  • Nurse on demand during the infancy stage. With my little babies (until about a year) if they want to nurse, I nurse them. The first year especially is full of so many growth spurts that I listen to them, even if they seem to be nursing 23 out of 24 hours a day.  If they're crying but not particularly wanting to nurse, I try to find the root of the issue (reflux? too hot? need a change of scenery?).  Nursing on demand does not mean demanding they nurse every time they cry.
  • Don't separate baby and mother.  Add it to my list of politically incorrect convictions ~smile~ but I believe baby and mother were designed to stay together for the first bit. I tote my young sidekick around with me for the first year and then some, even for a quick run to the grocery store. I think it's more than just having the milk available to nurse on demand; being in close proximity keeps both of us calm, which influences hormones and in turn milk production.  
  • Anticipate supply dips and work on keeping your milk production going.  I know that my milk supply will dip if I'm under stress, haven't slept enough, am sick, or my cycle is starting (mine came back at 12 months and 7 months respectively).  I respond well to Traditional Medicinals Mother's Milk Tea, but not all women do.  Millet and quinoa are grains that are traditionally used to promote milk supply.  
  • Trouble Breastfeeding? is my favorite all-around breastfeeding resource.
  • If breastfeeding doesn't work out, for whatever reason, Ann Marie describes how to make a nourishing infant formula.  Even in traditional cultures with stellar nutrition and environmental conditions, a small percentage of women still are not able to provide enough or any milk for their baby.  If that is the case, there are better options out there than commercial formula, I would encourage you to look into a homemade formula or human milk donation.  I would consider the homemade formula as an alternative to plain cow's milk for underweight toddlers as well.
Some frequently asked questions that I get from people who aren't familiar with this whole extended nursing/traditional parenting thing...

Don't you need some time to yourself?
Both my babies have done well napping on their own. For a while my second would only nap if he was held, so I tucked him in a pouch sling for his naps and I sewed or blogged or did whatever.  Later he moved to a bouncer to nap, and now he takes good naps in our bed.  I encourage napping independently, I know a lot of people recommend that mom nap with the baby, but I will gently lay baby down or nurse them to sleep on the bed repetitively until they get in the habit of staying asleep for a good nap.  With my babies, it's worked well for me to go in and nurse them back to sleep as soon as they start to stir (if they're not ready to get up yet) and eventually they get into the habit of taking their needed naps. 

So... you know... what about 'married time' 
The above-mentioned bouncer in another room ;) Or the couch. I realize this only works because both children are young. I believe that with creativity this can work.

My baby's only 2 weeks old, there is no way I can do this for two full years!
Good for you for giving her a good start! I felt the same way when my first was a newborn, so I just focused on that day, or that week, or that month and it easily turned into 2 years.  Even if you do stop breastfeeding before whatever time is your goal, good for you for trying it and giving your baby a good start, however long that is.  I don't judge anyone for the amount of time they breastfeed. We all come from different situations. My goal here is to encourage you, not to judge you.

Will she ever wean? 
My first weaned easily once my second was born. I saw that she had made the adjustment to having a baby brother easily, so I suggested that she 'nurse' her baby while I nursed her brother and she happily did so.  This is my only experience with weaning, so I don't have a lot of advice to give ~smile~ I don't think I would ever encourage early weaning due to fear of how hard it would be to wean later.

Feel free to ask anything else, I only have the experience of two kids but I'll answer what I can.

See my collection of childbirth related posts
An interview with lactation specialist Jessica Solomon
Natural treatment for mastitis

Part of WFMW and Real Food Wednesday 
And anyone with a baby knows that feeding the baby can make or break the budget, so this is a part of Kimi's Pennywise Platter Thursday

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Blogger .::. Jennifer .::. said...

Thanks for the tips! I'm looking forward to trying with my two little aliens. I have no idea how we'll work it, and we might have to break down and use a bottle sometimes, but I'd like to give it a go. Any information helps!

