That feeling that you’re making enough milk to keep your baby fed and happy when you’re breastfeeding?
It’s the best. And if you never struggle with milk supply, it’s something that’s easy to take for granted.
But if you are struggling with milk supply?
The stress can be really overwhelming. Not only do you worry about whether your baby is getting enough to eat, but it’s common to feel like you’re not doing something right.
Let’s pause here for just a moment, though: First, you’re doing a great job at something that’s really hard. And even though it feels hard right now, it won’t always be hard. While milk production can be stressful, there are evidence-based approaches to increase your milk supply that can work well for both your baby and for you.
Why increase milk production?
The answer to this question might seem obvious: To have more milk for your baby. But here’s another question: Does your baby actually need more milk?
It’s hard to know exactly how much milk your baby is drinking during a feed. Unless you’re bottle-feeding, you can’t precisely measure how much your baby is taking in. (But real talk—even when you do bottle-feed, you won’t know exactly how much either because, let’s face it, babies drool and burp up milk!)
Parents frequently have the same set of reasons for being worried about milk supply, though:
Baby is gaining weight slowly or has slowed
Baby’s weight is on the lower side of growth charts
Baby is fussy or doesn’t settle
Baby seems to nurse more frequently than expected
Breasts feel softer than when breastfeeding began
Not producing much milk when pumping
While it’s totally normal to be worried about these things, these reasons don’t necessarily reflect a low milk supply or a problem with breastfeeding. What’s more, most moms make enough milk for their babies, regardless of weight percentile or how much milk you produce when you pump.
If you’re concerned about low milk supply—truly concerned about it—these are the more accurate indicators that your milk supply isn’t sufficient:
Your baby isn't gaining enough weight or is losing weight
Your baby is showing signs of dehydration
Your baby isn't making enough wet or dirty diapers
Your baby is lethargic
Your baby isn't actively feeding while nursing
Feeling worried? That’s where an IBCLC can be really helpful.
“"IBCLCs consult with families every day to help them sort through the signs they're seeing that are causing them to worry about their milk production,” shares Nest Collaborative IBCLC, Nicole Pogrund. “We can help determine if there is cause for concern or not. A consultation can really help ease the mind of a new parent."
What if I don’t need to increase my milk supply . . . but I want to?
Even if your baby is getting sufficient milk, you may still want to increase your milk supply. Maybe you’re returning to work and would like to build up a milk stash for bottle feeding. Maybe you’re tandem feeding your baby and an older child and would like a little extra to extend your breastfeeding relationship with your older child.
You can absolutely still increase your milk supply, but we do caution that breastfeeding parents with adequate milk supply be careful not to create an oversupply. While oversupply can sound like an okay problem to have, it has its own risks: mastitis, clogged ducts, and engorgement are all possibilities—and uncomfortable ones at that!
Five ways to increase your milk supply
Every body is unique. We all respond to breastfeeding differently, but most breastfeeding parents are able to increase their milk supply when they need to. The key steps to increasing your milk supply include:
Removing more milk
Making sure your baby has a good latch
Using breast massage
Practicing good self-care
And, of course, seeking IBCLC support.
1. Remove more milk
When you want to increase your milk supply, the very first step should be increasing your milk removal. That’s because breastfeeding is primarily a supply-and-demand activity. The more frequently you empty your breasts, the more milk your body will make.
How often should you be breastfeeding? While nursing on demand—i.e., every time your child shows signs of wanting to breastfeed—is ideal, you should aim for at least eight breastfeeding sessions every 24 hours.
If it seems like your baby wants to nurse endlessly—and some days, they may!—remember that you don’t need to wait a certain amount of time after breastfeeding for milk to replenish.
If you’re already feeling maxed out on breastfeeding sessions, don’t worry. There are a few ways you can increase your milk removal without too much extra effort.
Check your breasts after nursing
Breastfeeding pro-tip: Babies rarely remove all the milk in your breasts when they feed. If you want to maximize your milk production, use a breast pump or hand massage after nursing to remove any leftover milk.
Don’t skip middle-of-the-night feeds
We know, we just said you could increase your milk supply without too much extra work . . . but trust us, getting in those middle-of-the-night feeds is important.
First, in the early months and beyond for most babies, you should be waking up to feed at night anyway.
But besides that, breastfeeding at night is when you have the most milk. That’s because your milk production is greatest in the early—and we mean early!—morning. You can thank biology for this—your body produces higher levels of prolactin, the hormone responsible for supporting milk production, between 2 and 5 a.m.
