Breastfeeding moms often wonder how to increase breast milk supply. That’s because the NUMBER ONE reason moms stop breastfeeding is that they’re concerned about a low supply.
Often, their supply is actually adequate!
But there are some ways to tell if you have a low milk supply, and easy steps to take if you do.
How To Increase Breast Milk Supply: Recognize The Signs
The first step in determining how to increase your milk supply is concluding that you need to. When your milk comes in between 2 and 5 days after birth, you may experience engorgement. Your breasts fill with milk and may feel uncomfortable.
Over the next 6 weeks your body starts to regulate. It’s natural and necessary for your supply to become more regular. The problem is that some moms worry when they don’t feel as much milk in their breasts. Just because you are no longer engorged doesn’t necessarily mean you have a low milk supply.
Know this: if your baby is gaining weight well on solely breast milk, then you do NOT have a low milk supply.
Signs Of Low Milk Supply
- Your baby isn’t gaining weight. Babies are expected to lose weight right after birth. So, expect a drop in their weight from the first time they’re weighed to the second. However, after that they should be steadily gaining weight. Your baby should be back to their birth weight by 2 weeks and continue steadily gaining.
- Your baby doesn’t have enough poopy diapers. They baby should have the number of poopy diapers per day as the day old they are until day 4. So on day 1 they should have 1 poopy diaper. On day 2 they should have 2. Day 3, baby should have 3 poopy diapers (or more). On day 4 your baby should have 4 poopy diapers. Then for the next 6 weeks your baby should have 3-4 poopy diapers per day. Some babies will change their poop frequency at 6 weeks and go down to 1 per day or 1 every other day.
- This doesn’t really apply after the first 6 weeks. At 6 weeks, around the same time your milk supply regulates, your baby’s poop patterns may change. It may be a confusing time for you because while your breasts regulate they’ll feel emptier- at the same time your baby’s poop slows down to once a day or every other day. If your baby had 3-4 poopy diapers per day for the first 6 weeks then your supply is fine – as long as baby is gaining weight.
The Following Are NOT Signs Of A Low Breast Milk Supply:
- The way your breasts feel. Some moms feel like before a feeding their breasts are full and then emptier after a feeding. Some moms can’t really tell a difference. Everybody is different, so if you think your breasts feel empty they actually probably aren’t. If your baby is gaining weight then don’t let the way your breasts feel worry you.
- How your baby acts. This includes your baby acting fussy, crying, sleeping, or any other behavior. Those actions don’t mean that your baby isn’t getting enough milk. In addition, your baby may go through periods of cluster feeding or feeding more frequently than normal. Your baby could be having a growth spurt, but this is also NORMAL for a baby!
- How often or how long your baby breastfeeds. Some babies nurse for 20 minutes per side, and some babies can be full after 5 minutes of nursing. Some babies go 3 hours between feedings while some want to eat every 20 minutes. The length and duration of your baby breastfeeding aren’t an indicator of low supply. Just like some people eat only a few large meals a day and some eat many small ones, all babies have unique eating habits.
- The amount of breast milk you pump. A baby is MUCH more efficient than a breast pump. They are made for you and you for them. Your baby’s tongue massages your breast and presses against your milk ducts while they create a vacuum with their mouth. A breast pump only operates by vacuum. Your baby will be able to take milk from your breast much more effectively, so even if you pump and see no breast milk, this isn’t a reason to think you have low milk supply.
- Your baby’s breastfeeding habits change. They will become faster at nursing as they get older. They’ll also go through times of growth spurts where they eat more frequently. Sometimes your baby wants to nurse more often or longer than normal just because breastfeeding is a source of comfort and satisfies their need to suck. These changes are normal and expected.
- Baby gulps down a bottle (of breast milk or formula). This information comes from Kathy Kuhn, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Often when a baby is fussy, parents think there’s something wrong. In reality, babies are just fussy! It’s completely normal! But parents worry and this is what happens:
- The parents think their baby is hungry because they have low supply and aren’t getting enough breast milk.
- They offer a bottle of formula or expressed breast milk. When the milk fills their baby’s mouth, the baby immediately starts gulping it.
- The baby has no choice because a bottle fills their mouth in a different way than breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is completely baby-led. Bottle feeding depends on a lot of things including gravity, the size of the bottle nipple and the type of bottle.
- Then, they continue to offer their baby a bottle after feedings or when their baby is fussy.
- The result is generally that the baby starts to prefer the bottle, and may refuse the breast because the flow of milk is so drastically different. Additionally, the common result is that mom’s milk supply DOES drop because baby isn’t breastfeeding as much.
The most important factor in determining if you have a low milk supply is your baby’s weight. Keep an eye on it and attend regular pediatrician appointments. Your pediatrician should be tracking your baby’s weight gain and will be able to tell you if they’re on track. If you’re still concerned, it might help to reach out to a lactation counselor for some support.
How To Increase Your Breast Milk Supply
Here’s the butter to the bread of this article.
If you think your milk supply is low, there are some good ways to increase it. You might also want to increase your breast milk supply if you’re going back to work and want to build up a supply of frozen milk.
The best way to increase your milk supply is to feed your baby. Breastfeeding is run on a supply and demand process. The more your baby breastfeeds, the more milk your breasts will produce. Your body responds to your baby’s suckling by producing milk. Breastfeed often, when your baby is hungry or when they want comfort. Instead of offering a pacifier, just let your baby nurse.
Tips To Produce More Breast Milk
- Supply and demand- feed more. Your breasts will produce milk based on the message your baby gives. The more your baby nurses, the more milk you will produce. During those times of cluster feeding, your body is actually getting the message to produce more milk. Embrace those times and enjoy feeding your baby! All that stimulation is telling your breasts to increase your supply. Feed every time you notice your baby’s hunger cues. Offer the breast instead of a pacifier!