February 1, 2010 at 11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you know that you did an excellent job of not judging in your post.

February 1, 2010 at 12:35 PM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Fabulous post. Just happened to come across your blog from Keeper of the Home. Saw the link to this post of yours and had to come read it. I am still nursing my almost-3 year old and a 14 month old, and have discovered many of things you shared in this article. It's always heartening to run across a "kindred spirit"!

With my oldest, I was trying to be more strict with scheduling his feedings, getting him to sleep longer stretches - and finally after a few months came to a crossroads where I had to choose between sticking with those parenting philosophies, or doing what it took to make nursing work for us...I chose the later, and am so thankful I did!

I struggle with wondering when to wean, but am reminded (often by articles like these) that so often, we just need to wait for our nursling to decide that it is time. They aren't going to nurse until they are teenagers LOL!

Look forward to browsing some of your previous posts. Thanks for the encouraging essay.


February 1, 2010 at 8:06 PM  
Blogger stacey said...

you always share some good thoughts. i nurse brax a lot when we are together which helps make me feel better about his bottles of formula on my work days. i don't really have time to pump on my work days and it seems to work out as long i nurse him a lot that evening/night. (i have been blessed that he is pretty easy going b/t bottles, nursing otherwise, yikes!)

it makes me pause when people ask if he is on a schedule or how much he nurses a day. i don't count! he is so busy now that we just do it when he needs it...and he lets me know! :)

you are (still) a better woman than me! i have typically finished up nursing around 12-13 months. don't worry, you won't get any second glances from me if you do until around 2 yrs. now, 5 yrs might make me twitch a bit! :) who knows this last time around, i might hold on a little longer!!

February 1, 2010 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger Cara said...

Jenna, you're going to be great!

Thanks Steph, that's my goal.

Amanda, thanks for visiting!

Stacey, I bet that *because* Brax isn't on a strict schedule, that's why you can use some formula and still have milk for him when you're off work. Good for you! And not better... just different, my friend. :)

February 2, 2010 at 7:39 AM  
Blogger chanelle said...

wow, this post gave me a lot to think about! Keep feeding me information from Real food for mothers and babies, 'cause it's not at my library, and I'm too cheap to buy it.

February 3, 2010 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger Dollmaker Barb said...

I'm a grandma now, but I found when nursing my kids that root beer floats were an excellent boost to my milk supply. That's not why I drank them (I LOVE them), just a consequence. People often suggest beer, but root beer must have whatever regular beer has because it works so well, and lots of us don't drink alcholic beverages.

February 3, 2010 at 3:38 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Barb, what works in beer is hops. Which means that you would want a good dark beer to stimulate milk supply. The most commonly-available beers in the US are maybe shown a couple of hop flowers on the way through the brewery, but, well, hops are what makes beer bitter, so they don't have much in.
Unless you have some really GOOD root beer, it's probably just artificial flavor & color, sugar/HFCS, & water.

As for time to oneself, my kids are almost 3 and 16 months, and, while we are planning to have a couple more, I am enjoying having a little while here where they are both old enough to leave with Daddy for a little while so I can go to a rummage sale, or something, without "help".

February 4, 2010 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Milehimama said...

Nice post! I heartily agree.

I am currently nursing my 8th baby, who is 7 months. I would add, remember that nursing is for thirst as well as food. Give baby a drink before or after feeding her solid foods.

I never can answer the question of how often my nurslings eat. I just tell the doctor that I feed them when they are hungry; the baby is happy, healthy, and has plenty of wet/dirty diapers. It's obvious when a baby is thriving!

You don't have to be a co-sleeper to feed baby in bed. Our baby goes to bed on her own (in our room) and sleeps from about 10-5 am, and she comes into bed for a nursie and more sleep in the morning. Don't feel like you have to be in a box of what other people do - do what works for you!

February 4, 2010 at 10:16 AM  

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