Got (Enough) Milk?
As a Lactation Consultant, I have been asked everything under the sun that has anything to do with breastfeeding, from “can I drink some coffee?” to “can I nurse with a pierced nipple?” to “how does a pump work?” But by far, the most common question I get is, “am I making enough milk for my baby?” Weighing the baby over time is the best way to know if the baby is getting enough milk, but it’s impossible to weigh the baby every feeding or every day. There are some other great ways, besides weighing the baby, to know that breastfeeding is going well.
Here are 5 tips to help you know if your baby is getting enough breast milk:
1. You are feeding your baby very frequently, every time your baby acts hungry. If you are feeding your baby every time your baby acts hungry, 8 to 12 times (or more) every day, even if your baby just finished a meal, you are getting off to a great start. By offering very frequent, on-demand, unlimited feedings at an early age, you are making sure that your baby gets all the milk he or she needs, as well as triggering your body to make lots of milk in the coming weeks and months. Every time your baby latches, your baby is telling your breasts to make more milk. More feeds in the early days results in more milk in the coming months.
But how will you know that your baby has a good latch and is actually getting milk?...
2. You can hear your baby swallowing. All that chugging? That is the sound of your baby getting lots of milk. If you can hear your baby swallow frequently from day 5 on, you can be sure that your baby is drinking. Babies who are getting plenty of milk from breastfeeding will suck once or twice, then swallow, and they will repeat this suck, swallow pattern until…
3. Your baby is content and relaxed after a feeding. Babies are usually tense when they are showing hunger cues. Before the feeding, many babies have their fists clenched up and their arms pulled in tight to their bodies. As the feeding progresses, and you hear frequent swallowing, watch your baby’s arm and hand. The arm and hand will began to loosen and relax, and the fingers will splay open. A hungry baby will pull their arm in if you (gently) pull the hand away from the body. A full, satisfied baby will have a relaxed arm and hand, and when you lift the hand away from the baby’s body, the arm will drop like a wet noodle. The baby’s arm is a good gauge as to how satisfied the baby is after eating.
Your baby needs to have a wide mouth and a deep latch to make sure that he or she is getting enough milk. If your baby has a shallow latch, you could experience sore, painful nipples and engorgement. Another good sign that your baby is getting enough milk is that…
4. Your breasts and nipples are not in pain. Some women feel their breasts fill up every feeding, and some women don’t feel the filling as much. If you generally feel your breasts fill up with milk, and your breasts get softer during a feeding, this is a good sign that your baby is getting lots of milk.
In the early days and weeks of breastfeeding, a little discomfort and tugging on the nipples is common, but toe-curling pain is not normal. If your nipples hurt so much that it takes your breath away, get someone to help you adjust your baby’s latch. Healthy, comfortable nipples are a sign that your baby is latched well.
Besides frequent feeds, lots of swallowing, a content baby, and comfortable nipples, there is one other thing to look for…
5. Pees and poops What comes out of your baby says a lot about what went in your baby. If your baby is having lots of wet diapers and at least a few yellow poops every day, AND you are experiencing ALL of the above, you can be confident that your baby is getting plenty of milk and that your body is making enough.
Bonus Tips! Things that do NOT mean that your baby is starving:
1. Frequent feeding. If it seems like your baby wants to eat all the time, see tip #1 above. This is not a sign that your baby is starving, it is normal for your baby to want to feed very frequently, which ensures that your baby gets fed enough and your body makes enough. More sucking = more milk!
2. Your friend’s baby takes more formula than you pump for your baby. You be you. Moms are valuable teachers for each other, but comparing your baby to another baby isn’t always a good idea. Babies who drink formula require more than babies who take breast milk. Use the tips above to be sure, and when in doubt, it’s always ok to call for a weight check.
If you aren’t seeing all 5 signs that your baby is getting enough milk, or if you have any concerns about it, call your baby’s pediatrician or an IBCLC and get some help.
Nurse on, mama!
Help! Breastfeeding is Painful! Is Something Wrong?
The early days and weeks of breastfeeding can be difficult as mom’s hormones are shifting dramatically and she is getting less sleep than she is used to. Sore nipples can make the adjustment even more stressful. Some well-meaning friends or family members might tell moms that they need to “toughen up” their nipples, or advise them to give up and just bottle-feed. If your nipples are hurting, it is important to find the cause of the pain and to make the necessary adjustments so you can continue breastfeeding.
Discomfort in the early days of breastfeeding is not uncommon and might be normal, as long as it is mild, it lasts only a few seconds at the beginning of a feeding, and the nipples look normal after feeding. Toe-curling pain that lasts throughout the feeding and/ or between feeds, and nipples that are misshapen, white, scabbed, or cracked are not normal. Moms who are experiencing these things are encouraged to seek help from an IBCLC right away.
Most of the time, sore nipples can be resolved by making some adjustments in how the baby is positioned at the breast. The vast majority of nipple pain is caused by positioning and latch errors. Sometimes, small adjustments can make a big difference in mom’s comfort!
Could My Baby Have Tongue-Tie?
If you are experiencing pain while breastfeeding, it is important to seek help from an IBCLC who can help you with positioning, evaluate your baby’s latch, and evaluate your baby for anatomical variances such as tongue or lip-tie. If your baby does have a tongue or lip-tie, and you are having breastfeeding difficulties, there are some very affective treatment options that your IBCLC can discuss with you. Sometimes a tongue-tie is hard to see. Sometimes, a baby might have an obvious-looking tongue-tie, but a full evaluation is necessary to make sure there are not other problems going on.
If it’s Not Tongue-Tie, What Could it Be?
Some other things that can cause severe nipple pain include Raynaud’s Syndrome, skin conditions, or infection. The baby may have difficulty with sucking and require suck training. Some babies have misalignment that causes sucking difficulties, and can be helped by a specialist in Cranio-sacral therapy.
If you are hurting, get help right away! There is no need to continue suffering, when an IBCLC can help you find out what the problem is and what to do about it.
Beth Sanders, BSN, RN, IBCLC