Working and milk supply is depleted

I returned to work one week ago and my husband is at home taking care of our 10-week-old son. Since I have to get up early, he gives the late-night (as well as daytime) feedings using milk I have pumped and frozen. I breastfeed my baby after work until 10pm. However, he still seems hungry, so I give him a bottle of breastmilk. How can I increase my milk supply and avoid supplementing with formula?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Often, as a mother returns to work, she will worry that her milk supply is diminishing. Depending on your feeding pattern and your schedule for expressing your milk, you may see your supply start to decrease. A young baby needs to be breastfed (or fed your expressed milk in your absence) at least 10 to 12 times a day. Your breasts also need frequent and regular stimulation to maintain a good milk supply. Your baby is much better than any breastpump at getting milk from your breasts.

Since efficient milk removal is very important in establishing and maintaining a good milk supply, I am concerned that your milk supply will not be able to meet your baby's needs if you continue to nurse only in the few hours between the time you get home from work and when you go to bed.

One way to increase the number of times your baby nurses is to ask your husband to bring your baby to bed for the last feed of the day, rather than feeding him your expressed milk. You may want to allow your baby access to your breasts throughout the evening and at night.

Reverse-cycle nursing works well for many working moms. In reverse-cycle nursing, a baby often begins to feed less while being cared for in your absence and increases the frequency of nursing when you are together. This is very effective in helping to keep your milk supply abundant.

Usually, if you bring your baby to bed with you, he will nurse at least once or twice during the night. Sleeping with your baby and nursing during the night doesn't have to keep you from getting the rest you need. It might take a week or so to adjust to sharing your bed with your baby, but you (and your partner) will probably grow to enjoy this closeness with your baby during the night.

Another way to get the rest you need while working outside the home is to lie down with your baby and take a short nap when you get home from work. (You might want to put dinner in the oven first so you'll wake up to an almost prepared meal.) Napping together is a great way for you and your little one to reconnect after a long day. You'll both wake feeling refreshed.

How have your baby's patterns of output and weight gain been? Is he wetting five to six diapers and having regular, substantial bowel movements? Is he gaining an average of four to eight ounces a week? Sometimes mothers with a very abundant milk supply still worry that they are not producing enough milk. Because your baby accepts your expressed milk in a bottle following a feed does not mean that he did not get enough milk while nursing. He may just enjoy sucking, as most babies do. Try putting him back to your breast at this time, using some gentle breast massage and compression to help increase your milk flow as his sucking/swallowing slows.

Rather than continuing to supplement following each evening feed, you might want to work toward unsupplemented feeds by beginning to cut back gradually, reducing the amount of supplement offered by about one ounce every three days or so.

As you are adjusting your baby's feeds, keep a close eye on his output and weight gain. Weekly weight checks will help to reassure you that your baby is continuing to receive the nourishment he needs. Best wishes at combining working outside the home and breastfeeding!

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