How to get breast milk to come in faster? This is a question I hear very frequently from pregnant mothers or mothers who just gave birth. There are common misconceptions when it comes to the breastmilk supply. You already have colostrum, which is milk, where the misconception of milk coming in came from is the part where your breastmilk becomes copious and mature.
Breastmilk doesn’t “come in”, you already have breastmilk, it’s called colostrum. Colostrum is the thick and sticky yellow or clear milk that you start producing around 16 weeks of pregnancy. Not leaking colostrum during pregnancy or postpartum is not a sign that you’re not producing colostrum.
Your body produces colostrum, which is the first milk that your baby will drink, for a reason. It’s very high in nutrition and just as high in protection. The colostrum will coat your baby’s gut to help protect it from infections during this very vulnerable stage of your baby’s life while your baby’s immune system is still very weak.
Colostrum is also much higher in protein than mature milk. This causes it to work like a natural laxative, which will help your baby’s body get rid of all the meconium in the first few days of life. So now that we’ve established that your milk can’t “come in” as you already have milk, called colostrum, we can discuss the maturation of milk.
Your milk will transition from colostrum to what is known as mature milk over the first few days postpartum. Mature milk is the whitish milk that’s produced in much higher quantities than colostrum.
The reason why people think milk “comes in” is because it suddenly transitions from small quantities of sticky yellow or clear colostrum milk to whitish and copious amounts of transitional and eventually mature milk. This will probably accompany engorgement while your body learns what your baby needs and as you establish the breast milk supply.
Colostrum and mature milk are not that different from each other, both are milk, they just have different composition and quantity. It’s important to note that both colostrum and mature milk are equally nutritious and important for your baby’s health and development.
Some people may believe that because colostrum is so little in quantity, that it’s not enough for their baby. This is not true; colostrum is more than enough for your newborn who has a stomach the size of a cherry at birth. There’s absolutely no need to supplement or stop breastfeeding your baby. There’s also no need for medications to help this process along. This will happen naturally without any intervention.
You can expect your baby to cluster feed almost continuously in the first few days and even in the first few weeks of life, this is normal and healthy. This will also help the milk mature and become copious even faster. Cluster feeding is not because your milk isn’t enough or nutritious or filling enough, it’s just a part of biologically normal infant feeding behavior.
What causes breastmilk to become copious and mature?
Once you deliver the placenta, there will be an abrupt hormonal shift in your body. Estrogen and progesterone levels will decrease dramatically, and prolactin levels increase to take over the milk making responsibility. This hormonal change is what triggers breastmilk to become copious and mature.
Risk factors for delayed secretory activation (milk becoming copious and mature)
– Primigravida (first pregnancy)
– The older the mother, the bigger the risk
– A longer duration of labor
– Labour medications
– Prolonged second stage of labor
– Preterm birth
– Caesarean section
– High body mass index (>30-)
– High levels of perinatal pain and stress
– Postpartum hemorrhage
– Mother-infant separation
– Delayed first breastfeed
– Low frequency of breastfeeding
– The use of pacifiers
– Higher birthweight infant
– Postpartum edema
– Retained placenta
– Baby’s sucking ability and temperament
Risk factors for low milk supply
There are many reasons why a mother can struggle with a low milk supply. In addition to the above risk factors, some of these reasons can include:
– Sheehan’s syndrome
– Abnormal levels of the hormone prolactin
– Previous breast trauma or surgery
– Polycystic ovary syndrome
– Thyroid issues
– Insufficient glandular tissue
15 things you can do to ensure your milk becomes copious faster
As we already discussed, this is not necessary, your body will go through the hormonal changes and breastmilk will increase in quantity, unless there are complications with the process such as breastfeeding management difficulties or medical complications. But there are a few things you can do to ensure things go as efficiently as possible.
1. Vaginal birthing with minimal drug use during labor
Vaginal birthing with minimal drug use isn’t always a choice mothers get to make, and that’s perfectly fine. Caesarean sections and medications can be lifesaving. But, when possible, natural vaginal birth will reduce the risk of delayed secretory activation (milk becoming copious and mature) and it will reduce the risk of breastfeeding difficulties.
2. Immediate, uninterrupted and frequent skin to skin contact with your baby
Skin to skin care, also known as kangaroo care, is extremely beneficial to both mother and baby. Skin-to-skin care has been found to increase oxytocin, the hormone responsible for the let-down reflex and for all those happy and loving feelings that helps you and baby form an even better bond.
It helps to calm and relax both mother and baby as well as regulate the baby’s heart rate, temperature and breathing, helping them to better adapt to life outside of the womb. Skin to skin also stimulates digestion and an interest in breastfeeding and it stimulates the release all the milk-making hormones.
It’s recommended that all mothers have skin-to-skin contact with their baby after birth, for at least the first hour of life or until after the first breastfeed, continuing skin-to-skin care for as long as they desire. The first hour of you baby’s life, also known as the golden hour, is very important, it helps your baby stabilize and adjust to their new world and it helps them initiate their first breastfeed.
