While three out of four mothers start their newborn on breast milk, not many continue past a few months. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breastfed for a minimum of one year while the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months with continued breastfeeding up to two years and beyond.
According to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, only 16.3 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed at six months, with 25.5 percent still receiving breast milk at 12 months.
Some mothers fear that they don’t produce enough breast milk for their baby. Since most women don’t produce as much milk while pumping, it is not a good indicator of breast milk production. A more accurate way to gauge how much a baby is eating is through the amount of wet and dirty diapers, and whether or not the baby is growing appropriately.
Establishing a good milk supply in the beginning can make a difference in how long the relationship continues.
“Some reasons a strong breastfeeding relationship is not established include not getting a good latch in the beginning; baby continuously falling asleep due to under stimulation or the medication the mother may be on making them sleepy; jaundice or premature babies that lack muscle tone,” said Dr. Deborah Bain, a pediatrician at Health Kids Pediatrics in Frisco, Texas.
If milk supply has been established, then a drop in milk production is more likely to happen during the first few days upon returning to work from maternity leave, during times of stress, from restricting calories or from exercising too much.
“A hormonal imbalance, such as low thyroid, may also be a reason for a drop in milk supply or difficulty establishing initial milk supply and is typically accompanied with hair loss in the mother,” said Bain.
Women concerned with keeping their milk supply up over time can add some simple lactogenic foods to their diet to improve milk supply, along with nursing on demand.
Fruits and vegetables high in phytoestrogens are believed to promote healthy breast tissue and lactation. Dark leafy greens are an excellent source of phytoestrogens as are carrots and dried apricots. Asparagus also contains phytoestrogens and has the added bonus of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that may stimulate milk supply through the production of prolactin.
Essential fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids are also said to increase milk supply. Healthy fats are a key component of breast milk and are essential for the production of hormones, which assist in regulating milk production. A diet high in essential fatty acids will also produce fattier, more nutritious, breast milk, so omega-3s and coconut oil should be a daily part of the nursing mother’s diet.
Oatmeal is one of the most commonly known lactogenic foods. Since a bowl of warm oatmeal can have a comforting affect and help a mother relax, it could cause the body to release oxytocin, which may help with easier letdown.
Brown rice also may have an effect on the brain to stimulate milk production by increasing the production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that can stimulate prolactin, a hormone involved in lactation.
Soaking grains overnight can help make them even more digestible and further increase their lactogenic properties.
Mothers who are having trouble producing milk might consider supplementing with fenugreek, blessed thistle and Mother’s Love products, noted Bain.
Making a plan with your pediatrician can help you find the best solution.