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How to Increase Breast Milk Supply
Updated on
October 26, 2023

How to Increase Breast Milk Supply

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How to Increase Breast Milk Supply.
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How to Increase Breast Milk Supply

Breastfeeding is a whole new skill, both for you and your baby, and every breastfeeding journey is different. Concerns about low breast milk supply are very common among nursing parents, especially first-timers. Whether you are nursing, pumping or doing a combination of both, you may worry whether or not your body is making “enough” milk. This is why it can be helpful to work with a lactation consultant as soon as your baby is born. They can help troubleshoot baby’s latch, teach you the best nursing positions for your body and help to diagnose potential tongue or lip ties that can make it hard for baby to effectively remove milk.

But if your supply really is low though, there are a few things you can do to increase your milk supply. We spoke with a few experienced lactation consultants to get the details on what causes low milk supply and what really works to give it a boost.

How much milk should I be producing?

“Keep in mind that breast milk is a different phenomenon from formula feeding,” says Ashley Georgakopoulos, Motif Medical Lactation Director and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). “The calories [in breast milk] change with the baby, and that means the amount given does not change much, just the concentration,” she explains.

For example, a 6-month-old baby who drinks formula may need 6-7 ounce bottles every four hours, while a 6-month-old baby who breastfeeds might need less milk at a more frequent rate. There’s really no comparison and that’s why ounce intakes are so varied.

So, you really don’t need all that much milk in order for your baby to get all the calories they need to thrive and grow. Your pediatrician will let you know if the amount of milk is affecting baby’s overall growth, but generally, your body knows what to do when it comes to producing milk.

That’s great news for nurses and pumpers alike.

How do I know if I’m making enough milk?

The nature of breastfeeding is that there will be a lot of fluctuation in both your breasts, your milk supply and your baby’s needs, throughout your journey. “Breasts change dramatically in shape, fullness, intensity in let-down sensation and leakiness,” explains Kathryn Roy, a registered nurse and Certified Lactation Specialist (CLC). “Babies’ needs also vary with age, growth spurts, time of day, mental developmental milestones and sleep patterns, among a myriad of other reasons—all affecting your supply,” she says. This, of course, doesn’t help you figure out whether or not you’re making enough milk. In fact, all the fluctuation and lack of regularity can make things really confusing.

This is where you have to put a little (or a lot!) of trust in your body. “If your baby is gaining an appropriate amount of weight for her age as confirmed by the pediatrician, if your baby has regular wet diapers and healthy, regular poops, your body is likely producing everything your baby needs,” Roy says. Sometimes we want a really clear-cut answer, but in breastfeeding (and parenting), there isn’t always one. This is one of those situations where no news is good news—if your baby is generally healthy and your pediatrician doesn’t say otherwise, your body is making enough milk.

So, if you do have a low supply, a qualified healthcare professional or lactation consultant will probably tell you. Otherwise, your supply is likely just right.

What causes low milk supply?

“During the first few months, milk supply is regulated by the frequency of milk removal, whether that be by direct breastfeeding or by expressing with a pump,” notes Sheila Dukas-Janakos, an IBCLC and CEO of Healthy Horizons. For the first few weeks after your baby is born, your body is figuring out how much milk it needs to produce, so it’s important to feed baby on demand. If you’re pumping, you’ll want to express milk every 2-3 hours.

“At around 4 months, things switch and the actual amount removed of milk is the driving factor [for production],” Dukas-Janakos says. Instead of the frequency of milk removal, supply is now regulated by the volume of milk being removed. “The average [person] needs about 8 milk removals per day to maintain a full milk supply,” notes Sarah Schooler, a nurse and IBCLC with Thrive Lactation Center. Many full-term newborns need more than 8 in order to establish breastfeeding in the first month. This varies among nursing parents. “Some people need closer to 10 or even 12 to send adequate signals to the brain to maintain supply,” she says.

Does stress impact milk supply?

Stress causes your body to release adrenaline, explains Schooler, and adrenaline can impact the production of oxytocin, which promotes milk flow. Stress-related supply issues, however, usually resolve themselves soon after the stressor is addressed. That means pouring yourself a hot bath, a warm cup of tea or doing whatever helps you relax and recharge can help bring your supply back to its typical state.

Can health conditions cause low milk supply?

In general, it’s rare for other health concerns to impact milk supply, but it is possible in some cases. “Hypothyroidism, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), hormone imbalances prior to or during pregnancy, severe anemia, placenta retention, blood loss during delivery, prior breast surgery or trauma and heavy alcohol consumption can all lead to low milk supply,” Schooler says. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider and lactation consultant if you’re struggling with any of these issues, as they can help to support your breastfeeding efforts.

Can I take medication when nursing?

