The U.S. is still experiencing a baby formula shortage, which may have some parents considering or even reconsidering breastfeeding as an option for their infant. Knowing the benefits of chestfeeding — a term used by many transgender and nonbinary parents to describe the process of feeding their child from their chest — can be helpful context as you weigh your decision.
Just two months ago, the period for which breastfeeding is recommended was extended to two years or more by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
And according to the CDC, breast milk is considered the best source of nutrition for most infants and can help to protect babies from some illnesses by lowering risks of asthma, type 1 diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Breastfeeding can also be beneficial for parents as well. "Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of developing: breast cancer, ovarian cancer and Type 2 diabetes," according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
If you've decided to chestfeed but don't know where to start or you were once using formula and now have to consider breastfeeding your baby given the shortage, lactation consultants can help break down the basics like how much milk is enough for your newborn's nutrition or tips for producing milk.
Am I producing enough milk? In the first week of breastfeeding, many parents think they aren't producing enough because their milk is almost transparent initially, says Krystal Duhaney, a registered nurse and international board certified lactation consultant. Milk in this stage is called colostrum, and parents produce it exclusively for the first three to five days after giving birth, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
You may feel like you're not producing enough milk when you're actually producing just enough for your baby, according to Hannah Halliwell, the clinical director of BreastfeedLA and an international board certified lactation consultant. You don't have to have freezers full of breast milk for your baby to receive the nutrients they need, she says.
"I understand the nerves around not having extra, but we make as much as baby needs very typically when all is going well," Halliwell says. If you're taking in good, healthy fluids, eating balanced meals and sleeping enough, taking lactation supplements may not be necessary for milk production, says Halliwell.
Is my baby getting enough milk? Watching your baby's output during your first week of breastfeeding can be a good way to determine if they're eating enough, Duhaney says. "We go by the rule of one wet diaper for every day of life for the first week," she says.
Use this metric for week one, she says: one urine diaper on day one, two on day two, three on day three and so on for the first seven days. This will be a great indicator of if your baby is getting enough milk. By day four, their poop should transition from a dark green shade to a yellow color with a seedy texture, she adds. And after the first week, your baby should have six to eight wet diapers a day and soft poop.
And if your baby appears satisfied after feeding or has a steady weight gain of 4-8 ounces a week, those are good indicators that they are eating well.
How can I increase my milk production? The key to increasing your milk supply is frequent and effective milk removal, according to Duhaney. When parents aren't producing enough milk, it's often because they're not removing enough milk from their breasts, which can be done by feeding your infant on demand or pumping more frequently, she adds.
"Try to empty your breasts around seven to eight times per day, or about every three hours, or follow baby's lead if you're nursing on demand," Duhaney says.
She recommends 'hand expressing' during the first week of your child's birth. It's a process that involves using your hand to massage milk out of your breasts onto a spoon. You can spoon-feed your baby the milk "like dessert after a meal," says Duhaney. "That will help not only send more signals to your body to make plenty of milk, but also get more milk into baby."
If you've tried just about everything for milk production and are still struggling to produce, Halliwell suggests some safe and commonly used resources:
- Milk banks
- Feeding support groups
- Safe community milk sharing
"We were really never meant to do the parenting thing by ourselves," Halliwell says, "We were meant to do it together with our sisters, with our aunties, in community, in the village."