Establishing your milk supply is SO important in the first few weeks of your baby’s life.
When I had my first child, I was completely overwhelmed and had NO IDEA what breastfeeding entailed. I didn’t know the first thing about breastfeeding or establishing my milk supply- much less having a new baby!
Thankfully, I learned from people who’d been there before me, and were trained in breastfeeding support.
And now, I hope to do the same for you.
Establishing your milk supply is something to consider after having your baby, keep reading for the right way to do it!
1. Establishing Milk Supply With The First Feeding
Pregnancy brings with it all sorts of hormones, as I’m sure you know from experience. They can leave you emotional, tired, bloated, and a whole list of other things. As uncomfortable as they are, those hormones serve a very important purpose.
Especially for breastfeeding.
During pregnancy, you have high levels of progesterone running through your body. Progesterone has a lot of purposes, one of which is to tell your body it’s not time to make milk yet.
As soon as you give birth, your progesterone levels drastically drop at the same time your prolactin levels rise.
Prolactin is the hormone that tells your body to start making that milk!
The special thing about prolactin is that when your baby breastfeeds, it tells your body to continue increasing your levels of prolactin. So your baby breastfeeding tells your body to make milk. The more your baby breastfeeds, the more your body gets the message to make more milk.
Breastfeeding = ↑ Prolactin = ↑ Milk Supply
Since your hormones are changing so much right after birth, it’s important to breastfeed AS SOON AS POSSIBLE after delivery. In fact, if possible your baby should be placed on your chest immediately after birth until the first feeding occurs.
As your progesterone decreases and your prolactin increases, this first feeding gives an extremely important message to your body. It tells your body that those prolactin levels need to continue increasing so that your body can produce more milk for this hungry baby.
So, the first thing you need to do to establish your milk supply is feed as soon as possible after birth.
2. Feed Every 2-3 Hours
This is advice given by most pediatricians. A newborn baby should eat AT LEAST every 2-3 hours.
10-12 times per day is the minimum.
This is for the obvious reason that your baby needs to eat. As a newborn, they have very small stomachs and can’t hold a lot at once. It’s also a time during their life that they grow exponentially. All that growth and figuring out life means that your baby needs consistent calories. It’s so important for your baby to eat every 2-3 hours that if they sleep past that time, you should wake them for a feeding.
But feeding your baby isn’t the only reason to breastfeed every 2-3 hours.
Establishing your milk supply depends on it.
Remember the prolactin I told you about? That has a role to play here.
When your baby breastfeeds consistently and frequently, it tells your body to make more milk (causing your prolactin levels to increase). This message MUST be sustained over time, to keep giving your body the message that your baby is growing, eating, and needs milk.
If you go too long between feedings, your body takes it as a negative message. It’s getting the message that your baby isn’t in need of frequent milk. Your body takes the hint and starts to produce less milk as a result.
If you notice your milk supply is decreasing, DON’T WORRY!
Your breasts act as a supply and demand system. So even if you think that your supply is decreasing, all it takes is a different message from you to tell your breasts to make more.
In other words…
Breastfeed more and your supply will increase. It may take a few days to feel a significant difference, but if your body gets the message that more milk is being removed, it will respond by making more milk.
3. Establishing Milk Supply The First 6 Weeks
This is a biggie. The reason: you guessed it, hormones!
In the first 6 weeks, your hormones are all over the place! Postpartum hormones can sometimes leave you feeling depressed or otherwise not yourself. They take time to regulate before you feel like you’re back to normal.
The hormones that are in flux affecting your moods are doing the same thing that your milk making hormones are doing. They are trying to regulate, and that takes time.
Your body needs a consistent message in order to know what to do about your milk supply.
In the first 6 weeks, STAY CONSISTENT!
It might feel like all you do is feed your baby. That’s okay! It’s the most important job at this time in your life. The good news is, it doesn’t last forever. After the first 6 weeks, your baby will start to feed less frequently but eat more per feeding. But in order to have those later, bigger feedings your body needs to have a good supply established.
If you continue to feed your baby every 2-3 hours for the first 6 weeks, your milk supply will be well established.
4. Wait To Pump Until 6 Weeks
I know this isn’t possible for everybody, so take heart. If you’re one of the moms that has to pump sooner, it’s okay.
So if you have to pump in the first 6 weeks…
The same rules apply for the pump as for breastfeeding.
Do it every 2-3 hours, and be consistent! The pump is stimulating your breasts and removing milk so it also tells your body to make more milk.
That being said, a breast pump isn’t as effective as your baby is. Your baby can remove more milk, more effectively, in less time.
