Breastfeeding: How Milk Supply Affects Your Flow Rate
Babies, and especially newborns, need a steady flow of milk in order to keep breastfeeding. If the flow slows down so does the baby, often resulting in her shutting down or falling asleep before she gets filled up.
This is usually the cause of many breastfeeding problems: The baby feeds well for the first few minutes, then starts to "peter out." In the short term, you'll have a hungry baby back at your breast in 20 minutes or so. Over the long term, it might result in poor weight gain and the failure to thrive.
In order to understand why this happens, it's important to learn how your milk supply works and how the supply affects your flow.
There are two basic things to understand about milk supply:
- In the beginning, your milk supply is determined by your hormones and breast tissue, not by your newborn's demand. The notion of supply and demand doesn't kick in until your mature milk comes in on Day 3 or 4. It's helpful to know this, especially for women who, for whatever reason, are separated from their babies or are unable to breastfeed during the first few days. It's good to feed frequently during the first few days, since your colostrum has many nutritional benefits such as antibodies. As well, it speeds up the rate of your milk coming in because of the drainage of the colostrum and the regular prolactin spikes that result from frequent breastfeeding.
- After your milk comes in, a successful feeding is determined by a combination of your baby's nursing skill and your supply of milk. Your baby's success in getting the milk out is always connected to the flow of milk from your breast.
Some women have lots of milk—so much so that the baby can get a full feeding from just one breast. Because that breast was so full of milk, the rate of milk transfer, or flow, was faster, making it easier for the baby to get a full feeding.
However, a more common nursing problem happens if you have a slower rate to a full milk supply. In this case, because the flow isn't great, your baby might have trouble getting a full feeding and might slow down or stop nursing right when you need her to keep going to help bring in your supply.
When your baby shuts down, the notion of supply and demand goes out the window because she's demanding very little. Simply being at the breast doesn't equal draining the breast—and draining the breast is the main factor in order to move into higher milk-making mode.
The good news is that this is a relatively easy problem to fix. By increasing your milk supply, it'll be easier for your baby to access a full feeding without too much effort on either of your parts.
If your baby isn't gaining weight at a healthy rate in the beginning or isn't feeding well at your breast, try is pumping and supplementing with a bottle. This helps the problem in two ways: It ensures your baby is getting enough to eat and that your breasts are being deeply drained so they'll increase milk production.
To follow a plan for increasing your milk supply, read Care Plan to Increase Your Overall Milk Supply.
For short-term tips to boost your milk flow, see Effective Feeding.
Tips for success
- Newborn babies don't have the energy to work hard enough to get the milk out of your breasts. Babies need a steady flow in order to keep going.
- The greater your milk supply, the faster the flow rate.
- Pumping and supplementing with a bottle is a good way increase your milk supply if it's low in the beginning.
Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001.