Breastfeeding: not something I gave a lot of thought to until I had my baby. Given that he was very premature, breast milk was extremely important that I get to him, which meant I was attached to a pump for nearly three months. When a baby is born that early there are a number of factors that impair milk supply so I became quite the little milk tracker for three months and learned a ton on the way.

First off: breastfeeding may or may not be for you and that comes down to personal choice. You are the mother and you get to decide what you want to do. I have had so many personal opinions shoved down my throat that I wanted to clarify that this is not an opinion or a forceful explanation of why you should breastfeed. But when your milk supply is low, and you are stressed to the nines because you think you are starving your baby, it may be motivating to have a reminder of some of the benefits of breast milk before you give up altogether.

It's well-known that breastmilk is a complete meal full of protein, fat, carbohydrates, all the vitamins except Vitamin K or enough Vitamin D and minerals. But there are a few lesser-known compounds in milk that have some pretty powerful effects. Here is just a little snapshot of some of these compounds.

1) Lactoferrin is a protein found in whey protein, which comprises a good majority of the type of protein found in human milk, that increases intestinal absorption of iron. Iron is needed to deliver oxygen to the body's cells: including the brain. This is important in any baby but if you happened to have a preemie this becomes even more critical. Lactoferrin also has anti-microbial properties making it important to fight infection. And, though disputed it may have a role in the development of the gut environment and mucosal immune system.

2) Alpha-lactalbumin constitutes about 40% of the protein content of human milk. It is composed of several amino acids, and a high proportion of those amino acids are tryptophan and cysteine. Alpha-lactalbumin has immunostimulatory and anti-bacterial properties making it useful for the prevention of infection and the functioning of baby's immune system. It also aids in the absorption of nutrients, and may even encourage apoptosis which is die-off of unhealthy or unwanted cells.

3) Phospholipids. These are fats with a unique chemical structure making them exceptionally important for cell membranes, especially in the brain and absorption sites in the epithelial cells of the intestine. They are also involved in the development of molecules that play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease, regulating the inflammatory process and creating stress hormones.

Here are some tips that I found really helpful for increasing milk supply:

1) You've read this everywhere-it's supply and demand. So, having a breast pump for directly after and between feedings is extremely helpful. I had the Medela double pump electric (considered one of the best), but the milk retrieved from that paled in comparison to the milk I could get from a hospital grade pump. So, I smartened up and checked my local public health center and sure enough, they had one to rent (for free!). If this is an option to you, then definitely investigate. I resisted going through the trouble of renting this pump and now I deeply regret not doing it sooner.

2) I'd tell you to get lots of sleep but I know that's a ridiculous statement, so instead I'm going to say it this way. Don't avoid sleep. I was meticulously tracking my milk supply and on days when I had less than 5 hours of sleep because I just HAD to stay up to clean my house, my milk supply went down as much as a 1/3!

3)Again, another ridiculous statement: don't get stressed. So, instead: don't seek stress. If you can't take something on just don't. The whole scenario of having a baby in the NICU was stressful for me, but attitude is huge. On days I let negativity get the better of me I saw my milk supply drop almost by half. Seriously. That's huge. It's not possible to avoid stress but take steps to manage it effectively.

4) Increase water consumption and eat well.

If not for maintaining your milk supply but to ensure you have constituents to make the important components of breast milk. Three of the most recommended foods to increase breast milk are brewer's yeast, oatmeal and spinach so I just threw those in a blender each morning with strawberries, yogurt and almond milk and made a smoothie.

5) Mother's milk tea/lactation cookies; I had three different kinds of tea to account for a wider spectrum of galactagogue (milk producing) herbs and drank them all day long. I did find the Earth Angel Baby and Weleda brands to be most effective. Lactation cookies were awesome but were best for a boost and not feasible in terms of the cost for long-term use unless I were to make my own.

6) Supplements/medication:

I did really well with the Mothers Milk Plus Special blend tincture by MotherLove. This is formulated with goats rue for women who may be lacking in some of the developmental aspects of breastfeeding (adoptive parents, parents of preemies or even moms who did not notice a change in breast size throughout pregnancy). For those of you who do not meet that criteria, their regular formula without the goats rue would be fine!


to check out their formulas.

I also take medication because it became a necessity in the NICU, so it may seem I am cheating a little there. But the combination of the herbs and medication works better than one or the other exclusively. If that is something you feel is necessary than have a chat with your doctor to get their advice.

Keep up with your prenatal, and consider an Omega-3 supplement if your doctor okays it. Breastfeeding takes so much energy and it's important to keep obtaining nutrients so you don't over exhaust yourself.

Right now, and permitted by my own doctor I take: Mega Food Baby & Me, Mega Food Blood Builder, Carlson Fish Oil, AOR Advanced B-Complex, CanPrev Vitamin D3 and K2 and I alternate probiotics (currently I have New Roots Probiotic Intensity).

I have to say, I feel really good with and only experience a lot of fatigue if Ryland has kept me up all night. I have yet required a nap (but knowing how important sleep is for milk supply I would make sure to take a nap if I needed it!).

7) I had anxiety that came before pumping (called D-Mer) so it was important for me to chill out to encourage let-down. I had a lavender essential oil for at night (because I find it too strong during the day)  and a roll-on essential oil blend from Pure Wow essential oils called Chill that I put on my wrist before pumping.

8)My last piece of advice is this, though I think it might be common knowledge for most people except me. Just in case it's not: you can do formula AND breastmilk, just make sure you are pumping often to make sure your supply doesn't drop. Your pediatrician will best guide you on dosing before you start.

I hope all this information is useful for breastfeeding momma's or exclusive pumpers!

Written by Chelsea Hohnstein

Research: ( the composition of breast milk) (lactoferrin in breast milk) physiological significance of Alphalactalbumin on infants) (the role of lactoferrin);jsessionid=33AC39F003184388CDA14F271ACC0E60.f01t01?v=1&t=iivxaeic&s=406c59cbdf64ccac1ca9e0fe0f0493facf357cbb (biological function of lactoferrin) (phospholipids in breast milk)