Anyone who has breastfed a baby will most likely have, at some point, questioned how much milk they are producing. In today’s world where we are used to being in control, it can be incredibly disconcerting to be unable to quantify exactly how much milk your baby is drinking. Surely knowing the precise amount your baby is imbibing is essential knowledge?
Instead of trying to ascertain a figure in ml or oz, your time could be better spent observing your baby and pulling together all the other bits of the jigsaw in order to feel confident that whatever the amount, it is the right amount for your baby.
Firstly, all going well, because breastfeeding works on a supply & demand mechanism, your baby will have essentially dictated to your body exactly how much they need (providing you have been feeding them when they have been hungry and you haven’t been supplementing with formula).
Assuming your body is producing the amount of milk that your baby has asked for, that should be all you need to know. However, quite understandably, things don’t always go exactly according to plan and you may need more “evidence” than that.
Here are a few key signs that you are producing enough milk for your baby:
1) Your baby is putting on weight. Yes, it is quite an obvious one, but if your baby is putting on weight and you can see that double chin appearing, then the milk production line is doing good. Your baby’s rate of weight gain will vary according to their age so be sure to check with your health visitor.
2) Your baby is producing plenty of wet nappies. Exactly how many will depend on their age, for example a baby that is 2-3 weeks old should generally produce at least 6 wet nappies over a 24hr period.
3) As above, but this time we are talking soiled nappies – For a 2-3 week old baby, it should be at least 3, but babies can produce a lot more – breast milk is easily digested.
4) Your baby will have some awake and alert time when they are looking around and at you.
5) Other signs to look out for: your baby is sucking and swallowing and you are not in great nipple discomfort – discomfort can mean that your latch is sub-optimal which in turn can mean that the milk transfer is not as efficacious.
In a nutshell, check the weight gain and the nappy output – what goes in, must come out. It sounds obvious but when you are in the thick of it, it can be easy to forget.
If you find your baby is still asking to be fed very regularly but their nappy output is good, then it may be worth gently trying to encourage them to take more at each feed and therefore stretching the intervals between each one.
By the way, expressing does not always give an accurate picture…
Some mothers try expressing their milk in order to “see” how much they are producing and feeding their baby. If you are one of those who can happily express and produce a bottle within minutes, then that can be very comforting. If, however, you are one of those who finds expressing a bit challenging, who tenses up and only “gets” out a dribble, this can be demoralising and does not necessarily give an accurate picture of how much milk you are producing. Because oxytocin needs to be released in order to “let down” your milk (something which your baby facilitates very easily when they are suckling), some mothers find expressing does not stimulate them enough to release the oxytocin and therefore “let down” the milk.
If you are at all concerned about your milk supply, then please visit a health professional. In addition you can try feeding your baby more regularly and/ or expressing to stimulate your supply. In the meantime, keep an eye on those nappies!
By Louisa van den Bergh, Founder of Lulubaby & their Breastfeeding Consultant