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6 factors that won’t decrease your breast milk supply

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Exercise and drinking coffee will not decrease your breast milk supply if you follow a few simple guidelines.

In recognition of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I joined my UT Southwestern colleague Yetunde Awosemusi, M.D., for a Facebook chat about breastfeeding, and one of the topics that came up repeatedly from the audience was, “Will such and such affect my milk production?”

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about breastfeeding and milk production – specifically daily activities that women fear will make them produce less breast milk. We’ve compiled and clarified six of the most common concerns patients ask regarding decreased milk production

Breast milk production myths busted

1. Exercise

Exercise will not decrease your breast milk supply. In fact, it can help reduce stress and improve mental health during the postpartum period. There are three things to remember about exercising while breastfeeding to ensure you benefit and your milk supply is unaffected:

Stay well hydrated: Dehydration can decrease your supply and is generally not good for your own health. Sip water during your workout and rehydrate when you’re done.

Eat enough: While exercise can help you lose some of your baby weight, remember that breastfeeding burns 500 calories a day. So, if you’re also burning calories through exercise, you might need to eat a little more than normal to keep producing milk.

Wear a supportive sports bra: Your breasts will be fuller, heavier, and sometimes more tender when you’re breastfeeding. Choose a supportive bra that reduces bouncing and friction for a more comfortable experience.

2. Coffee, soda, or alcohol, in moderation

One serving of coffee or soda a day does not have enough caffeine or dehydrating factors to reduce your breast milk supply. Another option to increase fluid intake is fenugreek tea, which also can help increase breast milk production. If your baby starts to have trouble sleeping or seems fussy or jittery, ease up on the caffeine.

One alcoholic beverage, such as a few ounces of wine or a can of beer, will not hurt your supply, either. If you have an alcoholic drink, wait two hours before nursing your baby to give the alcohol time to leave your system. If you have more than one drink, or if you need to empty your breasts before two hours, we recommend that you “pump and dump,” or empty the breasts with a breast pump and dispose of the milk. We suggest this for two reasons: Your baby won’t ingest the alcohol, and your body will know that it still needs to produce milk (think supply and demand). A good rule of thumb is to wait two hours before nursing for each drink consumed.

3. Supplementing with formula

This one is tricky. Supplementing with formula is sometimes necessary when a woman returns to work or the baby eats more than she can produce. Supplementing won’t decrease your milk supply if your breasts are still being stimulated. For example, if your baby typically breastfeeds every three hours, you’ll need to pump every three hours when you’re at work to keep your body on its production schedule. Not doing so will reduce your supply over time.

“Just as every baby is different, your breastfeeding experience can be different with every baby.”

– Shivani Patel, M.D.

4. Returning to work

This is a common concern among patients, and one that often comes with unnecessary guilt. If you have the opportunity to pump at work, your baby can eat pumped breast milk exclusively or you can supplement with formula. As long as you stimulate your breasts on a schedule similar to your baby’s feeding schedule, you are doing what you can to maintain your supply. Many workplaces now offer lactation rooms for women to pump in privacy. If yours doesn’t, consider talking with your manager or human resources department to make accommodations.

Related reading: Pumping breast milk works best for some families

5. Subsequent babies

Just as every baby is different, your breastfeeding experience can be different with every baby. Women who made ample milk after their first baby was born might have a lower or even higher supply with their next babies. There are many factors that affect breast milk production, including mental and physical health, the baby’s health, and how well and often the baby feeds.

6. Not getting the hang of it right away

The first couple weeks can be a struggle. However, this will decrease your milk supply only if it deters you from continuing to try. It typically takes 24 to 72 hours for your milk supply to come in after the baby is born. While you’ll still want to place the baby on the breast or pump every two to three hours, you might need to supplement with formula or donor milk until your body can produce enough for the baby to eat. Initially, the baby needs only a teaspoon or two of milk at a time because that is all a baby’s stomach can hold. The first milk, or colostrum, is low in volume but thick and high in calories. 

Whether you breastfeed, formula feed, or do a combination of both, the goal is to keep moms and babies healthy. If you’re concerned about your breast milk supply, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant to find a strategy that works best for your lifestyle and your baby’s needs. 

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