How to increase milk supply. It’s one of the most common breastfeeding concerns. We look at what low supply really means and whether it’s something you need to be concerned about.
Is your milk supply enough?
If you’re worried about how much milk you’re making, you know how hard it can be to shake this feeling.
Worrying about milk supply can wreak a breastfeeding parent’s confidence in their ability to breastfeed. “Not enough milk” is the main reason new parents end their breastfeeding journey.
Let us reassure you: You’re likely making enough milk. Most breastfeeding parents do—or can—produce enough milk to breastfeed their baby exclusively.
But the fact is that even if you are truly dealing with low supply, you can do things to improve it.
Signs Your Milk Supply Needs a Boost
We’ve established that it’s really easy to worry about your milk supply. (As if you needed us to tell you that!) And that most breastfeeding parents make enough milk for their baby.
But when is the worry warranted—and when is it just a worry?
Pay attention to your milk supply if:
Your baby isn’t gaining enough weight.
All babies lose some weight after birth, typically around 7-10% of their body weight. This exact number can depend on what kind of birth you and your baby had—babies who are born after induction or c-section may lose more weight than a baby born at home because of the extra IV fluids the birthing parent receives.
By the time they’re 14 days old, they should return to their birth weight and then start gaining between ½ ounce to 1 ounce per day or 4-7 ounces per week.
Not enough wet or dirty diapers
The number of wet and dirty diapers your baby has each day is a valuable indicator of how much milk they’re getting. Your baby should have:
One wet and dirty diaper for every day of life for the first 4-5 days
1 wet and 1 dirty diaper on the first day of life
2 wet and 2 dirty diapers on the second day of life
3 wet and 3 dirty diapers on the third day of life
…and so on
6-8 wet and 3-4 dirty diapers a day once your mature milk is here
And remember to pay attention to how heavy their wet diapers are—not just the little blue stripe on the front of the diaper!
Baby is lethargic
Babies sleep a lot, it’s true. But they shouldn’t usually sleep for more than 4 hours at a time, and they should be alert and engaged when they’re awake.
Your baby is nursing but not taking in milk
Not all nursing is the same. When your baby is at the breast, the way they nurse can tell you if they’re taking in milk:
Active feeding with gulping and swallowing during sessions that indicates milk flow. With active feeding, you can notice long pulls with the jaw and your baby pausing to breathe before continuing to breastfeed.
Flutter-sucking or non-nutritive nursing indicates that milk transfer isn’t occurring.
Note that babies do nurse for comfort, so non-nutritive nursing alone doesn’t mean they’re not getting milk. Moreover, non-nutritive nursing plays a vital role in communicating to the breastfeeding parent what milk they need for the next nursing session—i.e., the need for fattier milk because of a growth spurt or more electrolytes to satiate thirst.
But if the baby is only doing non-nutritive nursing, it may be a sign of concern.
Dehydration has several physical symptoms to look out for, including:
Jaundice (yellow skin and/or eyes)
Reluctance to feed
Note that jaundice is frequently seen in babies, and when taken alone doesn’t mean your baby is dehydrated as long as your baby has already been evaluated and received treatment. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your child’s pediatrician immediately and make an appointment with an IBCLC to assist with a feeding plan.
Try Not to Worry if…
We know it’s hard not to worry—you don’t have a crystal ball to see how much milk your baby is getting when you’re breastfeeding. But if you’re worried about your milk supply because of the following reasons, know that they’re very often not because of milk supply issues:
Baby is gaining weight more slowly or is on the lower end of the growth charts
Yes, weight gain can be an indicator of milk supply. But many parents get anxious when their baby is on the lower end of the growth chart or maybe is gaining weight a bit more slowly.
Before you worry too much, though, consider the following questions: Are you or your partner tall or short? How much did either of you weigh at birth and when you were babies? Which growth chart does your pediatrician use? The WHO chart reflects growth patterns among breastfed babies, while the CDC shows growth for formula-fed babies. Answering these questions can give you some insight into your baby’s growth.
But the most important thing to remember is that all babies—each and every one—follow their unique curve. At the end of the day, if your baby is happy, meeting milestones, and has enough wet and dirty diapers, your milk supply is likely okay.
