In 2010, the medical journal Pediatrics published the estimate that around 900 babies could be saved in the U.S. alone if 90 percent of babies were exclusively fed breast milk until 6 months of age. Around 3 out of every 4 women begin their baby’s first days by giving them nature’s best food. Unfortunately, less than half of those women are still breastfeeding by the time their baby is three months old. By six months, the number of babies exclusively fed breastmilk diminishes to a mere 11 percent. Why do so many moms revert to formula in these early months with life-saving statistics like that published in Pediatrics?
The reason most of these women cite for giving up breastfeeding their babies is low milk supply. Even with new breastfeeding promotion efforts, Women, Infants, & Children (W.I.C.) programs are facing the same obstacle. Their participants most often describe the reason for switching to formula in their baby’s early months as inadequate supply of breastmilk. A W.I.C. representative from Oklahoma reported that many of the women she sees in the program believe that milk production is genetic. Moms state that if their mom didn’t have success with it, they are likely to believe they won’t either.
So are all these women really not making enough milk for their baby to grow and thrive solely off of breast milk? Probably not. Many experts estimate that a maximum of 5 percent of moms are physically unable to breastfeed, whether due to health issues or baby’s allergies.
That said, the issue of low breastmilk supply is very real. There are many factors causing this trend, including mostly nutritional deficiencies and social trends towards baby-rearing.
Unfortunately, the medical field's "solution" is not to address these underlying problems but to instead offer prescription drugs which may boost breastmilk production. They include Metoclopramide (Reglan), Domperidone (Motilium), and sulpiride (Eglonyl, Dolmatil, Sulpitil, Sulparex, Equemote). In fact, after my 5th child's birth, the nurse tried to give me Reglan. I asked what it was for, and she said that the doctor gives it to all of his patients to increase their breastmilk supply. I refused, knowing that if I DID have a problem with low breastmilk supply, it was something I could correct with nutrition and other practices.
I also refused knowing that ALL prescription drugs carry side effects and risks, especially to babies. For instance, Reglan has been proven to cause depression in new moms. And with the rates of postpartum depression increasing, we do NOT need that! (See my article here on PPD/antenatal depression.)
Additionally, the FDA warned in 2004 of the dangers of taking domperidone for the purpose of increasing breastmilk supply. They said:
Several published reports and case studies of cardiac arrhythmias, cardiac arrest, and sudden death in patients receiving an intravenous form of domperidone that has been withdrawn from marketing in a number of countries. In several countries where the oral form of domperidone continues to be marketed, labels for the product contain specific warnings against use of domperidone by breastfeeding women and note that the drug is excreted in breast milk that could expose a breastfeeding infant to unknown risks. Because of the possibility of serious adverse effects, FDA recommends that breastfeeding women not use domperidone to increase milk production.
As is demonstrated in the FDA's warning, risks are not fully realized until women and children have already suffered the consequences of prescription drugs.
So for all those moms who want to give their baby their best and do it the RIGHT way, here are some factors to consider when dealing with inadequate breastmilk production:
Not Responding to Baby’s Cues
Babies are experts at telling mothers’ bodies how to make more milk. In the first three months alone, they can have numerous growth spurts where they are demanding to eat every hour. While this is perfectly natural and normal, many moms quit during this phase. They believe that something is wrong with their breastmilk supply because we are told by society and the medical field that babies should be fed every 2-3 hours only.
Feeling as though their baby is not getting enough to eat, moms often give in to a bottle of formula, usually one of those free samples they receive in the mail or at the hospital. After sucking down a full bottle of formula and falling into a silent slumber, many moms immediately lose all motivation to maintain breastfeeding.
Mothers who try to supplement feedings with formula and continue to breastfeed during these growth spurts will no longer produce an adequate supply of breastmilk. If the baby is allowed to nurse on demand during these growth spurts without any formula supplements, her mother’s milk supply will increase accordingly. This usually means breastfeeding every hour (or sometimes even more often) for between one day and one week during each growth spurt. This process will stimulate mom’s milk supply to increase according to baby’s growth and needs.
On this same note, continued pumping also tends to decrease breastmilk supply if it is not done according to baby's increased needs.
Inadequate Nutrition & Obesity
Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital recently discovered that overweight/obese moms were more likely to experience a delayed release of milk after birth, called “delayed lactogenesis” than their thinner counterparts. This delay in production often causes these moms to give up in the first few days of their baby’s life.
Not receiving adequate nutrition in her diet can also decrease a mother’s milk supply. For example, inadequate levels of vitamins A, D, B6 and B12 in mom’s milk may risk decreased milk supply. Oftentimes, the small amount of these vitamins in mom are being depleted by the baby’s need for them. Once mom becomes deficient, there aren’t any left for baby. These vitamins are in many natural, plant-based foods and animal foods from animals raised naturally. These foods, however, are often lacking from the average American mother’s diet. As the rate of obese mothers on nutrient-scarce diets increases, so do the chances of mothers unable to produce adequate breast milk supply as a result of nutrition deficiency.
