Is your supply low?
Am I making enough milk? Many moms worry that they’re not producing enough milk for their baby. This can be very concerning, but is your supply actually low? If you feel like you’re not producing enough breast milk, try to seek advice early on. Very few women have medical conditions that prevent them from producing enough milk, and a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist can be a great source of advice.
Potential causes for low breast milk supply
- breast surgery or trauma
- excessive bleeding during childbirth
- hormonal imbalance (low prolactin)
- mammary hypoplasia (not enough mammary glands in the breast tissue)
- using nipple shields
- when the baby has a lip tie or tongue tie (ankyloglossia)
- drinking alcohol
How to increase breast milk supply
Proven techniques to increase breast milk
When you have a baby and are trying to breastfeed, two things happen: your baby learns how to eat, and your breasts learn how much milk to produce. This might sound strange, but some women produce too much and some produce too little at first. This will balance out as your baby nurses more, through a supply-and-demand process. Each time milk is removed from your breasts (by feeding, expressing, or pumping), the breasts make more. Let’s take a look at some proven ways to increase breast milk.
1. Feed your baby more
This is an easy way to increase breast milk production. The more often your baby nurses and the more milk your baby drinks, the more your breasts will produce. This is supply and demand.
2. Feed your baby from both breasts
Each time you feed your baby, be sure to nurse on each breast. This will ensure milk production in both breasts and alleviate discomfort while you wait for your baby to nurse again.
3. Latch your baby properly
When babies are very young or very small, they may have difficulty latching on properly. Good latching is essential for babies to nurse properly and to increase breast milk production.
When a baby latches on correctly, they take the full nipple and as much of the lower portion of the areola (the area around the nipple) as possible in their mouth. Proper baby positioning is important too. When the baby is not well positioned, breastfeeding can cause some pain. Try positioning your baby so they are tummy to tummy with you — a pillow can help support them.
Your baby’s mouth needs to be fully open with their head tilted back slightly to receive the breast. They may need some help finding the nipple. You can help out by rubbing your nipple on their nose or middle of their upper lip, encouraging them to open their mouth.
Your baby might also need help taking the nipple into their mouth. You can help by grasping your breast on either side behind the areola and holding your hand in a “C” or “U” shape. This allows the baby to latch on and doesn’t block their nose.
4. Keep your baby awake while feeding
You may wonder how to increase breast milk production when your baby keeps falling asleep. To keep your baby awake while nursing, try partially undressing them, tickling their feet, rubbing their cheek, or tousling their hair. You can even try changing their diaper to wake them up and then resuming nursing.
5. Stimulate your breasts
Nipple stimulation can also help increase your breast milk. This is especially helpful if you are having trouble with the “let-down reflex,” which releases the milk into your nipple. By stimulating the nipples, you are signaling to your body to release prolactin and produce more milk.
You can also hand-express milk to increase breast milk production. This can be done between feedings or just before your baby nurses. An added benefit is that breast massage also helps prevent blocked milk ducts and mastitis.
6. Make healthy lifestyle changes
It’s important to get proper nutrition and continue taking care of your own body after childbirth. It takes at least 500 calories a day to produce breast milk. Make sure to eat plenty of healthy food so you can produce quality breast milk for your baby’s nutritional needs.
Protein-rich foods (70–75 grams per day) and a variety of fruits and vegetables are important in a balanced diet. Try to avoid empty calories that don’t provide much nutrition. Drink plenty of fluids, and stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco products. Exercise is also important. It will help boost your energy and reduce stress. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you might need to add supplements or vitamins to increase breast milk.
7. Rest more
Rest is essential to increase breast milk. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body can’t function properly. Lack of sleep can cause a decrease in milk production.
Your body has been through a lot of physical and hormonal changes during and after childbirth, and it can take a toll. When you breastfeed, you will be up frequently during the night, and it might take a while for your baby to get full. When your baby is young, try to sleep when they sleep.
8. Use a breast pump
Using a breast pump is one of the most effective ways to increase breast milk. It stimulates your breasts and mimics the action of a nursing baby. Many health insurance plans will even cover the cost of a pump for breastfeeding moms. A lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist can show you how to use one. This can even be done before you go home from the hospital or birthing center.
Foods to increase your breast milk
There are many foods that support good milk production. Some of these include:
- sweet potatoes
- spinach and other dark-green leafy vegetables
- sesame seeds
- millet, barley, and oats
- brown rice
- milk products
- healthy fats and oils
- water and juices
Herbs to increase your breast milk
Many breastfeeding experts suggest choosing herbs that stimulate mammary growth and provide hormonal support. Some of the most common herbs to increase breast milk include:
- blessed thistle
- stinging nettle
- wild asparagus
Are there any pills to increase breast milk?
There is medicine to increase breast milk, including prescription drugs such as domperidone (Motilium), metoclopramide (Reglan), and sulpiride (Eglonyl, Dolmatil, Sulpitil, Sulparex, and Equemote).
These medications are used to increase milk supply. They work by blocking dopamine (a prolactin inhibitor), which results in an increase in prolactin (the hormone that triggers milk production). These medications are commonly used in different parts of the world, but they don’t work for everyone and do have known side effects. Before you start taking any medications or herbs, make sure to talk to your doctor.
Things you should avoid to increase your breast milk
Avoid herbs that can decrease your milk supply, such as parsley, sage, and peppermint (in large quantities). Many experienced moms will tell you to also avoid garlic, onions, and spicy foods, which some believe discourage babies from nursing. Anything that gives you gas or indigestion may affect your baby as well.
Some medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, and others should be avoided. Your healthcare provider or your baby’s pediatrician can go over these with you and provide a list of what you can and cannot take. If you need to take a medication for a serious medical condition, your doctor may suggest that you stop breastfeeding for a while. You might need to pump and discard your milk in that case.
Breastfeeding is a natural way to bond with your baby. It also provides your baby with all of their nutritional needs and gives them immune protection they need in early life. Studies have shown that breastfeeding also benefits the mom, helping the uterus return to its non-pregnancy state more quickly.
If you’re having a lot of anxiety about low breast milk production, we suggest that you reach out to a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist. These experts can determine if you do need help with your milk supply and find ways to address the issue.