Easy and Effective Tips On How To Increase Milk Supply
Many breastfeeding moms ask how to increase milk supply because they worry that they are not producing enough for their baby. This is particularly true when you’re feeding your baby directly from your breast since you can’t actually see how much milk your baby is taking in.
This is a common concern, but according to the International Breastfeeding Center, most moms have lots of milk to meet their baby’s nutritional needs, or they could have lots of milk if they get off to a good start.
“The problem is often that the baby is not getting the milk that is available,” says Dr. Jack Newman from the International Breastfeeding Center.
Medical professionals advice that stress and anxiety itself can lower your milk supply. Instead of worrying, rest assured that you most likely are producing enough milk. If you are not, there are plenty of ways to help increase your production.
For your convenience, this post has been broken up into 3 sections. If you are worried about how to produce more breastmilk, you will find all three sections helpful:
- How to increase milk supply;
- How to check if you’re producing enough milk; and
- Causes of low supply.
How To Increase Milk Supply
If you’ve found that you have a low milk supply, it can be heartbreaking to think your breastfeeding journey must end. But it does not need to. There are many tips and tricks that moms have effectively used to increase their milk supply.
Breastfeed On Demand
To start, breastfeed frequently and on-demand. This is one of the best tips on how to increase your supply.
Your baby will be hungry eight to 12 times per day in those first few weeks of life. It can be daunting to feed your baby every two to three hours, but each feeding is very important to establish an ample milk supply. The feeding and emptying process is what signals your body to produce more milk.
Look for feeding cues and feed your baby when you see signs that your baby is hungry.
Don’t Follow a Strict Breastfeeding Schedule.
Instead, allow your baby’s hunger cues to tell you when and how long to feed. If your newborn baby is having weight gain problems, try to nurse at least every 1.5-2 hours during the day and at least every 3 hours at night.
Get The Most Effective Latch By Trying Different Breastfeeding Positions
Consult a lactation expert if you suspect a poor latch. There are several breastfeeding positions you can try, like football hold, cradle hold, cross-cradle position, laid back position, side-lying position, etc.
Empty Your Breasts With Each Feeding
Allow your baby to finish the first breast. When your baby is done, offer the second breast. It is important to offer both breasts at each feeding.
If your baby doesn’t empty both breasts because he/she is full, complete the process of emptying your breasts by manually expressing or pumping.
If you are dealing with a sleepy baby, switch sides and/or do breast compressions while you are nursing, (see video below).
Switching may wake your baby enough to continue suckling. Breast compression is also very effective in waking your baby AND getting more milk out of your breasts.
Empty breasts are a signal to your body to make more breast milk. In other words, the more milk that is taken out of your breasts, the more breastmilk your body will produce.
Do Not Miss Regular Feedings
If you skip a feeding, your body will automatically start producing less milk.
If you are going to be away from your baby, pump or express milk to maintain your milk production.
Whenever Possible, Feed Your Baby Directly From Your Breasts
If you are away from home or working, this may not always be possible. Whenever you can, however, do feed your baby directly from your breasts. Babies are typically much more effective at getting milk out of the breasts than any breast pump or manual expression method. Therefore, don’t be alarmed if it seems that you cannot pump or express a lot of milk.
Do Not Supplement With Formula
Take Care Of Yourself
Rest, relax, and minimize stress. Stress and anxiety itself can lower your milk supply.
Also, eat well, stay hydrated, and accept help.
Offer Skin To Skin Care
Hold your baby skin-to-skin with no bra or constricting clothing. Do this as often as possible.
Skin to skin care provides early initiation for breastfeeding. It also increases the probability of breastfeeding, as well as the length of time you will breastfeed your baby.
Incidentally, skin to skin care also promotes bonding between you and your baby, it reduces crying, it regulates your baby’s breathing and heart rate and it helps to maintain your baby’s blood sugar level.
Whether skin to skin or not, in general, you want to keep your baby close to you. Your body and hormones are in total sync with your baby’s needs, and just having your baby close will help release oxytocin, which promotes milk production and bonding.
Do Breast Massages To Encourage Milk Let-Down
Massaging your breasts downward from chest to nipple encourages milk let-down.
- Using your pointer finger and middle finger, start massaging from your armpits in a circular motion. Move down towards your nipple.
- With your full hand, stroke your breasts from the chest wall towards your nipple.
Take A Nursing Vacation.
For 2-3 days, do nothing but rest and breastfeed your baby frequently. A nursing vacation will improve your milk supply and it will be good for you and your baby.
Eat A Healthy Diet And Drink Enough Water
Drinking excess water will not increase your milk supply, but drinking too little water will dehydrate you. The best thing to do is drink until you feel you’ve had enough.
When you nurse, keep a water bottle nearby and replenish before and after every feeding session.
As for food, do try to eat a well-balanced diet. Do NOT starve yourself to try to lose baby fat. The goal is to eat when you feel hungry and drink when you feel thirsty.
