Barbara Roberts, Homeopath

Low milk supply

It’s World Breastfeeding Week!

There is plenty of scientific evidence these days showing the benefits of breastmilk. I’m not going to go into that further. Knowing that breastfeeding is good for your baby and wanting to breastfeed does not mean this will come easy. Breastfeeding is a skill and something you and your baby learn together- a second or subsequent child may have a different latch, different style of feeding, whether position or frequency and duration, and your feelings about it may be different too.

The first few days after delivery you secrete Colostrum, and is rich in white cells, antibodies, protein, minerals and fat-soluble vitamins. This is the immune boosting substance for baby. Between days 2 and 4 there milk “comes in” which can cause tingling and/or discomfort in the breasts, they can feel full and leak milk.

I do not have time and space to talk about all the things that can happen with breastfeeding, so I want to focus on two- if you don’t have enough milk, or if you have an oversupply of milk. Remember if you are having trouble at any stage with breastfeeding, ask for help: contact your local La Leche League (LLL) for mother to mother breastfeeding support (and a wealth of knowledge), check for your local primary health organisation’s breastfeeding support person and/or see a lactation consultant (LC). If you are not a breastfeeding woman, but know someone who is or may be in the future, please know that your support may make all the difference for that woman and her baby. Ask how it is going, and if there is anything you can do to support her.

Today I’m going to talk about not having enough milk (or thinking you don’t have enough milk). Come back tomorrow if you have an over abundance of milk.

It is a common feeling and can happen anywhere in the breastfeeding journey. Some troubleshooting before we look at remedies:

*is baby latching well? If baby does not have a good latch they are unable to drink the milk and stimulate the nipple to produce more milk.

*Are you feeding often? Milk works on a feed more, make more principle, so the more often you feed the more milk you can make. Demand feeding is key here, scheduling does not work. In addition to this the length of time baby feeds varies between babies- this is a trick for second and subsequent babies where the first may have been a fast and efficient feeder and the next needs a lot more time to feed.

*your breasts may not “fill up” with milk. Or you may not leak milk when a feed is due. Personally, my milk never came in and gave me engorged breasts (much to my small breasted disappointment). This is still normal and does not mean your baby is not getting enough milk. Your best measure is them having plenty of wet nappies and growing.

*your baby starts feeding more often, feeding and feeding like they can’t get enough. This is a normal process where they are stimulating your breasts to produce more milk. Go with it, it will be a few days of increased feeding and then it will settle down. If it goes on for longer than this, contact your local LLL Leader or look for other support.

Another reason they may feed more often is seasonal, in summer during the warmer weather the consistency of breastmilk changes to provide more hydration, and they may snack feed when they are thirsty. Feeding on demand is important here.

Furthermore if they are sick your breastmilk contains antibodies as well as essential vitamins and minerals to help them get through the infection. Feed them as often as possible. If you are sick you are passing on those antibodies to baby through your breastmilk so keep up the feeding.

* if you do feel your supply is low, check your diet. Are you having enough water? Particularly in summer you need to increase your fluid intake so you have enough for your body and theirs. What is your diet like? It can be hard to get at nutritiously when you have a young baby, but it is important to make sure you are having a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, protein, fat and carbohydrates. While processed foods or refined carbohydrates might be easy to make and fill your stomach but it doesn’t provide any of the building blocks you or your baby needs.

*stress! There are two hormones involved with breastmilk production- Prolactin and Oxytoxin. Prolactin is stimulated by sucking and works to ensure there is enough milk for the next feed (see above discussion about cluster feeds, increasing milk supply). Oxytocin is what promotes the let down reflux. Acute stress, fright or pain blocks the production of oxytocin, and therefore the letdown. This is one reason why support is so important, and also a vote for cocooning with your baby and not having a large number of visitors in those early days when you need to spend lots of skin to skin time and baby suckling time to establish milk supply. Even in later times in your breastfeeding journey skin to skin time, reducing stress and consciously relaxing your shoulders can help.

*pumping- if you are using a breast pump and not getting much out this does not necessarily mean your supply is low, it could be that the pump is not stimulating your nipples adequately, or that your baby is just much more efficient. If you are pumping during breaks at work it may be a stress related problem- see above about oxytocin and stress. Try and find a space where you are comfortable and unlikely to be interrupted, have a picture of your baby with you and spend this time thinking about your baby and what you love about them to stimulate that hormone and the let down.

Homeopathically you can consider the following remedies:

Calc Carb- breasts may be swollen and feel hot but not much milk comes out.

Lac Caninum – along with low milk supply there can be anxiety and low self esteem. There may also be a conflict between the breasts being used to feed a baby or as a pleasurable sexual organ.

Pulsatilla can be used to regulate breastmilk supply when it doesn’t feel like there is enough or when it is erratic and changeable. Emotionally they can be often close to tears, or very changeable swinging from one emotion to another. They are warm and loving but need lots of support. Feel better outside.

Ricinus communis – this can be used to help increase milk flow but only in the 6c potency, 30c is used for weaning.

Urtica Urens – breastmilk is scarce or absent, or doesn’t come in, there may be stinging pains or itch in the breasts without a rash. It can also regulate milk supply when it is erratic and swings from low supply to high supply.

Other things to consider:

*diet: adding oats to your diet can boost your supply, whether this is porridge or in other forms. Other foods at may help include brewers yeast and barley and whole grains.

*supplements: blessed thistle is a fantastic herb that boosts milk supply (do not confuse with milk thistle which is for liver detox and should not be taken while breastfeeding). Other supplements include fenugreek and fennel.

*there are various breastfeeding teas available if you like herbal tea.

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