Certain medications and supplements could alter a nursing parent’s body and therefore, their milk supply, says Schooler. Common medications that could impact your supply include some birth control pills and cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, like Sudafed. Remember to consult your healthcare provider or lactation consultant before adding any medications or supplements to your diet to ensure they’re safe for both you and your baby.

How can I increase my milk supply?

The best way to increase your milk supply is to increase stimulation at the breast. “For most people, this means nursing more frequently or effectively, pumping in place of nursing sessions, adding additional pumps after nursing, or learning how to use your pump more effectively,” says Schooler.

A nursing person’s nervous system recognizes stimulation at the breast, sends that signal to the brain to release the milk stored in the breast. The quantity of milk removed paired with nipple stimulation tells the brain how much milk to produce. “When an empty or almost empty breast gets extra stimulation from a suckling baby or pump, it’s like telling your body, ‘Hey, the shelves are empty here and we need more food,” explains Schooler.

“I tell clients to nurse on both sides, and then as soon as baby is done feeding, pump for 10-15 minutes to remove ‘the leftovers’ and drain as much milk as possible at all feedings,” says Allyson Murphy, an IBCLC and founder of LactationAlly. “Even if you’re only getting drops, you are putting your order this week for your body to make more next week,” she says.

Typically, in 5-7 days of consistent extra stimulation, you’ll notice an increase in supply.

Worth noting, a person’s body doesn’t always respond to the pump the same way it responds to a baby, but it can be encouraged to do so more effectively. So if you are planning on pumping as a part of your regular nursing routine or you’re planning on returning to work, it’s helpful to begin practicing pumping regularly about a month or so prior. This way, your body can be trained to pump effectively and efficiently to minimize any dips in supply.

It’s also important to assess your baby’s latch, says Roy, as this can lead to an ineffective removal of milk, too. She encourages breastfeeding parents to use their pediatric healthcare providers or lactation consultants as resources if they think their baby is not latching well. “Nipple soreness, cracking and bleeding: these are not normal and should be addressed and supported and may be related to conditions affecting proper latch—such as tongue-tie, or even ineffective placement and positioning,” she says. Adjusting a baby’s latch could help you nurse more efficiently and without discomfort.

What are galactagogues and do they actually work?

Galactagogues, or foods and supplements thought to increase milk supply, are often touted as the quick, easy way to increase lactation. But, whether or not they are actually effective is unclear. Studies on the efficacy of galactagogues have small sample sizes and they’re often not well-controlled. There is no evidence-based research to support that galactagogues actually do increase milk supply.

“There are [a lot] of products the internet wants to sell you to increase your supply: teas, cookies, bars, shakes, pills, drinks, etc,” Murphy says. While these products won’t necessarily hurt, there’s no guarantee that they will help. “Your best investment of your time and money is to remove more milk and work with a great lactation consultant,” Murphy says.

Many galactagogues do have cultural significance and generations of colloquial evidence, though. Blessed thistle, moringa and fenugreek are all said to have been used as ancient remedies to increase milk supply by nursing parents in various cultures. Many of these ingredients can be now found in products like lactation tea, smoothies and cookies. Foods like oatmeal, brewer’s yeast and dark, leafy greens are also said to boost milk production for many lactating parents.

Increasing your intake of oats or kale will never hurt, but if you do want to try galactagogue supplements or other products meant to help increase your milk supply, be sure to touch base with your healthcare provider or lactation consultant first. They’ll be able to guide you towards the safest options for you and your baby.

And remember, if you’re not eating or drinking enough, your body won’t have the necessary nutrition or fluids needed to produce milk. Keeping snacks on hand, quick meals in the fridge and a tumbler of water nearby can help you keep up your calorie and fluid count while you’re juggling everything that comes with a new baby.

Breastfeeding is a brand new skill (both for you and your baby) and it doesn’t always come easy. As Murphy says: “Never measure your self-worth in ounces and milliliters. Some people just don’t make 100% of the milk their baby needs. You can supplement with some formula while you breastfeed and have a wonderful, successful nursing relationship.”


Allyson Murphy, IBCLC and founder of LactationAlly.

Sarah Schooler, MSN, RN, IBCLC is the founder of Thrive Lactation Center and helps connect families with lactation consultants throughout Florida.

Sheila Dukas-Janakos, IBCLC, is co-founder and CEO of Healthy Horizons breastfeeding centers and corporate lactation support programs.

Kathryn Roy, RN and Certified Lactation Specialist.

Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC, is director of Motif Medical Lactation.

This article was reviewed for factual accuracy in February 2023 by Dr. Malavika Prabhu, maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Harvard Medical School and member of the Babylist Health Advisory Board.

Briana Engelbrecht

Assistant Editor

Briana Engelbrecht is the Assistant Editor at Babylist, where she brings her passion for early childhood development and experience as a mom of two to Babylist articles and product guides. A former preschool teacher, she loves children’s picture books, cats, plants and making things.

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