Consider Lactation Teas/ Cookies & Brewers Yeast
Low milk supply is not a new thing. Many moms have this problem, which is why there are many options available to us, like:
- Lactation cookies
- Lactation teas
- Lactation powder drinks
- Brewers Yeast For Lactation – whatever lactation recipe you look at, it will most likely contain brewers yeast.
These over the counter remedies usually contain ingredients that help boost milk supply, like fenugreek and blessed thistle. It is said that fenugreek can increase milk production in just 24-72 hours. Both fenugreek and blessed thistle can be found in teas and supplements.
Consider Prescription Drugs Like Domperidone
If you are asking how to improve milk supply and you want a fast solution, consider prescription medication.
Domperidone is one of the most widely prescribed medications to increase your milk supply. Some moms (myself included) say it’s a miracle pill. It is easy to take and it is effective. It’s a generic drug so it’s not too expensive.
If you have tried all the above remedies to increase your milk supply but you are still having issues, do talk to your doctor about this.
How To Check If You’re Producing Enough Milk
Because you can’t see what your baby is drinking, it can be tempting to use your own breasts as a measurement tool in determining if your milk supply is adequate. Don’t.
Your breasts may feel extremely full at first, especially if they become engorged. You may even have periodic engorgement issues months into your breastfeeding journey. However, your breasts will typically soften and become less full as your milk supply naturally adjusts to your baby’s feeding needs. In other words, soft breasts do not automatically equate to a low milk supply.
Look to your baby to determine if you’re making enough milk. Your baby’s health, not your breast, will be your number one indicator on whether he/she is getting enough milk or not.
Your Baby’s Weight
Be careful about looking at weight in the first few weeks as a measure of nutrition. Most babies lose around seven percent of their body weight in those first few days of life. They’ll gain it back within two weeks and shouldn’t lose weight again after that.
Your baby should be gaining around six to eight ounces per week over the next four months and four to six ounces per week between months four and seven. Your pediatrician will closely monitor your infant’s weight at their well-visits and sick-baby appointments.
Your Baby’s Wet Diapers And Urine
As a daily indicator of hydration, you should pay close attention to how many dirty diapers your baby makes and the color of their urine.
Babies typically only make a couple of wet diapers in the first few days of drinking thick colostrum, but they’ll start wetting at least six diapers a day as breastfeeding regulates over that first week. Urine should be pale yellow or clear. Darker urine (think the color of apple juice) may be a sign of dehydration that you should discuss with baby’s pediatrician.
Your Baby Is Fussy
If your baby is not easily calmed down, and always needs to be pacified or swaddled to fall asleep, he/she may not be getting enough milk. Do check with your doctor.
Chart Your Breastfeeding Journey
Keep a journal if you’re curious about your milk supply and what may be decreasing it. Your lactation specialist will be better able to assist you if they have a detailed log of how often and long baby feeds, any supplementation with formula/baby foods, and your medication and nutrition history while breastfeeding.
Causes Of Low Milk Supply
For the most part, our bodies are extremely efficient when it comes to feeding our babies with breastmilk.
If you think about it, it’s actually quite simple – if breastmilk is taken out frequently, your body will automatically replenish it – just as frequently.
On the flip side – if milk is not removed frequently and efficiently, your body will see this as it no longer needing to produce as much. In other words – if you want to produce more milk, make sure every drop is either sucked out by your baby or a breast pump – several times per day.
Your milk supply can drop, particularly if any of the following are present to limit the amount of milk you make:
The Use Of Bottles And Artificial Nipples
At the early stage, you do not want to confuse your baby. Even as early as 2 days old, babies can distinguish between the feel of an artificial nipple and a real nipple.
Offering your baby a bottle can either cause your baby to have problems sucking properly at your breast, or can result in your baby preferring the constant, faster flow of the bottle.
Avoid the hassles and do not introduce baby bottles until breastfeeding has been established.
Milk Is Not Effectively Sucked From Your Breast
There are a few reasons why this can happen:
Baby Falls Asleep During Feedings
According to Dr. Jack Newman from the International Breastfeeding Center, most moms “seem to have a lot of milk which flows very quickly at the beginning of a feeding.” However, the baby falls asleep when the flow slows down later in the feeding, and they end up not emptying the breast.
Babies respond to milk flow and if the flow is slow, they tend to sleep at the breast. This is particularly the case if they are under a few weeks of age.
If your baby is falling asleep, you have two options: Switch sides or do breast compressions.
If you are switching sides, you may need to switch 3 or more times to wake your baby.
Breast compressions are also very effective. Notice how this sleepy baby quickly wakes up and starts drinking when his mom starts breast compressions.
Baby Is Not Latching On Properly
Try to get the best latch possible. The video below is very helpful but if you are still having problems, you may need help from a lactation consultant.
The Use Of Artificial Nipples
Initially, breastfeeding IS painful because your nipples are not used to being sucked on. Once they are used to it, breastfeeding will be painless. To try to minimize the pain, some moms may use nipples shields. While nipple shields can be helpful, they can also hinder your milk production.
