Breastfeeding is extremely complex. There are a ton of things that go into the production and releasing of the milk, and therefore there are just as many things that could become complicated or go awry. Some women don't have a great supply, some women have an overabundance of milk. It's really individual. The same thing goes for the flow of the milk from the alveoli to the ducts and into baby's mouth. There are many studies out there that address a fast flow, but not many the inverse issue. Can you increase the flow of your breast milk if you find it's too slow for baby?
The rule of thumb is that a firmer breast will result in a faster flowing milk, and a softer breast will result in a slower flowing milk. This is because when the ducts are full and firm, the milk ejection is easier to trigger because it doesn't require as much contraction of the myoepithelial cells that line the walls of the alveoli and push the milk into the protruding ducts and into baby's mouth, according to The International Breastfeeding Journal. Consider the difference between the flow power of a flood dam that's full to bursting and one that is less full. However, you can mimic this response by massaging and pressing and squeezing the breast as you nurse, according to Motherhood International.
Milk flow from the breast is dictated by the fullness of the breast and the individual ducts. The flow is also dependent upon the infant's suckling, the milk being ejected, and the amount of stimulation required to trigger the release of oxytocin from the pituitary gland into the bloodstream which stimulates the walls of the alveoli to begin rhythmically contracting and releasing, dumping the milk out of the main alveoli, and into the primary feeding ducts near the nipple, according to The International Breastfeeding Journal.
I spoke with registered nurse and lactation consultant from Brick, New Jersey, Elizabeth Mason about why flow is important, and also asked her if it's possible to increase the flow of your breast milk. She tells Romper, "Flow is extremely important because it can determine breastfeeding success. Too fast and your baby might get overwhelmed, begin to suffer from acid reflux, or they could even choke. If the milk flows too slowly, baby might get frustrated or sleepy while nursing, and that agitation may make breastfeeding feel impossible because they're more engaged with crying and fisting your breast than they are with feeding."
She tells Romper that if you have a good supply and you notice your breasts going from a firm, full feeling to soft and blessedly empty after a feeding, than you likely don't have a flow issue — you might just have a slow eater on your hands. I know my daughter took forever during each session to eat. This has not changed in six years. She is still the slowest eater. All of her ice cream cones are served upside-down in a cup. My son was a speed demon though and still is. He nursed in under 10 minutes unless he was sick, and then a quick burp and he was out like a light. It's much the same now. You don't want to know how fast he eats jalapeño poppers. It's gross.
Mason says that if you're working at increasing your supply, if your baby is in a growth pattern and they're just not letting up, or if your baby has a full breast, but is getting impatient, you can squeeze your breast with your free hand while they breastfeed. "Be careful, though. You might cause the flow to get too fast, and your baby might pull off for a different reason." She also notes that if you're having flow issues, that you can start breastfeeding with the fullest breast, and pump the other while they feed on the full breast, stimulating the release of oxytocin into that breast and triggering the milk to flow into the ducts.
If you're having problems breastfeeding, your best bet is to call a lactation consultant and get their opinion as to what is happening and they can get a plan of action working for you and your child.
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