Breast milk questions answered

All Things Breast Milk: Your Questions Answered

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Breast Milk A-Z, Everything you Need to Know!

When I decided to breastfeed my daughter, I thought it would be a natural and easy process. I did some research about breastfeeding and breast milk prior to giving birth. I even signed up for an online breastfeeding class, which I never completed. 

The amount of questions I ended up having about breastfeeding and breast milk was something I could never imagine. My questions and need for knowledge increased when I made the decision to exclusively pump and bottle feed. I eventually joined several online breastfeeding support groups.  These groups turned out to be very informative and saved my breastfeeding journey.

Now that I am almost 16 months into breastfeeding, I feel like a veteran. I recently saw a statistic online that said only 26% of women continue to breastfeed at 6 months. Now, as I scan through my support groups, I realize that many moms have similar questions about breastfeeding and breast milk. Many of these mothers ultimately give up because they are not appropriately educated.

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It is important to be as knowledgeable as possible. This allows mothers to make the best feeding decision for their babies. I made the commitment to breastfeed my daughter because I wanted her to have the nutritional and immune support that comes with breast milk. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants are breastfeed for the first year. It is my goal to provide breastfeeding education so that mom can be successful on their breastfeeding journey. 

What are the Benefits of Breast Milk?

Breast milk contains all of the nutrients that your baby needs to grow.  It is full of antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and other infections.  The composition of breast milk adjusts when the infant or mother is exposed to an illness.

Breast milk changes to match the needs of the baby!

Children who are breastfeed, have a lower risk of developing allergies, develop less ear infections, and have less frequent occurrences of other common childhood illnesses.  Breast milk is also formulated in a way that makes it easier for your infant to digest.

The body’s ability to produce breast milk that is formulated for your child’s needs is a magical thing. The benefits of breast milk are believed to extend well into childhood. In addition breastfeeding also has some positive side effects for the mother according to Webmd.

How Often Should a Baby Breastfeed?

The frequency and length of breastfeeding sessions will change as your baby grows. In the beginning, you will be feeding your baby 8-12 times per day.  This converts to every 2-3 hours.

Nurse on Demand

It is important not to time your sessions and to go by your baby’s cues. Your baby will unlatch when she/he is full.  When you nurse on demand, your breasts will know how much milk to make.  You cannot overfeed a baby who feeds directly from the breasts.

In the early days and during growth spurts, a baby will cluster feed.  Cluster feeding is when an infant will feed more frequently and for longer amounts of time.  Growth spurts occur around 1 week, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 9 months. 

Your body knows how much milk to produce

Many people think that a baby who cluster feeds, is not getting enough milk. Cluster feeding is far from fun, but is totally normal. Remember, your body knows how much milk to produce and will adjust to accommodate cluster feeding.

A good indicator of your baby getting enough breast milk is if your baby is producing wet and dirty diapers. After one week, your baby should be producing at least 6 wet diapers per day.

How Much Breast Milk do I Bottle Feed?

When I switched to exclusively pumping and bottle feeding, I was frequently told that my baby was not getting enough milk.  One of the best and worst things about bottle feeding is that you know exactly how much breast milk your baby is getting. A breastfed baby will not consume the same volume of milk as a baby drinking formula. The volume of breast milk will be significantly less. Remember your breast milk grows with your baby.  In other words the fat content and nutrients change in accordance to what your baby needs.

One helpful tip I learned is that your baby needs 1-1.5 ounces of milk for every hour that you are away from him/her. So, if you are away from your baby for 8 hours, he/she should only take 8-12 ounces of breast milk.  I always made sure to pack an extra couple of ounces of milk just to be sure. 

For the first year, my daughter never drank more than 4 ounces of milk during a sitting.

Infants will temporarily increase their milk intake during growth spurts. 

Now that she is over a year and is eating more solids, she will take 5 ounces. She is also not drinking as many bottles during the day. When feeding from a bottle, use the slowest flowing nipple and practice PACE Feeding. 

What is PACE Feeding?

PACE feeding is a way to feed breast milk from the bottle that mimics the speed of nursing from the breasts.  PACE feeding gives the infant a chance to feel full and prevents them from overfeeding.  Some breastfeed babies will continue to consume milk even if they are full.  It is very important that anyone who is feeding your baby is familiar with PACE feeding.

To PACE feed a baby, provide the baby with no more than 4 ounces of breast milk at each feeding.  Take 10-20 minutes to finish the feeding.  If possible, mimic the same feeding as when your baby nurses from the breast.  Take short breaks after every .5-1 ounce of breast milk to burp the baby.  Also feed the baby in an inclined position. 

When should you Utilize the Breast Pump?

During the first couple of weeks after your baby is born, it is important to have them feed from your breasts often. This can be every 2-3 hours.  Your baby latching, signals your breast to produce more breast milk. It can take up to 12 weeks for your body to regulate its breast milk production.

