Many new moms end up falling into the “top-up trap” while breastfeeding or exclusively expressing, they may feel they are not making enough milk so they top with formula because they misinterpret their babies discomfort, frequent need for feeding or frequent wakings as a sign that their milk is not substantial enough or that they are not able to produce enough milk.

The truth is that in the first few days babies need small, frequent feeds as their stomachs are still small and their bodies are only just learning to digest their milk. With breastfeeding it can sometimes feel like you are being smothered with baby nursing so often, but they are actually helping to stimulate your milk production so that you are able to establish a good supply, by skipping a breastfeed and supplementing with a formula bottle or even a previously expressed breastmilk bottle you are sending a signal to your breasts that you do not need more milk, breasts are not storage facilities, they are demand and supply factories, the more demand (stimulation) the more supply (production).

The way breastmilk production works is that by nursing / pumping, your baby / pump is removing all the available milk which sends a signal to your body to produce more milk, with breastfeeding, when baby feeds often they are sending signals for more milk to be produced, when baby goes through periods of cluster feeding you can be sure that a growth spurt or developmental leap are just around the corner and they instinctively know to suckle to send the message to your body to make more milk to meet their upcoming needs. That is why with pumping it is encouraged that you pump for a further 5 minutes each side after emptying the breasts and getting the last drops of milk out. Its also a good idea to try power pumping every now and then to mimic baby cluster feeding.

Some nursing mothers often rely on a formula or expressed breastmilk bottle to allow family members or dad to participate in the feeding, it is important to note that if you do this then you should express during that feed so that your body does not take a missed feed as a signal that your no longer need that milk produced. Think of it this way:

Your body is a factory, the product your produce is milk, and baby is your customer.
When your customer has a high demand for your product, you produce more to keep up with that demand, but when your customer gets his milk from another supplier (bottle feed), your factory will stop producing for that feed to reduce any wastage of your product.

Same theory applies to breastfeeding, if you consistently start skipping a feed by topping up, your body will adjust your supply to the new “demand”.

If you are exclusively pumping, the same principal applies, by skipping pumps in the first 12 weeks you are sending a signal to your body that it doesn’t need to produce more, so by dipping into your freezer stash or relying on a formula bottle for one or two feeds so that you don’t have to pump, you are effectively sabotaging your own milk production.

Regardless of how your milk is being extracted from your breasts, be it by baby or a breast pump, the mechanics of breastfeeding stay the same, increased stimulation equals higher production.

Parenting is overwhelming, whether you are breastfeeding, exclusive pumping or formula feeding, its all going to require some degree of exhaustion, frustration and it can be completely overwhelming and daunting majority of the time, the best advice I can offer is to shut society out, concentrate on your baby and their needs, leave the washing and the dishes, don’t put pressure on yourself to get out and be social, and just breathe.

For more detailed information on how breast milk production works, you can check out the following links:

http://www.babies.sutterhealth.org/breastfeeding/bf_production.html

http://kellymom.com/pregnancy/bf-prep/milkproduction/

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