Another nutritional deficiency that affects moms is the lack of raw foods, specifically raw milk. Raw milk from healthy animals raised the way God intended is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. In some traditional societies, women were only allowed to get married after a season of drinking lots of raw milk from their milk animals feeding on rapidly-growing fresh grass. This would ensure a fertile new wife for the young husband.
You see, in societies such as these, they do not have the medical field and factories to take care of their preemies and to feed their babies. This is why they put a high value of maintaining a high nutritional status in the mother both before getting pregnant and during pregnancy. Their nutritionally-dense foods make an incredible difference, as well as the absence of foods that deplete the nutrients from the body.
Some of these nutrient-dense foods are available to us. In fact, some women with low breastmilk supply report becoming engorged with an overabundance of milk supply after drinking a quart or more of raw milk (from healthy cows raised the way God intended). This is because raw milk from healthy cows is one of the most nutritionally-dense foods available, containing many of the nutrients that are missing in the standard American diet.
In his book Healing Our Children, Ramiel Nagel says:
Where, for example, does all that breastmilk come from? Ultimately it comes from the nutrients you eat. So you must eat wisely if you want to remain strong and nourished while you nourish your child as well."
Sudden Weight Loss/Dieting
In many cases, moms decide they will stop at nothing to lose their baby weight. Unfortunately, it is often done at the expense of providing her baby with good nutrition. Rapid weight loss has been shown to decrease milk supply. Fortunately, this is only the case with moms who lose more than one pound per week. Diet shakes and skipping meals is not recommended for breastfeeding moms.
Breastfeeding moms need to maintain a caloric intake of at least 1800 calories per day. Diets of less than 1500 calories and those without adequate water intake are likely to cause a major decrease in milk production.
Growing rate of caesarean deliveries
The number of caesarean deliveries has skyrocketed, resulting in more and more moms resorting to formula-feeding their babies. With the 2007 rate at 31.8%, about one mother in three now gives birth by cesarean section, a record level for the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that no region in the world is justified in having a cesarean rate greater than 10 to 15 percent. Rates above 15% seem to do more harm than good (Althabe and Belizan 2006).
While milk production usually begins almost immediately following a vaginal delivery, moms undergoing caesareans most often experience a delay in their milk production. On average, it can take up to five days for milk production to begin following a caesarean delivery. During this time, moms often get frustrated and resort to feeding their newborns formula. Of course, the increasing rate of caesareans pose more problems than just those of breastfeeding. A rising rate of surgical births, however, translates into a decreasing rate of breastfed infants.
We have many factors in our environment and food system that can heavily tax a woman’s thyroid, especially during pregnancy. This butterfly-shaped gland found in the throat has the hefty job of regulating body temperature and metabolism, as well as other things. Pregnancy adds additional stress onto a thyroid, and many women now end up with postpartum thyroiditis.
Symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis include hair loss, fatigue, depression/moodiness, and inadequate breastmilk supply. While many of us are told that it is common to lose clumps of hair postpartum, this is often the sign of a taxed thyroid. It is also one of the most common reasons why women cannot produce enough breastmilk.
Fortunately, this condition is easily prevented when the following steps are taken during pregnancy:
1. Avoid consumption of unfermented soy. Read food labels and eliminate foods containing soybean oil or any other “soy” words (unless they are fermented which includes natto, miso, and tempeh). Soybean oil is in just about everything, even seemingly healthy foods such as whole wheat breads, whole wheat crackers, and all restaurant food, so read your food labels carefully.
2. Avoid tap water and drink filtered water that has been filtered through reverse osmosis. Why? Because fluoride is another thyroid wrecker, and reverse osmosis is the only way fluoride can be removed.
3. Eat one or two (but no more) Brazil nut(s) each day. Selenium has been proven in medical studies to have a protective effect on the thryoid, and Brazil nuts are the best food source of selenium. In fact, one Brazil nut contains a person’s daily recommended intake of selenium.
These same steps can be taken postpartum if a woman notices signs of postpartum thyroiditis. If steps are not taken to either prevent or restore the thyroid, a woman is likely to develop thyroid problems in the future, including hypERthyroidism or hypORhyroidism. There are many other things that may need to be addressed, such as poor conversion of thyroid hormones due to poor liver function, heavy metal toxicity that can lower zinc and other thyroid nutrients, and autoimmune thyroid disease.
Ideally, a woman will consult with a natural health practitioner like myself or someone else to optimize thyroid function BEFORE pregnancy.
Of course, there are other things to help women increase their milk supply, such as Fenugreek and Milk Thistle, but I find that the best remedy is to get to the cause of it, as I always like to do!
I would also like to note that due to nutritional deficiencies and methylation issues that are increasingly common today, some babies are born with tongue/lip ties that can cause difficulty with breastfeeding as well.
With increased nutrition counseling to pregnant women about breastfeeding, the percentage of breastfed babies could gradually grow closer to 90 percent. Doctors, family members, and friends can also encourage nursing mothers to respond to their baby’s cues, especially in the early months, to ensure successful breastfeeding. The help and encouragement of communities on this topic will make an immeasurable difference.
And for information on using breastfeeding as a natural form of birth control, read my article about Ecological Breastfeeding.