Expert Advice

How do I know if I have enough milk to breastfeed my baby?

Two in five mums think they don't have enough milk, but an expert says mums get too hung up on 'what's normal'.

Two out of every five mums stop breastfeeding because they think they don't have enough milk, when their supply is probably just fine, a breastfeeding expert claims.

Katie James, an education manager for Medela who has worked in the UK and Australia as a midwife and lactation consultant, says the key message she wants to get across to mothers is that they shouldn't get too hung up on 'what's normal' or compare themselves to other mums.

"We come from a society that’s perhaps not so well informed about the norms of feeding and a lot of what we see from reading books etc is that you should have a routine, you should only feed your baby every three to four hours... And then you have a baby that wants to feed every two hours - we’re very good as women at thinking 'well I’m obviously not doing a good enough job'. Maybe that mum is also comparing herself to other mums in her mother’s group whose babies do go a bit longer between feeds."

James claims some babies do need to be fed more often than three- to four-hourly - "and it’s because that’s considered abnormal that women don’t think they have enough milk."

A newborn baby will need to feed eight to 12 times over a 24-hour period, and between the ages of one and six months babies feed anywhere from four to 13 times. That's a big range, which James believes women are not aware about.

She says it's important for mothers to remember that supply meets demand, so as long as you're exclusively breastfeeding, you will be producing enough milk for your baby. When your baby feeds more frequently, your supply will increase to match the demand.

James also points out that babies become more efficient at feeding as they get bigger and stronger. So a feed that took an hour when they were newborn may now only take 10 minutes.

Here's how to tell if your supply is meeting demand:

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation is for mothers to exclusively breastfeed for six months and then include breast milk in your baby’s diet for two years and beyond.

James advises, "They'll still be breastfeeding frequently from six to nine months and it's probably not until around nine to 12 months that they might reduce the breast feeds slowly. Most of their diet will still be milk though."

A Growing Up in New Zealand study showed that over 90 per cent of Kiwi mums stop exclusively breastfeeding before their baby is six months old.