Try power pumping
If you’re already an exclusively pumping breastfeeder, you know the power of power pumping. If you’re new to it, then it might just be your new best friend for increasing your milk supply.
Power pumping is a tried-and-true way to increase your milk supply. Power pumping mimics cluster feeding, triggering your body to produce more milk. What’s more, adding one or two power-pumping sessions in a day can make a big impact.
A standard power pumping routine looks like this:
Nurse your baby until your baby is full
Pump for 20 minutes, then take a break for 10 minutes
Pump for 10 minutes, then take a break for 10 minutes
Pump for 10 minutes
The entire power pumping session takes about an hour. If done consistently at least once a day, moms should see a boost in their milk supply after 3-4 days.
2. Check your baby’s latch
A good latch can’t be underestimated in breastfeeding. It’s truly a key to a strong milk supply—and a comfortable breastfeeding experience. (But that’s a blog for another day.)
Latches are crucial for a good milk supply because if a baby doesn’t latch correctly, they won’t be able to transfer all the milk from the breast. And if milk is consistently left behind in the breast, milk production will start to decrease.
What does a good latch look and feel like?
If your baby has a good latch, they should be taking both nipple and breast tissue into their mouth. You should be able to see their lips flip outward—think fish lips or supermodel pout.
A good latch should also never, ever hurt.
“Look for your baby to have a big mouthful of breast tissue, not just the nipple when they latch,” says Pogrund. “Compressing just the nipple with your fingers won’t get milk flowing and it’s similar with a baby’s latch. A deeper latch gets more milk to flow.”
3. Use breast massage
Breast massage, whether by hand or with a lactation massager, is an often-overlooked tool for breastfeeding moms. Studies show that moms who used some form of breast massage while pumping were able to remove 48% more milk than by pumping alone.
Another benefit is that breast massage can help speed up the process of milk removal. Massage can help move milk along your milk ducts faster and tell your body to start producing more milk sooner.
Breast massage helps by improving milk flow, so you empty your breasts more quickly. The closer your breasts are to being empty, the stronger the signal your body gets to produce more milk.
Moms often notice that massage or gentle compression helps soften the lumpy or firmer areas of the breast where milk is still stored,” says Pogrund, “and gets the milk flowing faster!”
An added benefit for breast massage: It also helps move the denser, fattier milk out of your breasts, which helps them feel fuller longer—and contributes to those delicious chubby baby thighs
4. Drink more water (and other forms of self-care)
You know that gigantic mug for water you got at your hospital or birthing center?
That’s not just for when you’re in labor—it’s useful throughout your entire breastfeeding journey. That’s because breastfeeding is thirsty work thanks to the increased oxytocin in your system.
Are you getting enough sleep? Eating balanced meals? Taking time to recharge your batteries?
We get it, these questions can sound a little ridiculous when you’re in the throes of raising a baby. But they’re critical to your well-being, and you’re critical to your baby’s wellbeing.
Our tried-and-true advice here?
Whether you’re adjusting your shared parenting responsibilities, hiring a postpartum doula for help, or carving out a few hours a week to prioritize your needs, getting the right support can give you the energy you need to meet your breastfeeding goals.
“Caring for a baby takes a LOT of energy, and breastfeeding and/or pumping more often to increase milk production can be a time-consuming project,” says Pogrund. “Taking great care of yourself is truly necessary to make it all possible."
5. Talk to a lactation consultant
No matter your breastfeeding question, IBCLCs are an amazing resource for breastfeeding families. If you’re struggling with your milk supply, or even just think you might be struggling with it, they can help you assess the situation and figure out the right solution for you and your baby.
An IBCLC can walk you through your breastfeeding routine, learn about your baby’s weight history, examine their latch, and even conduct a weighted feed to get an idea of how much milk the baby is transferring.
“Often by talking over a parent’s full feeding and pumping routine and history of their infant’s growth, we find that there isn’t as much cause for concern about their milk production as they had thought,” notes Pogrund. “We can then help make a plan that is tailored to their own needs so it can have a maximum impact with minimal extra work.”
Note that, up until this point, we haven’t mentioned supplements or medications for increasing your milk supply. While some moms report success with using supplements, there isn’t sufficient clinical evidence to make recommendations a standard practice among IBCLCs.
What’s more, IBCLCs themselves cannot prescribe medications to increase milk supply, such as Domperidone or Reglan. However, they can talk with you about your medical history and advise you on whether or not such medication might help you meet your goals.
Your journey, our support
At Nest Collaborative, we’re here to help all families feel confident and successful in their breastfeeding journey. Whatever your goals, we’re here to help you meet them. Book a convenient online video appointment with one of our IBCLCs today.
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