Breastfeeding can be a confusing and daunting skill for new (and also experienced) mamas. In fact, our breastfeeding journey can be totally different from baby to baby.
And out of all the challenges you might encounter during breastfeeding, this question tends to be one of the most common: how can I tell if my baby is getting enough breastmilk?
Finding support and guidance that is tailored to your unique needs is so important to help you have the best possible experience.
We’re thrilled to be chatting with Dr Reena Murray (one of the first Advanced Paediatric Osteopaths in Australia and an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant). In her work as Founder of Completely Aligned, Dr Reena helps mamas and babies navigate a range of common breastfeeding challenges.
In this blog, we dive into this most common breastfeeding question: why milk supply is such a big concern for mamas and discuss Dr Reena’s expert insights.
What are the most common breastfeeding questions?
As a mama, there can be so many different opinions and sources of information to navigate, especially when it comes to breastfeeding.
Because breastfeeding is a learned skill, even though it’s natural there can be a period of adjustment as you work to establish your milk supply, find the right feeding position and understand your baby’s feeding cues (particularly in our first few days and weeks postpartum).
While breastfeeding and feeding will look totally different for each of us, there are some common breastfeeding questions that tend to come up. Dr Reena explains that the answer to most questions depends on a range of factors, which makes it hard to give a one-size-fits-all answer.
“When I see families, I'm assessing a range of factors between both the mother and baby to determine if breastfeeding is working well. Ranging from the mother's milk supply, to her breast anatomy (e.g. the shape of her nipples, the size of her breasts, has there been adequate breast tissue development, or is she suffering from hypoplasia?),” explains Dr Reena. “I also look at things like, has she got breast implants, or is there previous trauma or scarring that may impede breastfeeding?”
“Then I look at what's happening with baby (e.g. the shape and size of their mouth, is there a tongue or lip tie, or is bub having trouble turning their head in one direction) to assess how mum and bub are working together, and help them have a successful outcome.”
Why is milk supply a common concern for new mamas?
The common thread among these common breastfeeding questions tends to be breastmilk supply. We all want to make sure our babies are getting the milk they need to reach their milestones and development goals.
But assessing milk supply is inherently complex, as it’s not simply about how many times we feed or how long bub spends at the breast. Instead, Dr Reena is more focused on helping mamas understand the range of signs that show that babies are getting enough milk for their needs.
“Lactation consultants really look at 24-hour intake of breastmilk,” tells Dr Reena. “This might occur over 12 feeds per day or it might be as little as 6 feeds per day.”
Dr Reena explains that many mamas aren’t empowered with the knowledge they need to properly understand how breastfeeding works at the beginning (and the challenges many women face).
“I often meet mamas late in their breastfeeding journey (even a few weeks can be too late), when they’re already distressed,” tells Dr Reena. “I suggest mamas-to-be should get in touch with a lactation consultant prior to birth, so you’ve got them on call when you need it.”
“The general narrative around breastfeeding doesn’t share that it's normal to face challenges. The truth is that you’re feeling just like every other mama who’s learning to breastfeed. If we could normalise that, I think we would have a lot less maternal anxiety afterward,” shares Dr Reena.
Reena’s answer to the most common breastfeeding question
The answer to this question is determined by a range of different factors, aside from just weight gain alone.
As Dr Reena explains, “We look at everything, from how many wet nappies they've got per day to their head circumference and length. And I put all of that together to indicate whether the baby's getting enough milk and gaining weight.”
Dr Reena encourages mamas and parents to consider the following when assessing their baby’s milk intake:
Weight gain: this weight gain range varies with the age of the baby, so chat with your lactation consultant to check if you’re meeting the appropriate milestones.
Wet nappies: is your baby producing 4-5 heavy nappies per day?
Dirty nappies: depending on your baby, you might see a few stools per day all the way through to one every 7-10 days.
- Positive behaviours: does your baby seem content, alert and active? Does your breast feel soft after feeding?
Length and head circumstance increase: is your baby increasing in length? Is their head growing in size?
“I always say to parents that you want to listen for audible swallows when feeding,” tells Dr Reena. “If the baby's actually swallowing and you can hear it, then that's a good indicator that they're getting milk.”
While these guidelines can be helpful, one of the best ways to find out if your baby is getting enough milk is to find and speak with a lactation consultant. They’ll be able to assess your baby’s latch, review your feeding positions and check all their measurements thoroughly.
Plus, many lactation consultants offer telehealth as well as in-home consults, to make specific feeding and positioning recommendations in the comfort of your own home environment.
If in doubt, please always consult your healthcare professional.