Breast milk is supplemented with the energy, essential nutrients & antibodies which helps the growth and development of an infant & fortify its immune system against some common childhood infections like pneumonia & diarrhea and certain chronic diseases which can manifest later in life. There is also evidence that breastfeeding aids in the promotion of cognitive development in children. Mothers who diligently breastfeed their children during the early years are known to have a lesser risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer at later stages in their life.
According to the UNICEF and WHO, newborns should be exclusively breastfed for at least the initial 6 months of their lives after which they can slowly be introduced to other foods.
Exclusive breastfeeding entails the following:
- Exclusive breastfeeding means giving the child only breast milk as a source of nutrition without supplementing other foods, water included
- Initiating breastfeeding within 1 hour from birth
- Breastfeeding each time the child feels hungry or thirsty, day and night, on demand
- Not using bottles, teats or pacifiers as alternatives
To ensure that the baby’s nutrient requirements are well supplemented, it is necessary that they be provided with enough amounts of human breast milk during their infancy. While some mothers can supply their kids with enough milk, others find it difficult to produce enough milk and might at times turn to formula milk to feed their babies.
The following reasons have been attributed to low milk supply in certain women.
- Excessive loss of blood during birth or retention of fragments of placenta in the womb post delivery can delay the milk from coming in.
- A mother having a history of hormonal problems like the polycystic ovarian disease
- Mammary hypoplasia – a condition where there isn’t enough milk producing tissue in the breast
- Previous surgeries done or trauma caused to the breast
During instances where women suspect that they have not been producing enough milk for her baby, it is good to look for certain signs and symptoms which determine if the baby is feeding well or not; these are:
- Poor weight gain – babies normally loose 5% – 7% of their birth weight within the first few days. If by day 10 – 14 they are the same weight they were born with or are even skinnier than that then it is a cause for concern and proper medical advice should be sought.
- Insufficient dirty or wet nappies – The number of dirty & wet nappies changed per day is a good indicator of whether or not the baby is getting enough milk.
- Dehydration – signs of dehydration in babies are;
- Dark colored urine
- Dry mouth
- Lethargy & reluctancy to feed
The following tips have been mentioned by doctors and nursing experts to increase the breast milk supply in lactating women:
- Breastfeeding more often & letting the baby decide when to stop feeding. As the baby suckles, more milk is moved through the mammary ducts and production of more milk is triggered.
- Pumping leftover milk from a feeding or from a missed feeding will enable the storage of breast milk for the baby and enable in the production of more milk for further feedings.
- Breastfeeding through both the breasts will help maintaining milk supply from both the breasts
- Consumption of lactation cookies might help milk production
- Eating foods made with the following ingredients may also help in increasing breast milk supply:
- Whole grains – Considered to be very nutritious for breastfeeding mothers as they have properties which support the hormones involved in the production of breast milk. Examples: oatmeal, barley, whole grain brown rice, etc.
- Green vegetables – They contain phytoestrogens which may have a positive effect on breast milk. Examples: alfalfa, lettuce, spinach, broccoli and kale.
- Fennel (Methi) – The bulb, stalk & leaves of this Mediterranean plant are edible and known to contain plant estrogens which help lactating mothers produce more milk.
- Garlic – It is a very nutritious ingredient that goes into many food items; and is believed to be a promoter of breast milk production in nursing mothers. The flavor of garlic sometimes seeps into the breast milk but studies have shown that this might help in keeping breastfeeding babies nursing longer.
- Chickpeas – These beans are rich in protein and have been used by breastfeeding women to increase milk production since ancient Egyptian times.
- Sesame seeds – Contain high levels of calcium and estrogen-like plant properties which help produce more breast milk.
- Almonds – These are rich in calcium & protein and are used by lactating mothers to increase the sweetness, creaminess and amount of breast milk.
- Flax seeds – Contain essential fatty acids and phytoestrogens which can influence breast milk production.
- Ginger – Ginger has various medicinal properties. On consumption, ginger helps with breast milk production as well as with the let-down reflex.
- Brewer’s Yeast – It is a rich source of vitamin B, protein, iron, chromium, selenium & other minerals. It helps with the production of more breast milk and has a positive effect on the mood of the mother.
- Nursing Teas – These teas are made from a single herb or a mixture of herbs which help support lactation and increase breast milk production. The commonly used herbs are fenugreek, milk thistle, blessed thistle and fennel.