It has been two years and seven months since my son Tristan was born, and it is also the same amount of time I have been breastfeeding him. Although I now get weird looks when I stop to feed my son, or concerned comments from friends and titas who make me question if what I’m doing is still ok, or whether I should still continue (for my sake, and my boobs’), well, I’ve ultimately decided to continue on this journey until my son eventually weans himself. It hasn’t been easy, especially in the beginning, but looking back, I can say that it is absolutely worth it for all the benefits my son and I have received in this not-so-short amount of time.
To be honest, I never intended to last this long. I was sure I wanted to try breastfeeding for about a year, until it extended, and extended, and extended. At this point, I am okay to just wait it out until my son decides he no longer wants my milk. I don’t know exactly when this will happen, but I am happy knowing that he needs me now and I am providing the best kind of nutrition for him. I mean, of course, my son already eats three square meals a day, so what he is getting from me is supplementary. But more than the added nutrition and immunity, I do it to strengthen our bond, to be able to comfort him and put him to sleep, and to keep him happy and healthy.
I have to admit though, I don’t need to nurse Tristan as often as I did before. I can go on long periods of time without having to feed him, so I have the freedom to go about my day. So it’s not as hectic as it was before–I can now leave him at home while I work, which works best for both of us because he would rather stay home and play, and I would rather do my work and errands without having to take care of a toddler. My supply is just enough, as my boobs have learned exactly how much my son needs and I no longer feel full or engorged (not like they were before). I actually feel like I’m back to my normal self, only I need to set some time to breastfeed. I don’t deal with bottles as I direct latch, nor do I pump and store my milk in the freezer anymore. It feels very low maintenance at this point, and like I said, almost back to normal.
I still remember quite vividly how breastfeeding was like in the beginning. I was equipped with about two seminars worth of information about it, but really, nothing could’ve prepared me for the real deal. Breastfeeding is seriously hard work, only because it is a constant thing you will have to commit yourself to doing, day in and day out. Like they say, it’s a marathon, not a sprint–so in a way, I got tired from the daily grind and sleepless nights. I had to continue to eat and hydrate to be able to produce enough milk, then create a feeding schedule so that my body adapts to the demand of the baby, along with that was endless hours of direct latching, pumping and manual expressing. To top it off, my body was still recovering from giving birth to a person, and I was so sleep-deprived I was basically a zombie. What I learned along the way though is that breastfeeding is really about simple economics–milk production is a supply and demand process, meaning in order to increase milk supply, you have to do certain things so that the body thinks it needs to increase production. And so I did my research and applied what worked for me. It took a lot of trial and error, there were things that worked for me and there were things that didn’t. But I just kept on pushing on, and to everyone’s surprise (including mine) I was able to extend my breastfeeding journey by a year and a half.
Of course, every body is different, and each one reacts differently to different things and situations. The things that worked for me may not work for someone else, but you wont know until you try. Hopefully these work for you, (or a friend or family member who might need breastfeeding tips or advice). My intention is to share what I know, based on my experiences. But if you find out that this isn’t for you, don’t feel pressured or stressed. What I usually tell other moms who ask me for advice is: JUST DO YOU. We all have our own journeys as parents, and it is really useless to compare lives. What we can do is to help each other and create a support system or community that doesn’t judge or put anyone down. For as long as the momma and baby are healthy and happy, then that is all that matters.
Here are seven tried-and-tested ways to increase your breastmilk supply:
1.) Make sure your baby is getting enough milk.
From what I learned, the latch is super important to be able to remove more milk effectively. A good latch ensures: your baby gets enough milk, you wont feel as much pain from nursing, and your milk supply will increase (because the baby is able to remove more milk). If the milk is not effectively removed from the breast, the milk supply decreases. That’s why positioning and latch are top priority when breastfeeding! I remember it took me quite a number of tries to get it right. Thankfully, there was a Lactation Department in St. Luke’s Global and the nurses there were very helpful and accommodating. They really visited me in my room and asked me to show them how I breastfeed so they can make the necessary corrections. I remember how the nurse unapologetically stuffed my boob into my baby’s mouth just as he was rooting, and taught me not to be so gentle and dainty about it haha. It definitely helped build my confidence, and soon enough I was breastfeeding like a pro.
2.) Nurse as often as possible.
