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Breastfeeding – When the Most Natural Feeding Becomes Challenging
Breastfeeding is the most natural way of feeding. As much as we would like to believe that formula milk is very close to breast milk and is good enough, the very fact that humans have survived for so many thousands of years even before formula was invented shows how effective breastfeeding has been. If you are one of the lucky moms for whom breastfeeding is going great, then you are blessed. However, there is another population of mothers who struggle to feed their babies. Some say the baby doesn’t latch on properly, but with some guidance from lactation consultants (in the Western world) and experienced grandmothers/mothers (usually in the developing world) and time, one can succeed in making it work of closure. There is another category of mothers who want to breastfeed but have difficulty as they do not produce 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 helps your body figure out how much is needed. Trust me, not everyone’s body is actually capable of producing enough milk, let alone excess to pump and store. I will not write about the benefits of breastfeeding as there is a lot of literature on it, but I thought it would help some if I could share my experience and also present some consolidated information on what you can do to increase your production. milk.
It is very painful to see your baby cry despite having fed him for about an hour. Especially for new mothers, it’s not just the physical pain they have to go through when they start breastfeeding, but it’s also the agony of not getting enough of a hungry baby. One wishes that all they could do was make enough milk so that the baby would be full and take a nap. I’ve been through that pain and I can totally feel it. We had to start our little one on formula in addition to breastfeeding from day one as he was jaundiced and really needed the food to flush his system. As soon as we brought him home, within a couple of days we knew I wasn’t doing enough and in the months to come I had to deal with the fact that they were going to give him bottles as well. I was so determined that breastfeeding would work for us and I hadn’t even considered ‘what if it doesn’t work out’? We hadn’t bought a pump or even a bottle, but decided to the day after we brought it home. With limited time to explore the best options, we went for a Philips manual pump which was fine to start with. I then got advice from lactation consultants and soon after that I was on an information gathering spree in order to improve my milk production. During this phase, I learned that although you may not be aware, women who have some type of breast surgery, such as augmentation or reduction or even fibroid removal (for medical reasons), can have supply issues. One term you may want to be familiar with is galactagogue. These are substances that help improve lactation in humans and animals. Based on my experience and the information I have gathered, I have gathered the following information that may help you…
1. The pain experienced in the first days of combined feeding with an almost constantly hungry baby can be quite testing. Try not to be disappointed by it. One can use what are called nipple shields to ease the pain. These are usually made of silicone and also help with good grip. It is also beneficial for women with small or inverted nipples. Once you and your baby start breastfeeding, stop using the nipple shield. You need to continue feeding in order to increase milk production. Remember that it is usually only 24 hours of not feeding that stops milk production
2. Pump as often as possible. As I said earlier, the body learns from the baby how much milk is needed. Try to pump when you get a chance. I say this because, there may be times when you need to supplement feeding by giving your baby a bottle. In such cases, pump to empty your breasts 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 and 4 am is a good idea as the lactation inducing hormone is at its peak at this time.
3. Try to get a hospital grade pump. Yes it is expensive and I know some people don’t like it. However, it is actually possible to increase or decrease breastfeeding as a baby does. If you can’t get one, 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 most breast milk is just water and if you are not hydrated you will not make enough
6. Here are some galactagogues that I have used and some that I chose not to use as they were too new to me:
a. Fenugreek seeds (called methi in Hindi and ‘vendhayam’ in Tamil) – I had no idea that these would increase milk production and was delighted to learn this. It’s a fairly common ingredient in Indian cooking, so I didn’t have to worry about getting something new while breastfeeding. There is no point in spending money on capsules available as supplements in stores, instead I had a teaspoon of seeds three times a day
b. Cereals and legumes – oats and barley in particular are said to help increase milk production. I would normally eat oatmeal (with added milk) in the morning and also boil the barley in water until it was done and drink the water at least one glass a day. Mung dal gruel is also said to help. Pressure cook mung dal, add milk and curd, let it boil and drink
c. Almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts are said to help milk production
d. Garlic – burn a few garlic cloves in a flame or fry crushed garlic cloves in ghee. Add this to warm milk and consume at least twice a day. They say garlic can thin your blood, so don’t use it with anticoagulants.
e. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and helps prevent breast infection, which can put some off breastfeeding. If you’re on an Indian diet, chances are you’re already getting plenty of this wonderful spice, if not about half a teaspoon a day is said to be advisable.
p. Green papaya is said to be taken as a galactagogue throughout Asia. I didn’t get a chance to try it myself
g. Spirulina, nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast, ginger are a few others recommended by some, but I haven’t been able to try these
h. Spices like dill, cumin, fennel seeds are also said to help milk production. I chew a few fennel seeds every day.
i. Green leafy vegetables, carrots, beets and sweet meat are also said to be effective. Also, dudhi (aka sorakai in Tamil or lauki in Hindi) is said to be effective in increasing milk production. Having plenty of fruits and vegetables will give you energy and food to make milk.
j. Stinging nettle (also called ‘kuppameni’ in Tamil) is another herb that I would say people usually recommend. I bought dried nettles and had it as a tea. Just put a spoon full in a cup and add boiling water, cover with a lid and let it boil for five minutes, drink. It is also rich in iron and a great herb even if she is not lactating
k. Chaste beans, borage leaves, raspberry leaves, red raspberry leaves, goat’s milk, hops, alfalfa are some herbs that I haven’t used at all since I never had them before. The general recommendation is that during pregnancy or lactation, try to avoid new ingredients as you may not know how your body will react. However, I believe these herbs are more common in Europe and there are a number of women who seem to be reporting success with these online.
l. Herbal teas – there are a number of ready-made preparations that are available in the market. These are usually tea bags containing a number of herbs which are usually mentioned on the label. I used a tea from Yogi and it was meant to increase the production of breast milk. It contained blessed thistles in addition to nettles. They generally say that the concentration of herbs in teas is too small for them to cause any side effects, but it depends on the individual. I’d rather be safe than sorry
m. In Ayurveda, shatavari and ashwagandha are two herbs suggested for breastfeeding, besides some other ingredients like almonds etc. I had a capsule called Lactare, available from pharmacies in India, one capsule a day. Doctors in India suggest that it is more effective if started soon after birth, but I started taking it later. Shatavari seems to be available as a supplement in health food stores as well. I had a chance to have shatavari, available in powder form from ayurvedic stores and even online since the day my second child was born and found it to be very effective. I think that taking the drug in powder form was more effective than the capsule.
n. I also used to take what were called Mother’s Horlicks, specially prepared for mothers and nursing mothers. The reason I took it was because it has malted barley in addition to the fortified vitamins and malted barley also, I read, helps milk production.
o. Good quality fats like butter and ghee are also said to be important for lactating mothers. Some recommend coconut oil and coconut milk.
7. A diet rich in protein is important for making milk. Increase the amount of eggs, meat if you eat them, pulses, beans and pulses. Have plenty of complex carbs like whole grains instead of simple carbs. The former include brown rice, whole wheat, etc. Having a balanced diet is important at all times, especially during lactation.
8. Rest – if you are lucky enough to get some help, try to get it so you can get some rest. One has to accept that some feedings will be bottle feeding and you can have the partner or grandparents give the bottle while you rest. A well-nourished and rested mother produces more milk
I have tried to list as many options as possible. You may have noticed that I have not tried just one, but many of them in parallel. I was also given a prescription for domperidone but chose not to use it due to fear of side effects. Rather, most of the other herbal galactagogues mentioned were familiar to me and I chose to use them. It may take a while before you accept that your baby is not exclusively breastfed, but that’s okay. Try to feed as much as possible and when you do too little, think only as a preventive medicine because even the little milk has antibodies that keep your baby healthy and strong. Try to make the most of growth spurts as this is their way of telling your body to produce more milk. It can be quite difficult, but at least pump more during these times. Since a typical Indian diet usually includes most of the spices, grains, spices and legumes mentioned, I embraced them. If you have chosen to try other herbs mentioned, try one new herb at a time to be sure to see if you suffer from any side effects. Give yourself credit for trying so hard to feed your baby and I wish you the best!
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