It is recommended that you do not use a breast pump during the initial weeks after you give birth.  Your baby is much more effective at signaling your body to produce breast milk.

There are many reasons why women have to use a breast pump before the recommended time.  In my case, I was exhausted and my daughter refused to latch.  I ultimately decided to pump and bottle feed my daughter to maintain my breast milk supply and my sanity.

I eventually was too tired to continue to fight with my daughter to latch and I decided to exclusively pump. My pumping journey has been far from easy, but looking back I believe I made the best decision for my family. 

The most important thing for me was that my daughter received breast milk.  In my case, this meant pumping to provide her the breast milk.  Even though I exclusively pump, I was able to be successful with my goal of exclusively feeding my daughter breast milk. 

How does Pumping Work?

During the first 12 weeks after you give birth, it is important that you are frequently expressing breast milk. This can be by latching or pumping if you are away from your child. It is recommended that you start pumping breast milk about two weeks before you return to work. This helps you to adjust to pumping and to have supply for when you return to work. 

Milk production is based on supply and demand

Pump until your breasts are empty, usually 15-20 minutes.  This should occur in the same intervals as when your baby usually feeds from the breasts.  For exclusively pumping mothers, this is every 2-4 hours.  Once your body regulates its breast milk supply, you can adjust the frequency and length of pumping sessions. 

To make your pumping life easier, invest in a good pump, pumping bra, and pumping bag to carry all of your supplies. Do your research on good breast pumps.  Utilize a log to keep track of when you are pumping.  It is very easy to forget about needing to pump when you are busy at work or with just being a mom. 

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What if I am Concerned about the Amount of Breast Milk I am Producing?

There are many products on the market that target increasing breast milk production.  In my social media support groups, many mothers swear by consuming brewer’s yeast, oatmeal, Body Armor drinks, beer, or even the pink drink from Starbucks.  Many professionals will say that consuming these items will not impact your breast milk supply. 

One of the most effective ways to increase your supply is to latch your baby or pump. When your breasts are emptied, a signal is released to your body to produce more breast milk.  If you have ongoing concerns, you can introduce power pumping into your routine for a couple of days.

Power pumping is a technique that is used to mimic cluster feeding.  To power pump, you pump for 20 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, and pump again for 10 minutes.

What about ingredients that contain Fenugreek?

Many products that are marketed to increase breast milk production contain an ingredient called Fenugreek.  For some women, Fenugreek is effective with helping to increase breast milk production.  For others, Fenugreek can cause your breast milk production to significantly decrease. 

If you are concerned about your production and are using Fenugreek, discontinue its use immediately.  It is probably better to avoid Fenugreek because there is no way to know how it will impact your breast milk production.  I have read many stories online of women who were unable to continue breastfeeding because Fenugreek caused their supply to diminish.

How do you Store Breast Milk?

The guidelines for storing breast milk and formula are very different.  Freshly expressed breast milk can be kept at room temperature for 4-6 hours before it has to be refrigerated.  It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 8 days.  It is good frozen for 6-12 months, depending on the type of freezer that it is stored it.

Do not store breast milk in ziplock bags, they aren’t sterile!

When freezing your breast milk, be sure to use breast milk storage bags because they are sterile.  One way to save space in your fridge is to use a larger container to store your breast milk in.  Make sure that any container you use to store your breast milk is clean and sterilized prior to using it.

Once frozen and thawed, it is recommended that you use the breast milk within 24 hours.  Also it is not necessary to throw away any unused breast milk. Just refrigerate the leftovers and finish feeding later. 

What are Clogged Milk Ducts and Mastitis and how do you Treat them?

A clogged milk duct is when breast milk backs up and does not properly drain from a duct within your breast.  This can lead to a painful lump in your breasts. Clogged milk ducts can occur for a number of reasons, but are easy to treat.  Massaging the area or using a hot compress while pumping; or prior to latching your baby, helps to clear the duct.

Address clogged ducts as soon as possible

I found that using my hand pump was the most effective way to clear the clog in a short amount of time. Clogged ducts can be very painful and uncomfortable.  It is important to be proactive in order to clear them, to alleviate the pain prior to it causing additional concerns like Mastitis.

Mastitis is an infection in the breast.  Symptoms are similar to clogged ducts, but also include swelling, warmth in the breast area, fever, and chills. Some people say the feel as if they have the flu. The symptoms can suddenly occur. Mastitis is treated with antibiotics and requires a prescription from a doctor.

Proper education can save your breastfeeding journey

Being able to feed your baby breast milk is a commitment, but it offers a lot of great benefits for your baby. Educating yourself about breastfeeding helps to make the breastfeeding journey a little less stressful. Many women are unsuccessful with breastfeeding because they are not properly educated about breastfeeding and breast milk.

What’s your favorite part of breastfeeding your baby? Let us know below!

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