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Increasing Breast Milk Supply without Galactogogues

increasinggalactogogues.jpgOver the last weeks there has been talk about ways to increase milk supply.

Most recently, Mrs. H. has had to tackle this issue, that many breast feeding mamas face. I too, was there when my son was 6 months old and had started solids, but was not ready yet to wean.

There has also been discussion about using Fenugreek, which is a galactogogue?an herb or prescription drug used to increase milk supply. While they do have their place, and work for some women, there are ways to increase milk supply without them. Galactogogues should also not be taken without first consulting your doctor, midwife or other health care practitioner who is completely familiar with your medical history, as should be done with any advice given that affects your or your child’s health.

As a breast-feeding mama, who was concerned that my milk supply was decreasing, I learned that I had to go back to the basics and take a new approach breastfeeding my son when I hit this point in our nursing relationship.

The first thing to remember when it comes to breast feeding is that while hormones do play a pivotal role, it is also controlled by the law of supply and demand.

There are also times when you may think that your milk supply is low, when it may not be. These times include but are not limited to:

  • Hormonal changes (such as the return of your cycle)
  • Increase in other sources of nourishment such as solids or if you are supplementing, formula.
  • You find that you cannot pump as much any more.
  • You no longer feel the let-down sensation.
  • You are not getting enough rest or are stressed.

Before you get very concerned, ask yourself:

  • Is he having a growth spurt?
  • Is she still nursing happily and comfortably?
  • Is he still wetting/soiling his diapers regularly?
  • Has she started solids or been taking a bottle (expressed milk or formula) more often?
  • Are you more tired than usual?
  • Are you experiencing any unusual stress?from work, from travel, from family-related issues?
  • Is your support system strong and encouraging?
  • Are you eating/drinking well?keeping yourself well-nourished?
  • Could you be pregnant or is your regular post-partum cycle returning?

Some tips for naturally increasing your milk supply

  • Increase your healthy, lean protein intake. This can mean lean meats, beans and legumes.
  • Increase your fluids?that is water and whole juices. (Skip the caffeine and diet drinks, if possible.)
  • Make sure that you are consuming enough calories daily. Remember, that just like when you were pregnant, breast feeding mamas need more calories than women who are not breast feeding.
  • Get adequate rest.
  • Don’t watch the clock while nursing. Nurse until your baby has finished one side, then offer the other side. (If he is full, offer that side at the next feeding. Pump if you need to relieve pressure, but still offer the un-nursed side at the next feeding.)
  • If you can, take a “nursing vacation” even if it means just on the weekend, if you work out of the house. This means do nothing but nurse-on-demand, eat and drink healthy foods and beverages and rest. You may have to bring her to bed with you, or have her in the room with you. Delegate the household responsibilities to others and focus on your and your baby’s nourishment.
  • Try pumping and nursing at the same time. (This is called switch nursing.) While nursing him on one side, pump the other side. Before he’s finished on that side, switch him and the pump.
  • When you’re nursing (or pumping) make sure that you’re relaxed and calm.
  • When you can and if you feel comfortable doing so, lose the bra (especially if it’s an under-wire bra). Ditching the bra will help encourage blood flow and promote good circulation. Your bra, no matter how “unstructured” it is, will constrict your breasts to some degree.
  • Try massage. Work in a circular motion with your fingertips from your armpits down and from underneath them up and all around towards the center. Do this on each side. (It is a good idea to do this right before nursing or pumping.)
  • Try nipple stimulation. Nipple stimulation releases into the bloodstream oxytocin, which is the hormone responsible for the milk ejection reflex.
  • Try warm compresses or a rice-sock that has been warmed in the microwave for about 30 seconds before and during nursing or pumping.
  • Get support and help from other breast-feeding mamas and/or a lactation consultant especially if your spouse/partner or family network is not as supportive as you need them to be.

These may or may not work for you, depending upon your unique situation. But, as someone who has tried them and ended up nursing successfully until child-led weaning at 15 months, I can say with a certain degree of reliability that they can work. If they do not work (and it may take a few days to “reclaim” your supply) there may be other issues at play, and you should definitely consult your health care provider.

As always, before embarking on any changes that relate to your health, consult a licensed medical professional who is aware of your and your child’s medical histories.

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