- Make sure your baby has a good latch. Some babies have difficulty establishing a good latch when beginning breastfeeding. If they aren’t latched on deep enough, they may not be able to efficiently remove milk from your breasts. A sign of a bad latch is severe nipple pain, cracking and bleeding. If you suspect any of these problems, resolving the latch can improve your milk supply.
- Offer both sides at each feeding. While frequent feeding tells your body to make more milk, infrequent feeding tells it to make less. If your baby only feeds on one side at a time, the breast that goes without stimulation will get the message to produce less milk. Offer your baby both breasts at each feeding. If they don’t take both, offer the breast they didn’t feed from at the next feeding.
- Avoid pacifiers, nipple shields and bottles. Your baby can start to become used to things other than your breast. A pacifier works to satisfy the suck reflex your baby has, and if you want to increase your supply they should be comforted by nursing! Nipple shields can cause your supply to decrease because your baby can’t remove milk as effectively. And bottles can cause all sorts of problems, the most common one being that your baby will start to prefer the flow of the bottle to breastfeeding. Avoiding these 3 things can help your milk supply increase.
- Pump to increase supply. If you still feel the need to increase your supply, you can pump. Typically, pumping isn’t recommended until after the first 6 weeks. In the first 6 weeks, your milk supply is extremely sensitive and pumping too much can cause engorgement and oversupply. But if you want to pump to increase your supply, it’s a good option. Pump right after feeding your baby, between feedings, or try power pumping. Pump for 5 minutes after you see milk stop coming- even if no milk comes out your body is getting the message that there’s demand for milk. Increased demand results in increased supply.
Foods To Increase Breast Milk
A lot of people ask about what foods they can eat to increase their milk supply. There are some foods that women swear help their supply, but eating or drinking certain things won’t help apart from more demand. In other words, even if you eat all the breast milk friendly foods, if you don’t breastfeed your baby or stimulate your nipples enough, you won’t increase your supply.
So if you’re ready to work on increasing your milk supply, first increase the amount of breast stimulation you receive by breastfeeding or pumping frequently. Then start to think about adding certain foods and drinks to your diet. Drink water to thirst and you will be hydrated enough to produce adequate milk.
Foods that are meant to increase breast milk supply are called lactogenic foods. This list of foods can potentially help you increase your milk supply (as long as it’s concurrent with frequent milk removal):
- Herbal galactagogues. Herbal galactagogues are herbs thought to increase breast milk supply. They include fenugreek, alfalfa, and blessed thistle. The most common is probably fenugreek in the form of tea – maybe you’ve heard of Mother’s Milk Tea. I personally don’t recommend herbal galactagogues because they can actually cause unforeseen consequences like preventing absorption of medications. Some women swear they work, but I think the first course of action is to try the things listed above.
- Oatmeal. Now I am not one to deny someone oatmeal in their diet. It is full of good fiber and many people enjoy it. If it helps increase your milk supply that’s fantastic! Some women find really good outcomes with eating oatmeal every day. However, some women notice that they have bouts of mastitis when they eat too much oatmeal. Try it and see if it helps you!
- Lactation cookies. In general, I don’t find too much wrong with lactation cookies. In fact, the main ingredient in them is oats! Oats are high in saponins which are thought to increase prolactin levels (prolactin is the milk-making hormone). Similarly to my stance on oatmeal, it probably doesn’t hurt to try some. See if they work for you- but remember to combine them with increased milk removal.
- Other common dietary foods: almonds, barley, apricots, and dates. Almonds are high in calcium, protein and fats which help give you a well-rounded diet. Barley contains polysaccharides which increase prolactin levels. Apricots and dates contain tryptophan which helps increase milk supply. Honestly the most important thing is to just eat a well-rounded diet. Studies show that women in third-world countries without access to lactogenic foods are able to adequately maintain their breast milk supply, even when they’re malnourished. They just breastfeed their babies frequently!
- Water. I’ve often heard people recommend exponentially increasing water intake to increase milk supply. Some mome drink so much water they feel bloated and miserable- not to mention they’re running to the bathroom every 5 minutes. It IS important not to be dehydrated because dehydration can affect your supply. However, you only need to drink to thirst. Your body tells you how much water you need. If you want to drink an extra glass or two during the day, by all means do so! But there’s no need to waterlog yourself.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with increasing normal foods in your diet if you think they may help you increase your milk supply. I am hesitant to suggest herbal supplements just because they can cause unforeseen consequences. If you’d like to eat oatmeal and add a few extra glasses of water every day, maybe it will help! I may sound like a broken record, but again the most important thing is demand… Feed more frequently and your supply will naturally respond by increasing.
In Summary: How To Increase Your Breast Milk Supply
The most common worry in breastfeeding mothers is that they have a low breast milk supply. The worries generally manifest after the first 6 weeks when their supply starts to regulate. Often, breasts don’t feel as full after their supply regulates… but they are! Additionally, babies can be FUSSY. But that’s normal so don’t jump to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with your supply!
In VERY rare cases, a woman may have underlying issues that affect breast milk supply. If you’ve has a previous breast surgery, experienced no breast changes throughout pregnancy, induced lactation, exclusively pump, or have a baby with a medical condition like a cleft palate then you may need to speak to a professional for evaluation.
Pay attention to your baby’s weight gain and how much you breastfeed your baby. A newborn baby should eat 10-12 times per day or more! As long as you’re feeding frequently and your baby is gaining weight there’s nothing to worry about.
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.