Health Or Anatomical Problems Are Preventing Effective Sucking
If your baby is premature or has any health or anatomical problems that interfere with his/her ability to effectively suck out all the milk, you will need to express milk or use a breast pump to suck out as much breastmilk as possible. This is to maintain your milk supply while the breastfeeding problems are being addressed.
A baby can also be tongue-tied. Tongue-tied babies may not be able to latch properly.
Tongue-tie happens when the frenulum (the thin tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is restricting the baby’s ability to move the tongue forward or up.
Only about 6% of babies may be tongue-tied, according to New York lactation consultant Catherine Watson Genna. The condition is inherited.
Offering Only One Breast Per Feeding
Offering one breast per feeding is okay if your milk supply is well-established and your baby is gaining weight well. However, if you are trying to increase your milk supply, let your baby finish the first side, then offer the second side.
Use breast compressions to empty out your breasts.
If your baby is not getting all the milk out, you will need to express milk or pump after and/or between nursings to maintain your milk supply.
Not Breastfeeding On Demand
Supplementing Breastfeeding With Infant Formula
When you supplement with formula, your body assumes it needs to produce less milk.
“In the early weeks, the breasts’ capacity for milk production is calibrated in response to the amount of milk that is removed,” according to lactation consultant Diana West. “If less milk is removed, the breasts assume that less milk is needed, so the capacity is set at a lower point.”
When your baby is offered formula, your baby will naturally drink less at the breast. Your breasts respond by making less milk.
If supplementation is necessary, pump to maintain your milk supply.
Introducing Solids Before Baby is 4-6 Months Old
This is the same as if you are supplementing with formula.
If your baby is having solids, that means he/she is drinking less milk, which means less milk is sucked from your breasts. That, in turn, means that less milk will be produced.
Taking Certain Medications/ Herbs
If you find your milk supply has dropped, consider your diet and any medications you are on.
The following medications and herbs can affect your milk supply:
- Pseudoephredine (the active ingredient in Sudafed and similar cold medications),
- Large amounts of sage, parsley or peppermint
Ask your doctor about alternative treatments.
Increased breastfeeding and pumping will help you build up your milk production again.
Taking Birth Control
Many moms see no change in their milk supply if they take birth control pills. For others, however, they see a significant drop in their milk supply if they take any kind of hormonal birth control like the pill, patch or injections.
This is likely to happen if you start taking these contraceptives before your baby is four months old, but it can happen later as well.
The first step to increasing your milk supply again is to talk to your doctor. Be prepared to stop taking hormonal contraceptives.
To get your supply back up, you may need prescription medication, herbal supplements and/or pumping.
Breast Augmentation Surgery and/or Piercings
Nipple piercings could damage milk ducts in the nipple.
Breast augmentation can also affect breastfeeding. It depends on the procedure that was done, how much time has passed between the procedure and the birth of your baby, and whether there were any complications that might have caused scarring or damage to your breasts.
Some moms, particularly those with breast enhancements, may be able to exclusively breastfeed without any difficulty. Moms who have had breast reductions, however, may need extra help and may have to supplement.
Insufficient Glandular Tissue
Some women’s breasts may not have enough “milk-making” ducts to meet their baby’s needs.
Milk ducts grow during each pregnancy and breastfeeding stimulates the growth of more ducts and tissue. If you are having this problem with your first baby, this may be less of a problem with a second or third baby.
There are steps you can take to maximize your milk production. This will include pumping and taking a prescription medication.
FROM MOM TO MOM– Even if your milk supply is low, it’s still worth the effort to continuing breastfeeding. Even a small amount of your milk will help support your baby’s immune system, brain development, and nutritional needs.
Hormonal or Endocrine Problems
The following medical problems may lead to a low milk supply:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- A low or high thyroid
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Hormonal problems
In some cases, the treatment of your health problem will help to boost your milk production.
Certain lifestyle choices, such as the use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco can lower milk supply. It is also harmful to your baby. Avoid them at all cost.
Stress, Anxiety And Poor Diet
If you are feeling stressed and anxious and you are not getting enough sleep, this can affect your milk supply.
Try to relax. Sleep when your baby sleeps.
Poor nutrition can also affect your milk supply. Do try to eat a reasonably well-balanced diet.
Drink liquids to thirst. Don’t force yourself to drink more water because drinking extra water does not increase milk supply.
Note From The Author
I am a mom of 5. With my last pregnancy, I had twins. I have had issues with low milk supply but I was able to easily overcome it, which is why I feel qualified to offer my five cents.
I am not someone who goes with medicine first. I always try the natural methods first before I resort to medications. But having said that, I personally do believe that nothing comes even close to the prescription drug, Domperidone. No lactation tea and no lactation cookies – as delicious as they are.
Domperidone is also super easy to take! I took it three per day, I nursed and pumped regularly, and never again worried about my milk supply again.