Rachael, an employee at Haakaa and mum of three, shares her struggles with low milk supply and discusses which products and advice helped her and her baby get through.
A few months ago I recounted my experiences as a first-time mum with a baby who didn’t sleep, and mentioned at the time that I'd had milk supply issues. Some of you may be wondering: what exactly happens when your milk supply is low? How does it get sorted out? To start with, I’m not kidding when I say it was hard. I was exhausted, bubs struggled to get enough milk to keep him going, and it was hard not to feel like a failure. Logically I knew it had nothing to do with me – these things just happen from time to time – but logic isn't always helpful during times like that. Knowing that didn’t stop all those other thoughts from creeping in. However, I was incredibly lucky to have a wonderful midwife who noticed what was happening very early on and who guided me through the steps that I needed to increase my milk supply and keep my baby well-fed while we were doing so.
For my situation, solving the issue involved using a strategy with two major components. First, I was given a lactation aid – also called a Supplemental Feeding System (SFS) or Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) – a very thin tube that runs from a bottle of milk (formula, in our case, especially in the beginning), and into the baby’s mouth while they’re at the breast. While it can be a little bit tricky to get the hang of at first (to say the least!), it proved enormously beneficial for both of us. The purpose of a lactation aid/SNS is to allow your baby to have a good feed while continuing to stimulate your milk supply, as they are actively breastfeeding at the same time. The difference between those early attempts at feeding before we noticed my low supply, and the feeds after introducing the SNS, was stark. Lactation aids can be used for as long or as short a time as you need to use them and provide a reassuring way to build your milk supply through breastfeeding, knowing that bubs is getting the nutrition they need. If you think you are struggling with supply issues, speak to a professional. This can be your midwife, a lactation consultant, or another healthcare professional. They can help you work out if using an SNS is something that would be of benefit to you. If your midwife or lactation consultant decides this is something that would assist you, then Haakaa has two different choices when it comes to buying our Supplemental Nursing system - by itself, or with the inclusion of a bottle. Lets have a look at them!
Here is the Silicone Feeding Tube Set by itself. It contains one inlet tube and one outlet tube, an adaptor, flow controller, medical tape (to help hold the tube in place), as well as a cleaning brush and carry case. This option is designed to work with the Gen 3 Silicone Baby Bottle, with an X-shaped variable flow teat (sold separately). The X-shape of the teat opening makes it much easier to push the small tube through. If you already have a bottle to use this set with, this option might be just what you need! Just make sure that the thinnest tube is the one that goes into your baby’s mouth – the larger one is to go into the bottle.
The option which includes the bottle is the Supplemental Feeding Combo – this contains everything in the Silicone Feeding Tube Set, along with 160ml Gen. 3 Silicone Baby Bottle and an X-shaped variable flow teat. The Gen. 3 Baby Bottle also has the bonus of being convertible as your baby grows!
Please note: if you have concerns about your breastfeeding, Haakaa strongly recommends consulting a breastfeeding or medical specialist before buying and using a Supplemental Feeding System.
The second major component of increasing my milk supply was pumping milk – and pumping it after every feed. Milk supply is regulated by demand, so by increasing that demand via pumping, my initially very low supply gradually increased to match. This meant we could decrease the amount of formula with the lactation aid and move to exclusive breastfeeding. It also meant we had a nice stash of expressed breast milk when we needed it later! Of course, it wasn’t as easy as just expressing milk and building a big stockpile. It took a lot of time and effort, but each day I could see more milk, the better I felt, even if it was only a 5ml increase on the day before – as did my wee one, I’ve no doubt.
Luckily, if – like me – a pump is what you need, then Haakaa is the right place for you to be! Haakaa’s wide range of breast pumps means there is something for everyone. Our Gen. 1 pumps are small and light, with a 100ml capacity. Made of one piece of 100% food-grade silicone, they’re lightweight and easy to clean, without the risk of leaching toxins as can potentially be the case with plastics. The Gen. 2 pumps come in two sizes – 100ml and 150ml – and have the addition of a suction cup on the bottom of the pump, letting it remain stable on flat surfaces if you’re pumping and feeding at the same time. Meanwhile, the Gen. 3 pumps have a whole new design. As alluded to above, this pump is designed to be swapped and adapted to different purposes – express directly into the bottle, then swap out the pump flange with a bottle teat and you’re ready to go! It doesn’t just convert from pump to bottle though – you can attach a feeding spoon for those starting solids days, and even turn it into a sippy cup, meaning the same bottle and its accessories* can see you through from newborn to toddler.
*Accessories sold separately
There are also electric pumps available – some mums are fine with just a manual pump such as the Haakaa pump (I used a manual, and it worked for me), but others may need or prefer an electric pump, or even use both. It really comes down to finding out what works for you. Electric pumps are often able to be hired through your maternity hospital, but you can discuss this with your LMC/lactation consultant.
I know from experience how much of a struggle dealing with an undersupply of milk can be, but help is out there. In those early days, I highly recommend making use of your midwife’s skills and knowledge while you have them there. If that’s not possible, try to get hold of a lactation consultant or other healthcare professional with experience in assisting with breastfeeding difficulties. They can help guide you through the different options available to you and work out what is best for both you and your precious baby. It helped me to know I was not alone, and that these struggles were – and are – more common than I’d thought. And don’t forget – what works for each person can vary, so getting support and expert advice from a professional you trust early on will help you tailor your solution the way you need it to be.