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9 Real Breastfeeding Questions About Milk Supply, Answered

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Breastfeeding can be a hard, isolating, and emotional journey, which is why it's so important to have a community of supporters. Romper has launched a new Facebook breastfeeding community, Breastfeeding TBH, in an effort to help make feeding another human being with your own body a little easier. Every day, readers ask questions because, let's face it, breastfeeding is complicated. Each week, Romper will speaking with a lactation consultant to answer as many of these questions as possible.

When I was breastfeeding my own daughter, one of the most complicated things about feeding her was making sure she got enough to eat. Somedays she ate for more than 45 minutes on one boob, and the next day, she was done in 15 minutes. If I pumped, I worried that I wasn't getting enough ounces, and I panicked that if I left her with a bottle, she would want more than what I had supplied.

Apparently I wasn't alone in worrying about my breastmilk supply, my pumping capabilities, and making sure I produced enough milk for my baby. This week, I spoke with International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Leigh Anne O'Connor to answer our readers' questions about their own breastmilk supply and keeping their babies well fed. With more than 17 years of experience, O'Connor offers some great advice, but wants to remind all of our readers that her answers are merely suggestions, and that if you have real concerns, you should speak to an IBCLC for your own individual experience.

1. Pumping For A NICU Baby

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"My second baby was born at 32 weeks. She is currently in NICU and doing well. She's only eating 20 cc of breast milk right now. I have not been able to nurse her yet. I have been exclusively pumping for the past four weeks. My supply is starting to decrease drastically. I pump four to six times a day, drink five plus bottles of water and Gatorade daily, eat oatmeal for breakfast and snack, and I take fenugreek capsules three times a day. I'm getting really frustrated because I know that breast milk is the best thing for my baby. Any suggestions on increasing my supply

Your body produces the milk it thinks your baby needs, which is why it's important to pump as often as a newborn would eat. "You can increase your supply by increasing the frequency of pumping," O'Connor says. "Typically, if a mom and baby are separated, it's important to pump eight times per 24 hours. If you're not using one already, you may want to rent a hospital grade pump. Also, if you are able to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby at least once per day, that can dramatically increase your supply. These tips will work better than any energy drink!"

2. Unexplained Supply Decrease

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My milk supply is dwindling. I nurse and pump, but lately when I pump (at work) every two hours I get less than an ounce total between both breasts. What can I do to turn things around?

"Much of this depends on your baby's age, which pump you use, and how frequently you nurse when you are with your baby," O'Connor says. "Make sure your pump is working, although you may want to switch to a hospital grade pump at work."

3. Switching From Formula To Breastmilk

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I have a 2-week-old I was originally planning to formula feed with a bottle, but she has had issues with formula. I am a fourth time mom and would like to try and start breastfeeding. I still have milk, but is it too late to try? I have gotten her to latch twice, but not for long. I need some helpful hints.

O'Connor definitely recommends seeing an IBCLC to start your breastfeeding journey off, but she also has a few other tips. "In the meantime, offer lots of skin-to-skin contact," she says. "To jumpstart your supply, rent a hospital grade pump and pump at least eight times in 24 hours. While you are building your supply, you could also use donor milk."

4. Working Without Pumping

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I'm going back to work and my baby is 4 weeks old. I don't want to pump at work, as there really is no place to. If I feed before and after my eight hour shift and pump when I get home after baby feeds, will my milk supply stay and be OK?

"If you nurse as much as possible while you are with your baby, you should be able to maintain some level of milk," O'Connor says. "If you do not pump at work, you also can pump after nursing when you are home. It is possible that you may not be able to keep up with that long of a stretch without removing milk from your breasts though." In that case, you may need to hand express some milk while you're at work to relieve any discomfort or engorgement.

5. Pumping & Breastfeeding

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My 3-week-old daughter is only breastfed, so when am I supposed to pump if I breastfeed at every feeding? Should I have that much milk to breastfeed and pump?

Pumping isn't always necessary.  "In most cases, you only want to make the amount of milk your baby needs," O'Connor says. "It can be uncomfortable to manage an oversupply." Don't stress over creating a stash of freezer milk or pumping for bottles if breastfeeding is going OK and you have no reason to pump.

6. Checking For Milk

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If I squeeze my breast after a feeding and literally nothing comes out unless I squeeze hard and/or the nipple only, does that mean I'm not producing a lot of milk or that my daughter drank it all? My daughter has the recommended amount of dirty diapers, both pee and poop.

"This does not mean you do not have enough milk," says O'Connor. "There are specific techniques to hand express milk, so please do not hurt yourself trying to squeeze any out." It's also helpful to remember that your baby is definitely more efficient at retrieving the milk from your breast than your own hand.

7. Bottle To Breast

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I'm a new mom and I have a 7-week-old son who I supplement often because of a slight under supply and mostly his jaundice in the beginning. But now, I have a bit of an issue getting him to open his mouth wide for a latch. He just expects it to go in for him like a bottle. I now have to wait until he cries for him to open wide or pray he doesn't hurt me. Is there anything I can do? It's hard to reattach him if he won't even start dropping his jaw again.

"It could be that your baby is used to the bottle nipple," O'Connor says. "Not all nipples are the same, but it is possible to rebuild your milk supply and get him to get back on the breast. A one-on-one session with an IBCLC would be beneficial for your situation."

8. Pumping For Weight Gain

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"My child isn't losing weight, just not gaining enough quick enough. We had a doctor appointment and the doctor told me that if I wanted to continue to give breastmilk, I needed to stop nursing and start pumping exclusively. I would nurse for 45 minutes at a time. Now that I am exclusively pumping, I only get about three ounces together and he is eating those plus two ounces of formula following. Per the doctor, he is only supposed to eat three ounces right now, but he's eating five. He turned 5 weeks old today. Any help would be appreciated.

"You may want to try to offer your baby the bottle of three ounces, then offer the breast," says O'Connor. "This gives him the energy to nurse at the breast without over-feeding him. You can also use a slow bottle, but I encourage you to keep the breast in the mix." O'Connor also recommends a meeting with an IBCLC to help determine what is taking your little guy so long when he's eating.

9. Home From The Hospital & Refusing To Eat

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I just had my second baby. I am trying to breastfeed and he was doing really good latching and nursing while we were in the hospital. We got discharged this afternoon right after lunch and now, since we have been home, he completely refuses to latch and nurse. He hasn't eaten since right before we left the hospital and I don't know what to do. Is it normal and should I be worried?

There's no reason to be too worried yet. "Your baby may just be tired from the transition," O'Connor says. As far as latching, O'Connor suggests, "Your breasts may also be engorged from the IV fluids from birth. You can try to hand express a bit of milk and feed him a little to get him interested."