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Breastfeeding – When the Most Natural Feeding Becomes Challenging
Breastfeeding a baby is the most natural way of feeding. Although we would like to believe that formula is very close to breast milk and good enough, it shows how effective breastfeeding has been. If you are one of the lucky moms for whom breastfeeding is going great, you are blessed. However, there is another population of mothers who struggle to feed their children. Some say that the baby will not latch on properly, but with the guidance of lactation consultants (in the western world) and grandmothers/experienced mothers (usually in developing countries) and time, latching can be successful. There is another category of mothers who want to breastfeed but struggle because they don’t have enough milk. Every book or website you open will tell you that your body will produce enough milk for your baby and that feeding on demand will help your body understand how much milk it needs. Trust me, not everyone’s body is actually capable of producing enough milk, let alone pumping and storing the excess. I’m not going to write about the benefits of breastfeeding as there is a lot of literature out there, but I thought it would be helpful if I could share my experiences and also provide some consolidated information on what you can do to increase your milk production.
It is very painful to see your baby crying despite having fed for about an hour. Especially for new moms, it’s not just the physical pain to go through when you start breastfeeding, but it’s also the agony of not satisfying a hungry baby. I wish all they could do was make enough milk for the baby to be full and sleep. I have been through this pain and can totally relate. We had to start our little one on formula from day one in addition to breastfeeding because he was jaundiced and really needed food to flush out his body. After we brought him home we realized within a couple of days that I just wasn’t doing enough and for the next few months I had to accept him being given bottles as well. I was very determined to make breastfeeding work for us and hadn’t even thought about “what if it doesn’t work out”? We hadn’t bought a pump or even a bottle, but we decided to the day after we brought him home. With limited time to research the best options, we handpicked the Philips pump, which was okay to start with. I then sought advice from breastfeeding counselors and soon after I gathered information so that I could improve my milk production. At this stage, I learned that although you may not be aware, women who have had some sort of breast surgery, such as an augmentation or reduction, or even had fibroids removed (for medical reasons), can experience problems with delivery. A term you might be familiar with is galactagogue. These are substances that help improve human and animal lactation. Based on my experience and the information I have gathered, I have compiled the following information that may help you…
1. The soreness experienced in the first few days of feeding with an almost constantly hungry baby can be quite trying. Try not to let this discourage you. So-called nipple shields could be used to relieve soreness. They are usually made of silicone and also help to lock well. It is also beneficial for women with small or inverted nipples. Once you and your baby have learned to breastfeed, stop using the nipple shield. To increase milk production, you need to continue feeding. Remember that usually only 24 hours of not feeding will stop milk production
2. Pump as often as possible. As I said before, the body learns from the baby how much milk it needs. Try to pump if you have the chance. I say this because you may need to supplement the feed by giving your baby a bottle. In such cases, pump to empty the breast so that your body does not think that the baby needs less milk. After the first weeks, the baby increases the interval between feedings, also pumps between feedings. I was told that pumping between 2:00am and 4:00am is a good idea because that’s when my lactation-inducing hormone levels are at their peak.
3. Try to get a hospital grade pump. Yes, it is expensive and I know some people don’t like it. However, it actually has options to increase or decrease suction as the baby does. If you can’t, that’s okay, use a mechanical pump.
4. Try to empty both breasts at each feeding.
5. Drink at least two liters of water a day, remember that a lot of breast milk is just water and if you’re not hydrated, you’re not making enough water
6. Here are some of the galactagogues that I used and some that I decided not to use because they were very new to me:
a. Fenugreek seeds (methi in Hindi and vendhayam in Tamil) – I had no idea that they increase milk production and I was happy to find out. It’s a fairly common ingredient in Indian cooking, so I didn’t have to worry about trying something new while breastfeeding. No point spending money on the capsules available in the shops as a dietary supplement, instead I took a teaspoon of the seeds three times a day
b. Cereals and legumes—especially oats and barley—are said to help increase milk production. I usually take oatmeal (with added milk) in the morning and also boil barley in water and drink this water at least one glass a day. Mung dal gruel is also said to help. Pressure cook mung dal, add milk and jaggery, let it boil and drink
c. Almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts are said to help with milk production
d. Garlic – Burn a few cloves of garlic in a flame or fry crushed garlic cloves in ghee. Add it to warm milk and consume at least twice a day. They say that garlic can thin your blood, so don’t use it with anticoagulants.
e. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and helps prevent breast infections that can prevent breastfeeding. If you’re on an Indian diet, chances are you’re already getting enough of this wonderful spice, with about half a teaspoon a day recommended.
f. Green papaya is considered a galactagogue throughout Asia. I didn’t get a chance to try it myself
g. Spirulina, nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast, ginger ale are some others suggested but I didn’t get to try them
h. Spices such as dill, cumin, fennel seeds are said to help milk production. I chewed a few fennel seeds every day.
i. Green leafy vegetables, carrots, beets and yams are also said to be effective. Dudhi (sorakai in Tamil or lauki in Hindi) is also said to be effective in increasing milk production. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables gives you energy and nutrients to make milk.
j. Stinging nettle (also known as “kuppamen” in Tamil) is another medicinal plant that is commonly recommended by people. I bought dried nettle and used it to make tea. Just put a heaping spoonful in a cup and add boiling water, cover and let steep for five minutes, drink. It is also rich in iron and is an excellent herb, even if it is not lactating
k. Pure berry, borage leaf, sedge leaf, red raspberry leaf, goat leaf, hops, alfalfa are some of the herbs I didn’t really use because I hadn’t had them before. A general recommendation is to try to avoid new ingredients when pregnant or breastfeeding, as you may not know how your body will react. However, I believe these herbs are more common in Europe and many women seem to report using them online.
l. Herbal teas – there are many ready-made preparations on the market. These are usually tea bags that contain a number of herbs that are usually named on the label. I used Yogi tea and it was meant to increase breast milk production. It contained blessed thistle in addition to nettle. They generally say that the concentration of herbs in teas is very low to cause side effects, but that is up to the individual. I’d rather be safe than sorry
m. In Ayurveda, shatavari and ashwagandha are two herbs recommended for breastfeeding along with some other ingredients like almonds etc. I had a capsule called Lactare which you can get from pharmacies in India, one capsule a day. Indian doctors say it is most effective if started right after birth, but I didn’t start taking it until later. Shatavari also appears to be available as a supplement in health food stores. I have been able to get shatavar which is available in powder form in ayurvedic stores and even online since the day my second child was born and I have seen it to be very effective. I think taking the herb in powder form was more effective than the capsule.
n. I also took what was called Mother’s Horlicks, specially formulated for mothers and nursing mothers. The reason I took it was because it has malted barley in addition to the fortified vitamins and I read that malted barley also helps with milk production.
o. Good quality fats like butter and ghee are also said to be important for nursing mothers. Some recommend coconut oil and coconut milk.
7. Protein-rich food is important for milk production. Increase the amount of eggs, meat if you eat them, pulses, beans and legumes. Instead of simple carbohydrates, there are many complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains. The former include brown rice, whole wheat, etc. A well-balanced diet is important at all times, especially during breastfeeding
8. Rest – If you are lucky enough to have help, try to use it to get some rest. You have to accept the fact that some feeds are bottle fed and you could have your partner or grandparents give you a bottle while you rest a bit. A well-nourished and rested mother produces more milk
I have tried to list as many options as possible. You may have seen that I didn’t just try one, but many of them in parallel. I was also prescribed domperidone but decided not to use it because I was afraid of the side effects. On the contrary, most of the other herbal galactagogues mentioned were familiar to me and I decided to use them. It may take a while to accept that your baby isn’t exclusively breastfed, but that’s okay. Try your best to feed as much as possible and if you are producing very little, think of it as preventative medicine as even a little milk contains antibodies to keep your little one healthy and strong. Try to make the most of growth spurts as this is their way of making more milk for your body. It can be quite difficult, but at least pump more during this time. Since a typical Indian diet usually contains most of the condiments, grains, spices and legumes mentioned, I adopted them. If you decided to try the other herbs mentioned, try one new herb at a time to be sure to see if you experience any side effects. Give yourself credit for trying so hard to feed your baby and I wish you the best!
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