The human body is an incredible machine when it comes to breastfeeding. From one day to the next it goes from having never produced milk to producing gallons of it every week!
It gets even more impressive. Not only our bodies need to start producing milk from scratch but they need to produce an ever-changing amount of it too, and at constantly evolving times of the day! It's a true marvel that they can keep up. And oftentimes, they actually struggle as we'll see.
This article is all about our bodies' balancing act between supply and demand when it comes to breastfeeding. The constant effort to strive for an equilibrium between what our babies need and what we offer.
We go over babies' evolving demand for milk in quite some details in our article on baby milk intake charts. As we can see in the above chart, a baby's demand for milk keeps increasing until around 9 months old when solids start to be introduced in their diet. After that, it goes down steadily to a state when milk basically becomes a snack compared with their main diet.
The demand for milk doesn't only change over time. The daily demand pattern evolves as well. A newborn needs milk throughout the day and night, every 2 to 3 hours. This changes as soon as baby starts to sleep longer nights, typically between 3 and 6 months old. At that point they'll be eating the majority of their milk during the day and - finally - sleeping at night.
All this means that our milk production schedule need to keep adapting to baby's changing needs. It needs to start production and ramp up during the first few months, only to steadily ramp it down afterwards. It needs to work 24 hours a day first and then reduce nightly production and increase it during daytime. It's a lot of changes on one's metabolism in just a few months!
Every mother is different: some have too much milk, some not enough, some have an easy time breastfeeding while for others it's akin to torture.
Regardless of the difference between people, all breastfeeding mothers will roughly need to follow the same curve when it comes to their milk supply.
A mum's supply usually starts low, often even lower than the baby's intake during the first month. At this stage you should check the baby's weight carefully. It's normal for them to lose a bit of weight in the first few days but if this keeps going and your supply isn't ramping up fast enough, you might need to supplement with a bit of formula until it does.
Normally by working together with your baby you'll reach equilibrium quickly, when your supply fully catches up with your baby's demand.
The whole concept of the milk supply and demand equilibrium is "ask and you shall receive". In a nutshell our milk supply is driven by the demand: the more we demand milk from our breasts, the more they produce. To take an extreme example, if you were to pump milk every hour during a couple of days, your body would rapidly get the signal that it needs to produce milk every hour and after a couple of days, it would!
Same story when the baby demands less. This typically first occurs when they start sleeping longer at night. At that point the milk demand during the night drops dramatically and therefore your body's supply will follow and produce less during the night. This also happens of course when they start eating solids and need less milk overall.
When there is more demand than supply
It's very common for mothers to lack breastmilk, particularly when they start breastfeeding.
Normally, this is a problem that resolves itself. Remember the supply and demand equilibrium concept: ask and you shall receive. As such you just need to stimulate your breasts enough with your little one's suction or with a breastfeeding pump. Within 1-3 days your body will have received the message and should start producing an appropriate amount of milk. Of course you should ensure that you baby latches properly: if they're not sucking the right way the message to produce more milk doesn't get through.
A small proportion of mothers will have recurring milk volume issues. Sometimes it's because they've been overly weakened by the birth-giving process. Sometimes it's because they suffer undue postpartum emotional stress, which has a negative influence on milk production. Sometimes this becomes a vicious circle: mothers are stressed by the fact they don't have enough milk to feed their baby but that stress itself causes low milk supply!
A few tips to help you increase your supply if you face this issue:
- Relax. Easier said than done but emotional stress does have a big impact on milk supply.
- Ensure you don't have blocked ducts before acting to boost your supply. If that was the case, boosting your milk supply would be akin to sending more liquid down a blocked drain. One way to ensure you don't have blocked ducts is to drink Unblock Nursing Tea during a short period of time.
- Use the supply and demand equilibrium concept to boost your supply. Basically, if you don't have enough milk supply, ask for more by stimulating your breasts with your little one's suction or by pumping.
- Drink a milk boosting tea like Milk Boost Tea. It's packed with herbs used for centuries to increase milk supply and it works wonders!
- Eat nutritious food. Your milk, after all, is made from the food you eat. If you don't eat well, you can't blame your body for not producing adequate milk. Especially nutritious foods include fish soup, meat in general but red meat in particular, plenty of grains, etc.
When there is more supply than demand
This is a problem that many breastfeeding mother would love to have!
Depending on whether it is troublesome for them or not, women that face that issue should ponder whether it is a problem at all. If it isn't they can deal with the excess milk by simply pumping it and freeze it for later use. Even if they don't plan on using it, who knows what life reserves? They might fall sick and need antibiotics which would make them unable to breastfeed. In such a situation stored milk would come real handy.
Mothers who have excess milk also need to bear in mind that the situation will likely not last forever. Typically the first 6 months after birth is the golden time for milk production. Any attempt to increase milk production after that can be very challenging, the goal after month 6 is generally to keep production at the same level. Therefore, for mothers aiming to produce as much as possible milk for storage, we suggest they work hard during the first 6 months so as to set a high bar.
All this being said, some mothers truly have issues with excess milk production. For instance when their little one starts sleeping through the night they want to sleep as well, not wake up to pump their overly full breasts! Or when comes the time for weaning, they also want their production to steadily decrease.
A few tips to help you decrease your milk supply if you face this issue:
- Use the supply and demand equilibrium concept to reduce your supply. It works both ways: if you demand less, you also get less. For instance if you stop breastfeeding or pumping at night, your body will slowly learn to stop producing milk at night.
- Embrace slow, progressive changes. There is a lot of inertia in the body, asking it to change your supply level too quickly will cause issues. For instance if you wish to stop breastfeeding at night, do so step by step: from 2 feedings down to 1 during a few days. Only when your supply has decreased to accommodate 1 feeding, can you then go down to no feeding at all.
- Drink Unblock Nursing Tea. Designed to avoid engorged breasts and blocked ducts, this is the perfect tea for women looking to decrease their milk supply without issue. Without it, despite being careful you face the risk of painful engorgement that can, in some cases, worsen into mastitis, an infection of the breasts.
Article tags: Breastfeeding and maternity