If you have to pump in the first 6 weeks, be sure to pump both breasts for at least 20 minutes every 2-3 hours. This is extremely difficult to do with a hand pump. Most insurance companies will cover the price of a mechanical double breast pump. This is THE BEST option for a pumping mom. It takes less time because you can do both breasts at once, and pumping both breasts simultaneously gives it extra stimulation.
Be sure to pump for at least 20 minutes per breast, EVEN IF NO MILK IS COMING OUT. Remember, a baby is much more efficient than a breast pump. But, even if it’s not as good as expressing milk, the stimulation it gives tells your body that more milk needs to be made.
If you have to go back to work at 6 weeks postpartum, I recommend waiting until 4 weeks to start pumping. That will give you 4 weeks to establish your supply, and 2 weeks to get the hang of pumping.
After 6 weeks…
Keep a pumping session to 20 minutes per side. Even if milk stops coming out.
This is an important rule, no matter where you are on your breastfeeding journey. Once again, even if no milk is being expressed, the stimulation tells your body to continue making more milk.
Breastfeeding is more effective for your milk supply in the first 6 weeks because your baby is so much more efficient at removing milk.
If you can wait to start pumping until 6 weeks postpartum, you will be able to better establish your milk supply.
The first 6 weeks, pay attention to hunger cues. If your baby shows signs of being hungry before the 2-3 hour mark, go ahead and feed them. This is another reason why breastfeeding is so much better than using a pump in the first 6 weeks.
Your baby tells your body EXACTLY how much milk they need. This means that you’ll be sure to express the right amount, not less than your baby needs.
Sometimes, when pumping is initiated before 6 weeks, your supply is negatively affected. When this happens, often a baby doesn’t gain weight as fast as they should. Then, a pediatrician will recommend formula supplementation.
While it’s more important to feed your baby than anything, sometimes supplementation can cause an even more negative effect. It keeps your baby full longer, so they don’t want breast milk as much, and then don’t breastfeed as much. Then, your supply starts to drop even more. In these cases, it’s helpful to talk to a lactation specialist to help you with your supply.
5. Keep It Up After 6 Weeks
Yay! You made it to the 6 week mark!
The first 6 weeks are often the most difficult between the hormonal changes, the breastfeeding, and the exhaustion that comes with a newborn.
Once you’ve made it this far, there’s reason to celebrate!
By 6 weeks, if you’ve been consistent and your baby is gaining weight well you have reason to be very happy with your milk supply.
The two best ways a breastfeeding mom can determine if her milk supply is good are:
- Baby is gaining weight appropriately.
- Baby has the right number of poopy diapers.
Your baby is expected to lose weight after birth. Average weight loss is between 5-7% of their body weight, but up to 10% is normal.
Anything more than 10% is concerning, so be sure you’re in frequent contact with your pediatrician in the first days after birth.
Around day between days 2 and 5, your milk will start to come in. Around this time, your baby should start gaining weight. They should be back to their birth weight by 2 weeks of life. If this occurs, your baby is getting enough milk, so your supply is good!
Poopy diapers are a fantastic way to tell how much milk your baby is getting. They should have the number of poopy diapers per day for the number of days old they are… until the 4th day. So on day one, there should be at lease 1 poopy diaper. On day 2 there should be at least 2 poopy diapers. Day 3, there should be 3.
Your baby should have at least 4 poopy diapers by day 4.
If your baby is pooping this much, you have reason to be optimistic about your milk supply.
Changes at 6 weeks
Around 6 weeks, there are a few common changes that most moms experience. The first is that the number or poopy diapers decreases.
All babies are different, so if your baby still poops a lot that’s okay. But, it’s incredibly common for the number of poopy diapers to decrease around week 6. They may poop only once a day, or every other day.
This is normal and not cause for alarm.
The second change makes a lot of moms worry:
Around 6 weeks your milk supply normalizes. This means that your breasts may not feel as full.
Again, this is normal.
Milk supply concerns are the number 1 reason women stop breastfeeding. When your milk supply starts to normalize, you may begin to worry.
When your milk starts to come in a few days after birth, you may have experienced engorgement. This usually doesn’t last for 6 weeks, but your breasts are typically more “full” feeling. Then at 6 weeks, when your body starts to understand how much milk your baby needs, your breasts may start to feel more “empty”.
It’s important to note that milk is always being made, so even if your breasts feel empty rest assured that milk is being produced.
Additionally, when your breasts regulate they don’t need to store excess milk, they rely on the supply and demand signals your baby gives during feeding time. Rest assured that as long as your baby acts satisfied after a feeding, they are getting enough milk.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.