Lifestyle and Breastmilk Supply


Reading Real Food for Mother and Baby reminded me of some things about breastfeeding, specifically the relationship between 'traditional parenting' and milk supply that I've noticed as I've been a mother. I researched breastfeeding while pregnant with my first, subsequently putting away my 'if they're old enough to ask for it, they're too old to have it' bias. In looking at traditional cultures, the nutrition needs of toddlers, and my own experience in working with little ones, I decided that it was my goal to nurse my children until they were two and then I would consider weaning, depending on the individual child's personality and needs.

Through various parenting trials and errors I found that the more traditional-parenting approach (keeping the children with Mom as their primary caregiver, not using bottles or artificial nipples, remaining in close contact throughout the day, resisting strict schedules) helped prevent nursing strikes and keep my milk supply up. I'm not one who always has an abundance of milk.  If I'm stressed at all, my milk supply starts to drop.  I can tell that my milk supply is dropping by the baby; he starts thrashing more at the breast (the milk isn't letting down), and his diapers aren't as wet as they are when I have plenty of milk.  Breastfeeding into the second year is a priority for me, personally, so at the first sign of a supply dip I figure out how to relieve stress, I drink Mother's Milk Tea, and I make sure to encourage nursing often. 

Key elements that help me maintain milk supply and keep a good nursing relationship with my little one:
  • Sleeping together.  We choose to keep the baby in our bed to sleep.  Honestly, I tried having my first sleep in a bassinet next to my bed and then getting up to nurse her, then put her back in her own bed, but that didn't even last a full night.  Sleeping together allows me to nurse while mostly asleep so I'm well rested for the day ahead. It also helps when baby becomes more active; he is so busy doing everything else during the day that he may decide to reverse cycle and do most of his nursing at night. I know it sounds like a pain, but most moms can learn to nurse as they sleep.  
  • Having baby drink 'from the tap'.  Again, with my first I experimented with allowing others to feed her by pumping and filling a bottle with milk.  This resulted in me leaking all over and having my milk supply be generally out of whack with her needs.  With my second, I didn't pump at all and that seemed to help my supply keep up with demand more efficiently.
  • Nurse on demand during the infancy stage. With my little babies (until about a year) if they want to nurse, I nurse them. The first year especially is full of so many growth spurts that I listen to them, even if they seem to be nursing 23 out of 24 hours a day.  If they're crying but not particularly wanting to nurse, I try to find the root of the issue (reflux? too hot? need a change of scenery?).  Nursing on demand does not mean demanding they nurse every time they cry.
  • Don't separate baby and mother.  Add it to my list of politically incorrect convictions ~smile~ but I believe baby and mother were designed to stay together for the first bit. I tote my young sidekick around with me for the first year and then some, even for a quick run to the grocery store. I think it's more than just having the milk available to nurse on demand; being in close proximity keeps both of us calm, which influences hormones and in turn milk production.  
  • Anticipate supply dips and work on keeping your milk production going.  I know that my milk supply will dip if I'm under stress, haven't slept enough, am sick, or my cycle is starting (mine came back at 12 months and 7 months respectively).  I respond well to Traditional Medicinals Mother's Milk Tea, but not all women do.  Millet and quinoa are grains that are traditionally used to promote milk supply.  
  • Trouble Breastfeeding? is my favorite all-around breastfeeding resource.
  • If breastfeeding doesn't work out, for whatever reason, Ann Marie describes how to make a nourishing infant formula.  Even in traditional cultures with stellar nutrition and environmental conditions, a small percentage of women still are not able to provide enough or any milk for their baby.  If that is the case, there are better options out there than commercial formula, I would encourage you to look into a homemade formula or human milk donation.  I would consider the homemade formula as an alternative to plain cow's milk for underweight toddlers as well.
Some frequently asked questions that I get from people who aren't familiar with this whole extended nursing/traditional parenting thing...

Don't you need some time to yourself?
Both my babies have done well napping on their own. For a while my second would only nap if he was held, so I tucked him in a pouch sling for his naps and I sewed or blogged or did whatever.  Later he moved to a bouncer to nap, and now he takes good naps in our bed.  I encourage napping independently, I know a lot of people recommend that mom nap with the baby, but I will gently lay baby down or nurse them to sleep on the bed repetitively until they get in the habit of staying asleep for a good nap.  With my babies, it's worked well for me to go in and nurse them back to sleep as soon as they start to stir (if they're not ready to get up yet) and eventually they get into the habit of taking their needed naps. 

So... you know... what about 'married time' 
The above-mentioned bouncer in another room ;) Or the couch. I realize this only works because both children are young. I believe that with creativity this can work.

My baby's only 2 weeks old, there is no way I can do this for two full years!
Good for you for giving her a good start! I felt the same way when my first was a newborn, so I just focused on that day, or that week, or that month and it easily turned into 2 years.  Even if you do stop breastfeeding before whatever time is your goal, good for you for trying it and giving your baby a good start, however long that is.  I don't judge anyone for the amount of time they breastfeed. We all come from different situations. My goal here is to encourage you, not to judge you.

Will she ever wean? 
My first weaned easily once my second was born. I saw that she had made the adjustment to having a baby brother easily, so I suggested that she 'nurse' her baby while I nursed her brother and she happily did so.  This is my only experience with weaning, so I don't have a lot of advice to give ~smile~ I don't think I would ever encourage early weaning due to fear of how hard it would be to wean later.

Feel free to ask anything else, I only have the experience of two kids but I'll answer what I can.

See my collection of childbirth related posts
An interview with lactation specialist Jessica Solomon
Natural treatment for mastitis

Part of WFMW and Real Food Wednesday 
And anyone with a baby knows that feeding the baby can make or break the budget, so this is a part of Kimi's Pennywise Platter Thursday

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