Two days after Tristan was born, his pediatrician had him transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit because she suspected he might have had an infection (his white blood cell count from his blood test was unusually high) and needed antibiotics applied intravenously. He had to stay there for an entire week, and I was a complete mess about it. The last thing I wanted was to be away from my son, and I was being told I had to be separate from him for a week! So I made arrangements for my husband and I to extend our stay at the hospital, and prepared ourselves for the most tiring seven days of our lives. Apart from not being relaxed at home, it killed me to have to visit my son every three hours to nurse him. I had to go down to the NICU to breastfeed, which would last for about 30 minutes to an hour, then go up and freshen up, sleep or eat, then go back again after 1.5 to two hours–I did this round the clock for one week. And I couldn’t be late, because the nurses would really call me on my mobile phone or room phone if I needed to go back to feed or if my son was crying. I remember how my husband would tirelessly push me on a wheelchair, deal with my pains and emotions, remind me to eat, sleep and shower while he waited outside (mothers were priority for visitation, and he had to leave if other moms were nursing). It was a crazy experience to say the least, but one good thing about it was that it trained me to breastfeed Tristan every three hours. We continued this routine until Tristan began sleeping longer (which was after three months), and I attribute my good milk supply to this practice. You really need to direct feed as often as possible to create a steady supply.
3.) Use a breast pump and alternate with direct feeding.
One way to help increase your milk supply is to use a breast pump. I didn’t think it would make a difference initially, but as soon as I tried it my supply went up. This actually makes perfect sense because pumping is able to remove more milk from the breast effectively, which is especially important when your baby is not nursing as efficiently or as frequently as they should. Basically, your aim should be to remove more milk from the breasts to increase the frequency of breast emptying. This tells the brain that the milk demand is high, and that the body should produce more milk supply. Tip: To ensure that the pump removes an optimum amount of milk from the breast, keep pumping for 2-5 minutes after the last drops of milk. This should help increase your milk supply, because you’ve effectively emptied the breasts of milk. Also, adding a short pumping session in between your feeding schedule can also up your milk supply. It’s funny, it was the nurses from the Lactation Department of St. Luke’s Global who taught me how to use a breast pump. I didn’t bring mine with me to the hospital, so I used the hospital-grade ones they had and they were really quite good at collecting the milk. I continued pumping in between feeds, and I never had a problem with my milk supply. It was always too much (definitely a good thing), so I was able to save the excess and freeze them for times when I had to be out.
4.) Get enough rest, and take care of yourself.
You would think that we moms would already know this by now. But nope, unfortunately, nursing mommas forget to rest and relax as they become obsessed with being a super mom. I mean, it does feel good to be able to do it all, but again, we have to remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so we have to conserve our energies and choose our battles. We cant win them all, or even attempt to do it. I definitely learned it the hard way, and I would turn into a crazy monster every time I felt like I had nothing left for myself and I was already at the brink of my sanity. So, relax and find ways to enjoy your me-time. Leave the house if you must, and get a proper massage or have your hair cut and colored. Pamper yourself, and get enough sleep (you can actually skip one feeding time when you’re pumping so you can more or less get about 6-8 hours of sleep). Remember that when momma is happy, baby and the rest of the family is happy as well.
5.) Take a malunggay supplement.
I learned this tip from my OB-GYN, as she prescribed me to take Natalac 3x a day starting on my ninth month of pregnancy. Again, I was doubtful if it would have an effect on my milk supply until I realized that I was producing more than enough ounces for my baby on my first week. It definitely helped, and actually I could see the difference when I would forget to take this supplement. As you know, malunggay has been known to help increase milk supply in lactating women, and is actually a super food. The plant has so many health benefits as it is rich in antioxidants, and has been known to lower blood sugars and cholesterol and reduce inflammation in the body. What I love about Natalac is that it comes in capsule form, which makes its so easy to consume malunggay leaves (though I still enjoy it in my tinola or halaan). It is also all-natural and organic, and has been proven safe as it does not contain any toxic components.
6.) Eat foods that increase supply.
It is true, there are certain food you can eat that can help with your milk production. From the ones I tried, I’ve found that shellfish (especially in a soup) has been super effective, and actually, most meat and bone broths in general. These restore electrolytes in your body that keep you hydrated, which is why the older generation always recommend that lactating moms drink a lot of soup or broth. Also, eating plenty of green leafy vegetables like spinach, beet leaves, dill and basil leaves are very good. And eating chickpea (hummus), almonds, and sweet potato worked for me as well. Other vegetables include carrots, asparagus and garlic (wait, is garlic a veggie haha); and if you’re cool to consume carbs, they say oatmeal and brown rice work (I know they use oatmeal in most lactation cookies).
7.) Stay hydrated.
This is something I always forget to do–drink enough water. I remember my problem back then was that I would always get so dehydrated after feeding Tristan. Breastfeeding every three hours around the clock for months at a time is no joke, and if you don’t drink enough water you could really feel dizzy. I got a few vertigo attacks as a reminder to always drink water and stay hydrated. Also, have bone broth readily available for you to regain electrolytes. Adding Himalayan salt or sea salt to your water can also help! Stay away from sugary and caffeinated drinks as these are diuretics, which means you lose water and actually become thirstier when you drink these.
Hey mommas! You might want to add to my short list of tips–please share what worked for you to increase your milk supply. Say hi and leave a comment below!
Photographs by Sheila Catilo for Natalac / Styling by Bianca Santiago-Reinoso / Makeup by Angie Cruz / Hair by Ogie Rayel