Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Concept of: Removal and Replacement

"Your baby owns the "feeding thing" - you just happen to have the milk."  How many of you have heard me say that?  Too many.  So I thought I needed to explain the concept of milk removal and replacement and it's impact on your milk supply.

First of all, the breast is not a passive container of milk but an dynamically active organ.   Milk production is infant driven rather than hormonal.  It is the removal of milk from the breast that facilitates continued milk production.  Your nutritional status, age, body composition have only secondary impact. 

So what does that mean? Inadequate milk removal or stasis (milk sitting around) tends to limit milk production. Know that It is the quality and quantity of the infant's  suckling or milk removal that governs your production.  Milk production reflects each individual infant's appetite rather than your own ability to produce milk.  Thus babies pick a feeding pattern that best suits them, not necessarily the sibling before them or you for that matter, but trust them they know what they are doing.

As long as milk is removed regularly from the breast it will be replaced, almost indefinitely.  But what happens when we try to control our baby's feeding patterns by schedule feeding, convenience feeding, supplementing or sleep training?  Our milk supply goes down!  The baby is no longer in control of it's food supply. We have messed with the amazing phenomenon of the supply-demand response - the very feedback control that regulates our production of milk to match the intake of our baby.   So if your milk supply is dropping, it's simply because less milk is being removed - this can be natural as with child-led weaning or unnatural as in parent-led weaning.

Since lactation is energy-intensive process there are natural safeguards against wasteful overproduction as well as mechanisms for a prompt response to your baby's needs.  Some examples are if your milk supply is huge, the baby may nurse quickly leaving more milk in the breast to send signals to the brain to reduce the supply.  If the milk supply is lower or the baby has a growth spurt, the feedings may be more frequent and longer.  

As they say, "there is a method to their madness".  So best to leave the "feeding thing" to the baby -as long as they have unlimited access to you, you will have enough milk for them....and then some!