Breastfeeding has long been known to be the most beneficial way to feed your newborn baby, and moms are encouraged to continue nursing for as long as they are able to after their baby is born. Current recommendations from the World Health Organization suggest a baby should be breastfed exclusively for six months (i.e. no other liquids or solids) and then breastfeeding should continue along with solid foods until the two year mark, or beyond if mom and baby are comfortable.
On this site, we are big believers in the Fed is Best mentality, and we would never discourage anyone who chooses to use formula for any reason, either through personal choice or due to circumstances beyond their own control. But for any mother who finds herself needing or wanting to breastfeed and needs to increase milk production, we have some handy tips to help you along.
How quickly can you increase milk supply?
It usually takes around 3 – 5 days for your milk supply to increase once you start implementing these tips. For some women it may be quicker, and for some it may be slightly longer, but the truth is that to increase milk production, you will have to keep demanding it of your body. Consistency is key here.
How do I know if my milk supply is low?
There are many signs to look for to see if your baby is getting enough milk. For instance, poor weight gain, fewer wet diapers, a dry mouth or darker urine are all signs that your baby is not getting enough to eat.
However, this isn’t necessarily indicative of low milk supply. It could mean your baby is having trouble latching or has a lip or tongue tie that makes it hard to feed. If your baby is showing signs like these, get them checked out by a doctor before worrying about your supply, as it’s more likely that there is an issue on their end than on yours.
What causes low milk supply?
There can be many reasons for low milk supply in women, and almost all of them can be overcome. Let’s discuss a few of them now.
- Insufficient Glandular Tissue – This basically means that your breasts don’t have enough milk ducts. And while pregnancy does increase this tissue, it’s sometimes not enough. That said, there are prescription medications that can help maximize your milk production, and the act of breastfeeding itself will help boost your supply, as well. And when it comes to supply, the more you continue to try, the more your body will produce. The likelihood, though, is that you will have to supplement with formula.
- Hormonal Problems – For some women, certain medical issues can cause problems breastfeeding. Conditions like hypertension, diabetes, polycystic ovaries or low or high thyroid can stop hormonal signals reaching the breasts and allowing milk production to occur. In some cases, treatment of the condition will be helpful, and a visit to a lactation consultant is a great place to start to see how you might best boost milk production.
- Previous Breast Surgery – If you’ve ever had a breast reduction or implants or any other type of breast surgery, you may have damaged your milk ducts. Or, in some cases, you may have even severed your nipple from your breast completely – meaning you can’t breastfeed at all. It’s always best to discuss your case with a doctor beforehand so you know what to expect. These days many women find they can breastfeed, though supply may be lower than normal.
- Hormonal Birth Control – Some women choose to use birth control very quickly after giving birth so that they do not run the risk of getting pregnant again. This can cause a drop in milk production – especially if your baby is under four months old. You may need to consider stopping or switching medications and even getting extra supplements to get your supply back up!
Do soft breasts mean no milk?
In the first days and weeks after our babies are born, our breasts can become extremely firm and even painful to touch, signalling they are very full of milk. It’s one of the ways we know it’s time to feed our babies – a kind of natural alarm clock. So we begin to associate softer breasts with empty breasts.
That said, after a certain amount of time – somewhere around the two to three month mark – our bodies have kind of figured out how much milk we need and only make enough to fulfill our baby’s quota. Our breasts stop becoming hard and painful and are usually pretty normal, unless we miss a feed.
The more time that passes, the softer our breasts become because our bodies are so in tune with our little one, and our milk production is generally sufficient for our needs and no overproduction occurs. So in a nutshell, no – soft breasts do not mean no milk.
Do breasts need time to refill?
The short answer is no. Breasts are never really empty. They are constantly producing. Before, during and after your baby is feeding, your body is still producing milk. In fact, if you try and wait too long between feedings, it will send a signal to your body to stop making milk because it thinks you don’t need it as much. The key to making more milk is to keep demanding it from your body!
Okay, so now that we know a little more about how breastfeeding really works, let’s talk about how to boost milk production. There are some tried and true ways to naturally increase breast milk that can be implemented right away and can give you results fairly quickly.
A fair warning, though – nothing is going to fix it if you have a physical barrier preventing you from breastfeeding. As mentioned above, if you have a lack of glandular tissue, an injury, or an untreated medical condition that inhibits your milk production, then these methods won’t be able to fix the issues. But remember that there are other ways to bond with your baby that don’t involve breastfeeding, and formula is absolutely incredible these days.
