Today I spoke by phone with an employed breastfeeding mother in the military who had recently returned to work. She told me she was worried she would not be able to keep up her milk production over the long term. I shared with her some facts that could smooth the way for any employed breastfeeding mother but are not widely known.
From 1 to 6 months of age the breastfed baby’s daily milk intake stays relatively stable. This mother assumed—like most—that as her baby grew bigger and heavier, he would need more milk. In fact, that’s not what the research shows. Because babies’ rate of growth slows between 1 and 6 months, daily milk intake remains remarkably consistent during this time.1 I told this mother that since her baby had been thriving on exclusive breastfeeding for his first six weeks that she was golden. She was already producing as much milk as her baby would ever need. All she needed to do was maintain it. (Note: This is not the case for the formula-fed baby, as explained in my blog post “Breast Versus Bottle: How Much Milk Should Baby Take?” which leads to many mistaken assumptions.)
After solid foods are started, the breastfed baby needs less milk. This mother also expressed concern about meeting her one-year breastfeeding goal because her husband was scheduled to deploy in January, when her baby would be 7 months old. She was worried that as an employed mother alone with a 7-month-old baby and a 2-year-old toddler, she would not be able to keep up with her baby’s need for milk. I told her that once her baby started on solids, which is recommended at six months, the baby would actually need less and less milk, as he ate more and more solids.2,3
She told me that this information was a huge morale booster and that it made meeting her breastfeeding goals seem much more feasible. This is information every employed breastfeeding mother needs to know.
1Kent, J. C., et al. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics, 117(3), e387-395.
2Islam, M. M., et al. (2006). Effects of varied energy density of complementary foods on breast-milk intakes and total energy consumption by healthy, breastfed Bangladeshi children. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(4), 851-858.
3Cohen, R. J., et al. (1994). Effects of age of introduction of complementary foods on infant breast milk intake, total energy intake, and growth: a randomised intervention study in Honduras. Lancet, 344(8918), 288-293.