guest blog By Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC
As an individual lactation consultant outside of a hospital setting, I get the privilege of following the journeys of many parents with breastfeeding. Despite breastfeeding being a “natural” way to feed, it can also be a source of anxiety and uncertainty.
There is a culture heavily reliant on concrete, numerical affirmation, both from the family and the medical community, that with the slightest concern, occasionally equates to leading the parent to supplement and even stopping completely.
As with taking a class to prepare for childbirth, taking a class to learn the art and skill of breastfeeding before the baby is born is a great way to boost your confidence. After the baby is born, sleep deprivation and the urgency from everyone to have your baby gain weight can be overwhelming, especially if you’re starting from scratch with your breastfeeding skills. A class can help you learn about normal infant behavior, how often a breastfed baby ACTUALLY eats, how to know when they’re hungry or full, what makes a comfortable latch, bottle feeding, incorporating pumping and hand expression, and more. It may help avoid some common breastfeeding obstacles, too!
Understanding “supply”, the most common word used in regard to breastfeeding, how it’s established and what is adequate would relieve so many common anxieties, as well as aid in the parents’ self-efficacy. Breast milk supply refers to an amount that is enough to sustain feedings, and the mother’s body relies on a number of signals in order to know how much milk is needed.
Helpful Breastmilk Supply Indicators
● Diaper check – The simplest check a parent can do is count diapers and examine stools. No, it is not the tell-all, but it can be a starting place. A baby six days or older should have six or more wet diapers in a 24 hour period, and dirty diapers should be fully transitioned to yellow. Presence of meconium after two days of age can be an indicator that milk production is in trouble!
● Infant weight – Initial weight loss of more than 10% may be an indicator that the infant is having trouble transferring milk, not necessarily that the milk isn’t adequate. However, if left unaddressed, it can lead to overall milk supply thresholds being less once hormones have regulated postpartum- which is that supply-and-demand factor. Weight gain for the first four months should look something like 0.5-1 oz/ a day, or an average of 4-9 oz a week. Any infant weight loss should be addressed immediately.
● Pain – Breastfeeding should not be painful. Friction or clamping on the nipple indicates poor positioning and/or infant feeding mechanics. Reoccurring engorgement, clogged ducts, mastitis, and thrush can be an indication feedings are not effectively removing milk or that damage is happening to the tissue. This all needs to be looked at and addressed early on to prevent low milk transfer, the ultimate precursor to low supply.
Common Breastmilk Supply Myths, Busted
● Drinking water excessively will not increase supply.
● Low supply does not happen overnight in most cases. It is usually a secondary problem developed over time from an initial problem gone unmanaged or undiscovered.
● There is no magic food to cure low supply.
● Having breasts augmented or reduced does not seal your fate.
● “Not being able to breastfeed” does not run in the family.
If you find that pumping or expressing milk helps support your breastfeeding journey, you’ll want to implement good breastmilk handling, inventory, and storage practices. There is conflicting information circulating about how long and where you should store breastmilk and how to thaw and heat it properly. Unlike most foods and beverages, breastmilk retains live cells and enzymes that actually fight off foreign microbe growth. This means it has a wonderful shelf life, but there are medically sound breastmilk storage guidelines that will ensure you don’t lose the health benefits breastmilk has for your baby.
About the Author
Ashley Georgakopoulos is Lactation Director at Motif Medical and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) that specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding and an expert in the field of lactation. Ashley is from Knoxville, TN, and is a mother who has dealt with the obstacles and joys of breastfeeding. As the owner of Genesis Lactation, she educates families, connects them to resources, and helps the next generation be as healthy as possible: nutritionally and sustainably.
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