A personal reflection of my breastfeeding journey and 10 things that actually improved flow and quality of milk

Struggles and hacks as a new mom

MOTHERHOOD

Manasa S Rao

6/26/20236 min read

mom and child photo
mom and child photo

I never thought that I’d have any problem breastfeeding before I had my son. I harbor some mom guilt as I recall how I struggled to do so. At first, it had more to do with my emergency cesarean recovery. Later, I found myself frustrated by the flow, quantity and pumping that never seemed to cease. I had so many questions: Did he get the nourishment he needed? Was the quality of my milk good? The times he would hiccup, were they due to an unfilled belly? Should I have supplemented with formula right from the beginning? Could I have pumped more? Should he have gained more weight (though the doctor said he was doing well)? If I think about it now, I can pinpoint many things I could have done differently in that season, and identify more of what helped or hindered my breastfeeding efforts.

Here are the important lessons I learned from my struggles:

  1. A lot more of breastfeeding has to do with mentality than actual bodily output.

    There, I said it.

    When I was pregnant, I spent most of my 9 months praying, reading, dreaming, listening to podcasts and prepping myself for an ALL natural birth. No drugs, no interventions, no surgeries. I went in the delivery room armed with worship music, breathing exercises and a firm mind to assert myself on how things would go. When the doctor finally, and gently, told me that my son’s heart rate was dropping with every contraction and they saw no way around it except a cesarean, I was lost for a moment. Of course, my heartbreak was short-lived since I wanted only a healthy delivery. However, this “failure” stuck with me after I had my son. I wanted to prove (to my family? myself?) that I could breastfeed my son and wouldn’t need formula. It wasn’t until a bit later, when I took some pressure off myself, trusted in God’s plan and decided that if he needed formula than I was going to supplement, that my breast milk actually started to flow better! Imagine that! It took spiritual and mental stamina for my body to respond in kind to what I needed from it. Stress, anxiety, societal pressure and a need to be completely natural in all I do because someone else had done so, acted as obstacles in this season.

  1. Pumping may seem so tedious, but it is a tried and true method of increasing your milk.

    Feeding around the clock, especially those cluster feeds can drain us of all we have. A yet, when we aren’t feeding (and obviously NOT sleeping), we are told to pump. I can’t count how many times I rolled my eyes when I heard this, but it was only after I started power pumping (a routine of pumping and short resting followed by another bout), that I saw an improvement in quantity. It is a simple supply and demand (feedback mechanism) that produced promising results. The more you pump, the more your body assumes needs to be made.

  1. Lactation foods all day

    Some foods stimulate your mammary glands and hormone production such as prolactin, to improve quantity and quality of your milk. The miracle foods that worked for me were:

  • Dill herb: Dill is an herb that acts as a powerful lactation agent. It was what worked best and quickest for me, with a very visible increase in milk. I added dill when I cooked lentils. You can make some Mediterranean dishes with it, such as soups, salads and tzatziki sauce.

  • Fenugreek (methi): Fenugreek is often found in capsule form, meant to improve lactation and digestion. What worked for me was a tea made with cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds steeped in hot water and strained. Add a squeeze of lemon and perhaps honey or salt to make it more palatable. The seeds can be sprouted and eaten daily for abundant supply. Fenugreek can be found as leaves as well, to be added in recipes.

  • Oats: I saw a marked increase in amount and quality of milk when I had oats every day along with fresh fruits and good fats.

  • Flax and good fats: Speaking of good fats, adding ground flax, chia, peanut butter, avocados and nuts to my diet aided lactation significantly.

  • Mother’s milk tea: This was a great one! I am glad I found this herbal tea, formulated as a blend of herbs that improve milk supply.

  • Some other helpful foods I studied and tried on occasion were lactation cookies and Brewer’s yeast. I didn’t take these consistently enough for it to make a large impact, but tons of women, including my friends, swear by them.

person feeding baby from feeding bottle
person feeding baby from feeding bottle
cooked food
cooked food
  1. Apply heat

    Taking hot showers, baths and applying a warm compress to the breast before and during feeding or pumping made a stark difference in milk production. I saw faster and uninterrupted flow. If milk was clogged, it would be released by heat.

  1. Compressions

    Gently compressing and massaging often improved blood flow and circulation in the breast. I found this most helpful when i was feeding from one breast, and massaging the other to prepare for the feeding.

  1. Not waiting until my breast felt “full”

    This was one of my initial mistakes. I thought my breast has to feel heavy with milk so it was “working” and I could feed. However, as mentioned before, this is not how our body functions. Continuous feeding without even giving it a chance to fill up tells our body that there’s a lot more demand so more must be made. It also prevents clogs, infections and painful mastitis.

  1. WATER, WATER AND OH YEAH, more WATER

    This is probably a given, but the more water I drank the more milk I was sure to pump. I added electrolytes like lemon or a bit of salt for better absorption.

  1. Rest

    This is so tough for new moms, and I completely understand. However, nothing in our body is at its prime condition if we don’t rest to feel our best. Our working conditions and society as a whole demands that women get back to work so much sooner than our body’s and family’s are ready for. It makes resting almost like a dream, but I pray you can make time to do so.

  1. Exercise

    Some light stretches or walking initially, and perhaps a bit more after recovery, helped with hormone secretion, balance, blood flow and mental relaxation.

  1. Praying without ceasing

    I try to build every season, every new challenge on the firm foundation of prayer, worship and thanksgiving.

    Be thankful for the child that the Lord has entrusted you with for a time. Practice gratitude for any help, meals, support, gratitude and strength you have. Spend your feeding times reading from or listening to the word, sermons, worship music. It makes all the difference for a peaceful fourth trimester and beyond.

    Keep in mind, these times of doubt and weariness may be made to tear you down, but God uses them to build you up stronger than before.

    Remember to take things a step at a time and that it will pass. Do NOT put pressure on yourself, and know that formula feeding is just a wonderful as breastfeeding. Also, DON NOT ASSUME YOU HAVE TO DO IT ALONE. Get a lactation consultant, take the classes they offer at the hospital, ask for advice. Fill up bottles and ask a family member to feed the baby as you recover. Pay someone to clean your house for a time, request a meal train from your church. Get a lot of sun and family fun time.

    There is no right or wrong way to nourish your child. We do not have all the answers, so lean on the Lord and your community. You have the strength and courage to be more than an overcomer.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalms‬ ‭46‬:‭1‬

pink rose
pink rose