Is it true that some mothers simply don’t make enough milk for their babies?
One of my pregnant friends asked me this question when she found out that I was studying to become a birth and postpartum doula.
All of my friends who are mothers have wanted to breastfeed, but only a handful of them breastfed exclusively. They didn’t make enough milk to satisfy their babies so they supplemented with formula. Why are some women able to breastfeed and some not?”
I froze under the pressure of this hugely complex question.
I could feel my heart beating faster. There are a million possible answers to this. My friend’s eyes, patiently waiting, were bearing into my soul. She was eagerly expecting me to tell her the magic words that would ensure her breastfeeding success.
“Be concise,” I told myself. “Don’t scare her with stories of tongue ties or insufficient glandular tissue. Don’t intimidate her with the need to spend hours of skin-to-skin time every day. Help her to feel confident in one sentence.”
“Well,” I began shakily, “It’s good to really know how the breast makes milk. Sometimes women are given incorrect information and that affects their breastfeeding relationship. Having the right people around you really helps. You really need people around you who support your decision to breastfeed and professionals who are experienced in the physiology of breastfeeding. Unfortunately some women don’t have that kind of support, and as a consequence are not very relaxed, and that can affect their supply.”
She didn’t really say anything in response. Maybe my words didn’t seem magic enough. A little boring, even. She was probably even holding back a yawn.
Even though that answer was probably a little wordy for a first time mom, it was actually my short answer. There are so many aspects to the breastfeeding relationship. It is a relationship, after all.
Since that conversation I have been thinking a lot about why some babies are not thriving on their mother’s milk, even when mom has access to correct information, the best lactation consultant in town, and supportive family members.
If a medical condition is ruled out, why do some mothers still not make enough milk?
Could it be that breastfeeding is much much more than mechanics?
Getting a good latch is not all that matters.
I think that there is something that is happening under the surface. Inside mom and baby. In the air between them. Something is happening that has nothing to do with milk removal and more to do with how mom is feeling.
In order for breastfeeding to work, mom needs to be relaxed. She needs to let the milk flow.
I know that sounds a little silly. “Let the milk flow.” But it’s actually not easy to just sit back, relax, and trust your baby and your body, especially if you are used to being in control.
We go from our pre-parenthood lives of waking up to an alarm, eating lunch around mid-day, and taking a shower around the same time every day.
Then parenthood arrives.
You can’t control when your baby is born (usually). Nor can you control when those first drops of white, mature milk will start to form. You can’t control when your baby will be hungry or sleepy, and a lot of times you can’t control when YOU will sleep or eat.
New motherhood is all about letting go.
Sometimes, new mothers try to stay in control, and the milk just doesn’t flow. For one reason or another they are tense or scared or just sort of freaked out about the massive shift that is happening inside them and in their lives.
There are a few other times in life that letting go is quite necessary. Pooping is one. Orgasm is another. You also have to be quite relaxed in order to eat and digest food. When you are tense you may have indigestion.
So making enough milk is no different. You need to feel safe, relaxed, and have a deep trust in yourself and your baby.
It’s not easy. I know.
That’s why new mothers need a lot of help.
They need help in breastfeeding, help in cleaning up the kitchen, and help in letting go. So that their milk will flow.
Are you feeling relaxed in your breastfeeding relationship? We’d love to hear your stories.
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