Some mothers will do anything to increase breast milk. But while you can pick up a few pointers from well-meaning friends, often the wrong information is passed along, sometimes for several generations.
For instance, in some cultures, it is believed that beer helps stimulate breast milk. However, nutritionists say this is a myth. In fact, alcohol can have serious and permanent adverse effects on children, such as brain damage.
Nutritionists say it is important to establish the cause of low milk production before attempting to find a solution.
Causes of low breast milk production
- Less frequent suckling According to Matayo Baluku, a public health specialist at THETA Uganda, an NGO dedicated to health issues, separating a baby from the mother can result in insufficient breast milk flow due to lack of stimulation. A baby needs to suckle the mother’s breasts to stimulate the production of breast milk. Baluku adds that if a baby is not given enough time on the breast, no matter how frequently he feeds, it can cut down on the quantity of milk produced. In addition, the breasts need to be emptied so that a message is sent to the brain to refill them.
- Stress Working mothers are mostly affected due to separation from their babies while at work. When a mother is stressed, this eventually affects hormonal balance, thus reducing the quantity of milk.
- Medical conditions These include; inverted nipples, breast surgery or a baby being born with the tongue stuck in one place, thus hindering proper suckling.
- Breastfeeding positions According to Susan Akiriat, a paediatric nutritionist at Mulago Hospital, failure to ensure that a baby is attached properly during breastfeeding, can affect milk flow.
How to stimulate breast milk Akiriat says the sure way to stimulate breast milk for a new mother is to initiate breastfeeding in the first 30 minutes after giving birth. Breast milk is highly dependent on hormones (prolactin and oxyctocin), which require stimulation.
The milk produced a few days after giving birth, known as colostrum (yellowish in colour), is highly nutritious and contains antibodies, which protect the child from diarrhoeal infections.
Diarrhoea can lead to serious dehydration (loss of body fluids), resulting in death. Akiriat recommends night breastfeeding because hormones are mostly produced at night when one is more relaxed, thus easing the flow of milk.
Drinking warm liquids during the lactation period also helps stimulate breast milk. Caution Nutritionists caution breastfeeding mothers about alcohol because it easily finds its way into the breast milk and can, therefore, harm the baby. Besides, a mother may get drunk and forget to breastfeed the baby.
Baluku advises breastfeeding mothers to stay away from coffee or drink it in moderation because caffeine can cause the mother and baby to become irritable, jittery, or agitated and can contribute to sleeping problems.
The recommended diet for breastfeeding mother
Baluku a breastfeeding mother requires a balanced diet because it caters for the baby’s and mother’s dietary needs.
The recommended nutritional needs for a breastfeeding mother include;
Lack of it is associated with body weakness and loss of appetite, which could have negative effects to both the baby and mother.
Foods rich in iron include; millet porridge, red meat, liver, fish, beans, peas, chicken, turkey and lamb. Akiriat, however, emphasises that these foods should be accompanied with a fruit or fresh juice because vitamins help to ease absorption of iron.
She says, for instance, millet porridge contains iron III ferrous, which cannot be absorbed naturally by the body, so vitamins are required to break it down.
Vitamins and minerals
According to Denis Katanku, a nutritionist at Uganda Heart Institute, mothers should consume natural foods and not food supplements.
These nutrients include calcium and folate. He says during pregnancy and lactation, calcium is drawn out of the bones, therefore, a breastfeeding mother needs more calcium to replace the lost one.
Calcium is available in yoghurt, milk, cheese, oranges and dark leafy greens, while folate is present in most of the dark green vegetables like sukuma wiki and animal products like milk.
These nutrients are available in whole grain foods such as rice, millet, corn, wheat, cassava and sweet potatoes.
Carbohydrates give the body the extra energy it requires to function optimally.
This can be got from iodised salts on the market. Iodine is essential for proper functioning and development of the nerves.
Nutritionists recommend that mothers drink as much as they can. Fluids keep the body hydrated. These include; water, natural juice and low-fat milk.
The nutritionists say nursing mothers require twice as much protein intake as nonbreastfeeding women. Proteins are available in foods such as meat, poultry, fish, beans and soya.
The nutritionists say a breastfeeding mother should eat more frequently, in small amounts to sustain flow of breast milk. According to Akiriat, a breastfeeding mother should eat at least have five meals a day, which include the breakfast, lunch and supper and three snacks in between these meals.
Katanku says a breastfeeding mother needs an extra 500 kilo calories and, therefore, needs to eat more frequently. The recommended snacks include; fruit smoothies, yoghurt, raw vegetables, boiled eggs and fresh fruits.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Natural form of contraception when done exclusively.
Contorls postpartum heamorrhage (excessive bleeding after birth).