How to Increase Breast Milk Supply
How to Increase Breast Milk Supply
July 15, 2021

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

Concerns about low breast milk are very common amongst new nursing parents. Whether you are nursing, pumping or doing a combination of both, the amount of breast milk you are producing and feeding can start to become a really consuming part of your parenting journey. Without being able to accurately measure just how much your baby is drinking at each nursing session, it’s hard to tell whether or not your body is making “enough” milk. Realistically though, not producing an adequate amount of milk is pretty rare. If yours is really 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 breastmilk is a different phenomenon from formula feeding,” says Ashley Georgakopoulos, Motif Medical Lactation Director and 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, RN and Certified Lactation Specialist. “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 continues. 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 towards 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,” Roy explains, “your body is likely producing everything your baby needs.” 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, CEO of Healthy Horizons and IBCLC. “At around 4 months,” she continues, “things switch and the actual amount removed of milk is the driving factor [for production].”

“The average [person] needs about 8 milk removals per day to maintain a full milk supply,” notes Sarah Schooler, MSN, RN, IBCLC of Thrive Lactation Center. This, of course, varies greatly amongst nursing parents. “Some people need closer to 10 or even 12 to send adequate signals to the brain to maintain supply,” she explains.

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, 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,” says Schooler. 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. 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. Common medications that could impact your supply include birth control pills containing estrogen (ask your provider for a breastfeeding-friendly version!) and cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, like Sudafed.

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,” adds Allyson Murphy, IBCLC 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 to 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 can be encouraged to do so more effectively. So if you are planning on pumping as a part of your regular nursing routine or are 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,” she says, “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.” Adjusting a baby’s latch could help you nurse more efficiently and without discomfort.

Do galactagogues 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. In short, 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,” notes Murphy. 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 hard and it doesn’t always come easy. As Murphy notes: “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.”

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