Baby is fussy
There’s not much to say about this because babies are just fussy sometimes—they can’t talk, but they know if you fuss, you’ll fix whatever the problem is! If your baby regularly fusses at the breast and acts frustrated during nursing, pay attention to their latch, how many wet and dirty diapers they’re making, and other signs of getting enough milk. Otherwise, don’t read too much into general fussiness.
Baby nurses frequently
Babies, especially newborns, nurse frequently, often well over the 8-12 times a day we say to expect. Cluster feeding should be expected during growth spurts, and most babies nurse for reasons besides nutrition. They nurse because they’re tired, happy, bored, thirsty, sad, they miss you—the list goes on. Breastfeeding is your baby’s safe, happy space where they can be nurtured. Just like you can’t over love your baby, you can’t overfeed them, either!
Breasts feel softer than they did early in breastfeeding
The rock hard, engorged breasts you had when your milk first came in were full of milk, but just because your breasts feel softer now doesn’t mean they’re less milky. Instead, your body has adjusted to the milk production process.
Not producing much milk when pumping
While some breastfeeding parents are prolific pumpers, others may only get an ounce of milk for their hard work at the pump. Don’t let that discourage you—babies are much more efficient at extracting milk from your breasts than a breast pump. You can still have a perfectly good milk supply.
“The pump cannot get all the milk from your breasts,” points out Theisen. “Your best pump is the cutest pump—your baby! Most breastfeeding parents have to pump three times to get enough milk for one bottle feeding. In fact, in most cases they need to pump at 9 am, 12 pm, and 3 pm to get two ounces, which is enough breast milk for a baby (1-6 months old) for one feeding, and that’s normal!”
The “Is your baby getting enough milk” checklist
Seeing consistent sucking with brief pauses
Hearing audible swallows (a “cuh” sound)
Feeling a tugging or pulling sensation (but no pain)
Feeling mild cramping or contractions (in the early postpartum period)
Feeling thirsty and hungry, which means your baby is feeding well
Feeling relaxed or sleepy, which means your milk-production hormones are increasing
Your baby is…
Making 6-10 wet and 2-3 dirty diapers in 24 hours
Gaining 4 to 8 oz in 7 days ( ½ oz to 1 oz per day)
Nursing 10-12 times in 24 hours. That equals every 2 hours during the day and 3 hours at night with ONE four-hour stretch.
Seems satisfied after nursing
How to Increase Milk Supply
Breastfeeding is a supply and demand job. If your baby removes milk from your breasts, your breasts will make more milk to replace it.
Let’s look at that more closely, though. What if your breasts aren’t fully emptied? Maybe your baby’s latch isn’t good, and they’re not transferring much milk. Or perhaps you’ve accidentally missed a nursing session.
Whatever the reason, your milk production will slow down because your breasts think you don’t need more milk.
The trick, then, to increasing milk supply is to communicate to your breasts that you need more milk.
Increase your nursing frequency
This might sound overly simplistic, but nursing more frequently is critical to increasing your milk supply.
More specifically, emptying your breasts fully.
Some parents worry about nursing “too soon” after a breastfeeding session, but it’s helpful to have back-to-back nursing sessions. The closer your breastfeeding sessions are, the higher your milk’s fat content will be AND the more milk you’ll make.
Adjust your baby’s latch
Along with nursing more, improving your latch and positioning is one of the most important parts of successfully improving your milk supply. A good latch stimulates your breast to release milk, creating the demand for more.
What does a good latch look like? Your baby should get both nipple and breast tissue in their mouth. Your baby’s lips should flange out-think fish lips!—rather than curling in.
Lori Theisen, Nest Collaborative IBCLC, suggests breastfeeding parents take the following approach.
“Get comfy!” she says. “Use lots of pillows, so your baby is as high as your breasts. Line up your baby’s nose to your nipple and wait for a wide latch. Don’t let your baby chew onto the nipple to latch. Aim your nipple to the roof of your baby’s mouth.”
A final note: “There should be no pain,” Theisen says. “Only a tugging or pulling sensation.”
Power pumping is a proven method for increasing your milk supply. Even if you only break out the breast pump for this, it can give you a measurable improvement in your milk supply.
The idea behind power pumping is to mimic cluster feeding. The more frequently your body is asked to produce milk, the more milk it produces.