3. Resting as much as possible
Resting, staying pain free and trying to relax as much as possible after birth can help ensure an easier breastfeeding start. Skin-to-skin care is an excellent way to relax with your brand-new baby while reaping the many benefits that skin-to-skin care offers. Taking it slow will give your body a chance to heal and it will give you and your baby a chance to get your breastfeeding journey off to a great start.
4. Breastfeeding on demand and frequently
Be sure that you understand and look for your baby’s hunger cues, especially their early hunger cues. Feed your baby frequently and if they don’t wake or if they’re excessively sleepy, be sure to wake them up for regular feeds in the early days and weeks of life.
Breastfeeding 8-12 times or more during each 24-hour period in the newborn period, has been shown to help mothers’ breastmilk become copious faster, and it helps establish a higher milk supply than those who breastfed less than 8-12 in each 24-hour period.
5. Avoiding the use of pacifiers
Pacifiers can cause you to miss your baby’s early feeding cues, leading to breastfeeding less overall. Pacifiers are also known to cause insufficient milk intake in babies and in turn, cause a lower milk supply.
6. Room in with your baby
Rooming in with your baby means having your baby stay with you at all times during your hospital stay. No separating from you or going to the hospital nursery. This means more skin-to-skin care, and it will help you to learn, recognize and respond to your baby’s early feeding cues. Rooming in will help you breastfeed more frequently which will help your milk production.
7. Don’t separate from your baby
Rooming in with your baby and practicing skin-to-skin care as often as you can, will make the transition easier for you and your baby. It will help you learn your baby’s hunger cues and feeding them on their early hunger cues, which means you will be breastfeeding them more often than you would have if you were separated.
Frequent skin-to-skin care is not only great for your milk production, but also for both you and your baby’s health and it can even lower the risk of postpartum depression.
8. International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) support
Getting support from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is always a good idea. A lactation consultant can help you with latch and positioning and they can help you monitor your baby’s milk intake. They can also help you and your baby if there are any breastfeeding related complications or difficulties. You can also reach out for peer support at local support groups such as La Leche League International’s support groups.
9. Hand expression
If your baby can’t latch at first, if you’re separated from your baby or if there is any reason that you can’t start breastfeeding right after birth, you will need to express milk every 2-3 hours to build up your milk supply. Hand expression will work better than a pump (even an electric breast pump) during the first few days. This is because colostrum is very thick and low in quantities. Hand expression is the easier method for milk removal in the early days and will ensure that you don’t lose any precious drops of liquid gold during the pumping process.
10. Wake your baby
Some newborns are very sleepy after birth, especially if you had a prolonged or difficult birth, or had any drugs administered during or after labor.
If your newborn is very sleepy or doesn’t wake up by themselves, it’s important that you wake them up for a feed. Aim for 8-12 or more feedings in each 24-hour period during both the day and the night. Continue waking them until they become less sleepy and start waking up by themselves. If they’re still very sleepy, it may be a good idea to continue waking them for feedings until they’re past their birth weight and on a good weight gain pattern. Breast compressions are a fantastic way to get some more milk into a very sleepy baby.
Breastfeeding should be done responsively, which means you should breastfeed your baby on demand, but also feeding them when you feel the need to do so. You can’t breastfeed too much, so go ahead and breastfeed as much as you both want to.
11. Stay hydrated
Breastmilk is largely made up of water. If you don’t stay well hydrated, your milk supply will reduce because of it. So, keep up with your liquids by drinking plenty of water. It’s recommended to drink to thirst, so no need to force liter and liters of fluid down your throat either, but keeping a water bottle close at all times will be helpful in reminding you to keep up with your liquids.
12. Eat well
Breastfeeding burns an additional 400-500 calories per baby, per day. That’s a lot. Your body needs adequate amounts of calories to keep up with milk production. So, make sure to eat and snack as frequently as you need to. It’s recommended to eat to hunger, so follow a healthy and balanced diet and add in additional snacks as needed.
13. Early hunger cues
Learn your baby’s early hunger cues. If your baby is showing early hunger cues, breastfeed them before they become upset. Your baby will probably be cueing for hunger very frequently. Remember that this behavior is normal. This is helping the milk production along.
14. Don’t supplement unless it’s medically necessary
As already discussed, newborn babies will cluster feed, a lot. They will want to breastfeed for what feels like continuously. This is especially true during the first few days while they only drink a small amount of colostrum at a time, but also during first week and beyond as babies need to adjust to their new world. This is hard, but it’s also normal. This will help your milk production and help ensure you produce a full milk supply.
15. Know the signs of adequate milk intake
It’s hard to trust in your baby and your body’s ability, not knowing how much milk they’re drinking, if they’re even drinking any. The best way to know if your baby’s getting enough milk, is by making sure that your baby’s latch is nice and deep, by allowing frequent feeding and making sure they’re having the expected number of wet diapers and dirty diapers and is gaining weight as expected.
Make sure you practice lots of skin-to-skin care with your newborn baby and always feed responsively.
If you suspect that you have a low milk supply or that your baby is not getting enough milk, contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or your healthcare provider immediately. The sooner you and your baby can get the help and support that you need, the better.