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This seems to be a big question in the due date and breastfeeding Facebook groups that I’m a part of. Most women believe if their breasts aren’t the size of basketballs and firm to the touch, that their breast milk supply could be in danger.
Breast milk supply regulation
Let’s start off on the topic of supply and demand. The easiest way to explain breast milk production is this;
The more milk removed, the more milk the body produces.
This is why healthcare providers encourage you to breastfeed on demand around the clock for the first few weeks after birth without introducing pumping. Your baby will most likely be latched to you around the clock. When they’re not, they may fuss until you start nursing again. This behavior is normal. Your baby is triggering your pituitary gland to release prolactin, the hormone that controls breast milk production.
When your ‘milk comes in’ your breasts may feel firm, heavy and uncomfortable. Your breasts will flood with milk and the tissue surrounding your milk ducts will swell and cause some discomfort until your baby nurses and drains the breast. This does not commonly continue after a few days. As you nurse your baby your body’s breast milk supply will start to regulate to meet their needs. This can take up to 12 weeks (Source).
It is also important to note that our milk has a lower fat content in the morning, and slowly increases throughout the day. So having full breasts in the morning and soft breasts in the afternoon is normal. This factor can leave babies cluster feeding at night to get as much of that fat content as possible to sleep longer stretches (Source).
A lot of women believe that they should have an oversupply. So when our bodies are naturally making exactly what our baby needs and nothing extra, it can cause us to drastically overthink the situation and believe we need to supplement with donor milk or formula. Things like cluster feeding and colicky babies can help solidify that feeling.
Am I producing enough?
There are some signs of established milk supply that not many people know of but many factors come into play.
How old is your baby?
Newborn babies should have the amount of wet diapers per day of being alive.
Ex. A two day old baby should produce (on average) two wet diapers.
This holds true until day 6, and then it is said that your baby should produce 5-6 wet diapers per day and 1-3 poopy diapers. Every baby is different.
It’s also important to note that breastfed babies can poop multiple times per day, or go a few days without pooping.
Is your baby gaining weight?
The average weight gain for newborns is 4-8 ounces per week. If your baby is gaining any weight, your baby is gaining weight. There are babies who gain weight slower than the average, but some babies are just smaller babies. Make sure you communicate with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your child’s weight gain (Source).
Does your baby seem satisfied after eating?
Aside from the cluster feeding days, does your baby relax after nursing? Do they seem content? These are signs that your baby is full after feeding. Keep in mind that a satisfied baby could want to nurse again in 15 or 20 minutes especially if they’re about to enter a growth spurt.
If you’re nursing on demand but your baby is struggling with the factors mentioned above, there are some things you can do to help regulate the internal functioning of your body to help your breast milk supply.
Although I do not recommend this for long term use, tracking your feeds is a great way to understand how much milk your baby is getting.
Newborns will nurse 8-12 times per day on average because they are only taking in about a half ounce to 1 ounce per feeding. This will gradually increase to 2-3 ounces per feeding and as it does your baby will feed less and less. Also, do not expect your baby to be on any sort of feeding schedule for the first two to three months of their life.
By about 2 months of age your baby may be eating every 4-5 hours and taking in 4-3 ounces per feeding.
By 4 months of age, it is likely that your baby is taking in 4-6 ounces each feeing
By 6 months, this increases to up to 8 ounces or more each feeding and stay consistent until you start solids (Source).
Expect to be nursing or pumping around the clock for the first few months. Anywhere from 4-8 hours per 24 hour period is normal. Once I started keeping track of feedings
Signs your milk supply is decreasing
Please speak to a healthcare provider if
- Your baby is not filling 5-6 wet diapers or more in a 24 hour period
- Your baby is fussing at the breast more than normal, and you are unable to squeeze any milk out if you try to hand express
- Your baby is losing weight
- Your baby drops in percentile
- Your baby is sleeping more than normal
These could be signs that your breast milk supply is decreasing. Again, keep in mind that it will increase and decrease between birth and week 12 until it regulates.
If you’d like more information on how to increase breast milk naturally at home, I wrote an article about foods that promote milk production.
As always, please refrain from taking anything written on this website as medical advice.