The easiest option for parents who are mainly nursers is to add a power pumping session after your baby has finished nursing. You don’t need to power pump every time your baby feeds, though—just once a day can boost your milk supply.
Your power pumping routine might look like this:
Nurse until your baby is full
Pump for 20 minutes, don’t pump/rest for 10 minutes
Pump for 10 minutes, don’t pump/rest for 10 minutes
Pump for 10 minutes
This routine should last for 1 hour. If one power pumping session is added a day, most breastfeeding parents will see an increase in their milk supply 3-4 days after their last power pumping session.
Don’t skip middle-of-the-night feedings
Dragging yourself out of your cozy bed at 3 am is rough, no matter the reason. It’s also the best time to get in an extra pumping session. Why? Your milk production is highest at night.
This is because your body produces higher levels of prolactin, the milk-producing hormone, in the early hours of the day.
Find ways to relax
We know it’s so easy to relax when someone just tells you to do it, right?
Some parents do find breastfeeding relaxing and soothing, but if you don’t, it’s okay. All breastfeeding experiences are valid! If you find yourself stressed during nursing or pumping, there are ways to increase your calm. Try these tips:
Set up a nursing or pumping spot in your home that feels comfortable. Add a green plant or flowers—spending time in the company of greenery can improve your mental health.
Put on some calming music or listen to a meditation app. Mindfulness meditation is linked with a range of mental health benefits and can be especially helpful if you’re experiencing breastfeeding aversion, also known as dysphoric milk ejection reflex (DMER).
Practice box breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
Speaking of oxytocin, skin-to-skin is one of the best ways to increase your milk supply. Snuggling up to your baby, skin-to-skin is cozy and lovely. It also stimulates much-needed breast-milk producing hormones like oxytocin.
Use breast massage
Breast massage is such an excellent tool for breastfeeding parents. It helps relieve discomfort from engorgement, remove clogged ducts, and, yes, improve your milk supply. Consider this fact:
Breast massage helps by improving milk flow, so you empty your breasts more quickly. Once your breasts are empty, your body gets the signal to produce more milk.
Bonus point for breast massage: It also increases the fatty content of your milk, helping your baby feel fuller and more satisfied.
Take care of yourself (really!)
Parents, you’re doing a fantastic job. Breastfeeding is hard work. Your sleep schedule is thrown off, your body is doing something entirely new, and another living creature is completely dependent on you.
That’s why you need to take extra good care of yourself:
Talk with your partner about how they can help you around the house and with the baby.
Parents frequently ask about what foods, supplements, and medications they can take to boost their supply. Known as galactagogues, there are many suggestions out there, but not much of it is backed by scientific evidence.
Most of the time, you don’t need to eat anything special to increase your milk: Plenty of water and a healthy diet should be enough.
However, if you’ve tried all the tips above and not seeing your supply increase, an IBCLC can help you explore options for supplements. Not all supplements work for every parent. Some increase supply, but not all are supported by research. Fenugreek has the most evidence of efficacy, but Nest IBCLCs typically recommend a blend of Fenugreek, fennel seed, blessed thistle, Goat’s Rue, and nettle leaf.
Prescription medicines are another option for some parents. Domperidone and Reglan are the two most commonly used ones and work well for increasing milk supply. However, while Reglan can be prescribed by your healthcare provider, Domperidone is only available via an online pharmacy.
These medications, as well as herbal supplements though, come with risks. Reglan is associated with increased risks of depression, and some herbal supplements can affect blood sugar or blood pressure. What’s more, if you’re taking other drugs or supplements, there’s the potential for drug interactions. Consulting your IBCLC in conjunction with your healthcare provider is essential for finding the safest options for you.
A friendly Nest Collaborative reminder…
We support parents in finding the right breastfeeding journey for them. If you feel that a galactagogue is needed for your milk supply, we’ll help you evaluate your options. That being said, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Galactagogues are most effective in increasing milk supply when combined with increased breastfeeding frequency and milk removal. What’s more, not all galactagogues work the same. Working with an IBCLC will help you figure out how to use them best.
Ask questions and ask for help
Worried about your milk supply? We want all parents to feel confident about their breastfeeding experience. We’re here to answer your questions and help you find solutions. Book a convenient online video appointment with one of our IBCLCs today.
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