How to increase your milk supply naturally
Nurse On Demand
If you’re finding your milk supply dwindling, and you want to have an immediate improvement, one of the very best ways to get the flood gates to open is to start feeding on demand. As soon as your baby even makes the first suggestion of being fussy, put them to the breast. While many mothers try to stick to a feeding schedule, nursing on demand can be the best way to boost milk supply in a meaningful way without doing anything else.
Pump It Up
If nursing on demand isn’t working, or you really want to keep your baby on their schedule, give the pump a try. It’s not quite as good at getting the milk flowing as a baby is, but it can help to stimulate production if used regularly. Try using it after every feed to completely empty both breasts and encourage your body to increase milk supply. If you’re already pumping, try doing it more often for a few days and see if you notice a change.
Make Lactation Cookies
Lactation cookies can be an incredible help for helping milk production. Anecdotally many women swear by them, shouting from the rooftops that they work like magic! Try making these Easy No Bake Lactation Cookies that have gone CRAZY on Pinterest. Or this Chocolate Chip Cookie version that is a little more like a normal cookie to ease you into it. Or if you don’t want to make your own, you can have them sent straight to your front door.
Brew Lactation Tea
Lactation tea is a similar idea to lactation cookies, in that it’s an easy way to fill your body with ingredients that have been proven to help boost milk production. And you can do it from anywhere. Just buy your favorite, brew it up and drink it down. What I love about it is that it’s a nice soothing drink that you can feel good about. It’s yummy, it’s warm, and even if it does nothing else for you, it’s given you a sense of peace. But as with the cookies, some mamas absolutely swear by it, saying it has helped them to continue their breastfeeding journeys long past when they thought they’d have to quit.
One of the worst thing about breastfeeding is that it can make you thirsty all of the time. This is because it takes quite a lot of hydration to make milk. By keeping yourself thoroughly hydrated at all times, you’re going to be able to make the job easier. Keep a large water bottle with you at all times so you can take a swig often. You can even fill it with iced lactation tea if you enjoy the taste. Something like Gatorade is also nice, as it’s full of electrolytes and can help replenish your body with anything you’ve lost through nursing.
Get Some R&R
Believe it or not, breastfeeding burns a lot of calories and is hard on your body. Getting a good amount of rest and relaxation is pivotal to producing not just enough milk, but good quality milk. Remember to sleep well and to sit down and put your feet up a few times a day.
I know it can be difficult – especially if you’ve got other children to deal with or if you are a working mother. But practicing self care and keeping stress to a minimum can help in boosting milk production as much as anything else.
Galactogogues are supplements such as Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle and Brewer’s Yeast, which coincidentally are ingredients often found in lactation cookies and teas. These are natural herbs and other things that have been shown to help increase milk supply when used together or by themselves.
Fenugreek can be a tricky one, as some women have reported mixed results with it. But a good many have found it to have amazing properties in boosting production.
Breast massage during breastfeeding or pumping can help to remove more milk than if you were to do nothing. It helps to compress the breast and fully empty it, which signals the body to make more milk. Boosting milk production is always going to come back to reminding the body that it needs to produce more, and this is a handy way to do this.
Feed Fully on Both Sides
Remember to feed from both breasts, emptying them out as often as possible. If you have a sleepy baby who doesn’t always finish their meal, try to awaken them by switching between breasts. Encourage them to drink again and keep offering them milk. If they do not finish, remember to use your pump.
Skin to Skin
Skin to skin contact is a great way to encourage milk production, as it increases the levels of oxytocin – the hormone responsible for milk ejection. Oxytocin is actually nicknamed “the love hormone,” and skin to skin contact can make sure you are giving yourself a better chance of a higher milk volume.
Take Your Vitamins
The AAP recommends Calcium, Vitamin D, Iron, and Folic Acid to breastfeeding mothers. Like in pregnancy, your baby is getting all of its nutrients from you, so consider carefully everything you put in your mouth.
See a Lactation Consultant
At the end of the day, there are professionals out there who know exactly how lactation works and every trick that you can use to boost milk supply naturally and safely. They can guide you through it every step of the way and offer tips to keep you encouraged on your breastfeeding journey. Lactation Consultants can sometimes seem like a new age woo woo concept, but in truth, they are an amazing resource for new moms to lean on at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.
Whatever your situation, breastfeeding is going to be different for everyone. For some it comes easily, and for others it is an uphill battle all the way. Some women will make it a few days, some a few months, some will go for years. But remember that there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to feeding your baby. What is important is that you do what is best for your situation right now.
I think it’s also important to remember that breastfeeding experiences don’t just differ between person to person, but from pregnancy to pregnancy. A mom who may not have been able to breastfeed with her first child may find that her second or third comes much easier.
If breastfeeding is something you’d like to pursue, don’t let fear of a low supply be something that stops you from trying. Be prepared, keep a level head, and know that you have options.