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Obstacles to Breastfeeding: Supplementing

August 31, 2010

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army

Did you know that doctors (even pediatricians and OB’s) are NOT required to have any training on breastfeeding? Be careful when asking for breastfeeding advice unless they have IBCLC behind their name (Board Certified Lactation Consultant). If they don’t, get a second, third or even fourth opinion from the following: a Board Certified Lactation Consultant (some work independently, some work out of doctor’s offices and others work out of hospitals), a reputable breastfeeding book and/or website like those found on our Breastfeeding Resources page and/or a breastfeeding support organization such as the La Leche League.

Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about a common obstacle to breastfeeding as your baby gets older. AKA, thinking your baby is weaning early.

Supplementing

When our babies start nursing like crazy and we feel like we can’t keep up with demand, it’s really easy to reach for a bottle (of pumped milk or formula). No mother wants to see her baby hungry. But most often this is happening for a reason. Baby is telling your body it needs to make more milk. It can take 24-48 hours, on average, for your body to respond. When you supplement, your baby is no longer telling your body to make more milk and the downward spiral begins. Baby needs more milk and your body starts making less and less because baby is satisfied with the bottle feedings.

This can happen even if you supplement AFTER you nurse. For example, let’s say your baby usually nurses every 3 hours or so and is suddenly nursing every 2 hours. You don’t want baby to be hungry so you supplement with a small bottle after baby nurses. Baby goes back to nursing every 3 hours, maybe longer if you gave formula. Baby is no longer signaling your body to make more milk. You end up having to give more and more bottles to keep up with baby’s needs and your body starts producing less milk until you completely dry up.

Breastfeeding changes greatly as our babies get older. Many women no longer experience a let-down sensation. Our babies tend to nurse much more quickly. Our breasts aren’t always as full and tend to leak less (even not leaking at all). We try to pump some extra milk and find that we get almost nothing. (Please, NEVER rely on a pump to tell you how much milk you’re making. Your baby is infinitely better at extracting milk from you than any pump.)

As your baby gets older, there will be times when you *think* you don’t have enough milk but you actually do. The number of wet diapers your baby is having each day is one of the only accurate ways to know if your baby is actually getting enough milk. If you start supplementing just because you *think* you may not have enough milk for your baby, you run a very real risk of losing your milk supply altogether.

Be VERY CAREFUL with supplementing as it can quickly end your breastfeeding relationship. And none of us wants to do something that may end the relationship sooner than we wanted.

If you and/or your doctor genuinely think you need to supplement and you want to preserve the breastfeeding relationship, please contact a lactation consultant for guidance.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Dana Milan permalink
    September 1, 2010 8:06 AM

    The times I have given in and offered a bottle I made sure I did 2 things in order to prevent a decrease in milk supply.

    1. I let the baby nurse a lot before offering a bottle.
    2. I pumped about an hour after giving the bottle.

    Not sure if it helps but it made me feel a bit better. It is difficult to know what to do when your instincts tell you that more then 48 hrs has passed and your supply is still not enough. I am convinced I don’t produce much in the afternoons. Not sure what to do about this other than letting the little guy suck away and pumping more. (Both things tend to irritate the nipples though!)

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