Breastfeeding is such a weird thing. You’d think because you’re a woman, and because your body is made to do it, it should come easy, but it’s just not the case for many women. You may have stumbled onto this blog post looking for ways to increase milk supply, and I will get to that, but let's start with some of the basics to make sure we're on the same page first!
Milk production works on a supply and demand system. The more milk required, the more your body will produce. Pretty cool that our bodies are made to adapt and respond in this way. The same way that the nutritional content of your milk will change as baby’s needs change, the amount you produce will be linked to the amount your baby is taking from you. This is an ever (even daily) changing process… you may have fluctuations that seem impossible to match, but soon enough, you and baby will be in a groove together, and you will begin to relax as you are able to trust yourself and your body to effectively meet the needs of your baby. So, if you are feeling like there’s a problem, and you’re not able to give baby “enough”, I strongly suggest assessing Why it is exactly that you feel this way.
As a nurse, I learned early on that you can’t always trust “the numbers”. Before you start freaking out that your patient has a pulse oxygen reading of 49%, first stop and take a look at your patient. Does he look like he’s short of breath? Is he blue? No? Ok, let’s do a little more investigation then… Perhaps it’s not the patient who is having a problem… perhaps it’s the measuring tool we are using? I like to encourage new moms to have this type of critical thinking when it comes to their babies.
I like to think of breastfeeding as more of an ART and less of a science.
Our culture places a heavy emphasis on standardizations and measurements. The growth charts and percentiles that physicians compare our babies to are only guidelines, and potentially flawed ones at that. Remember to first Stop and take a Look at your baby. Does she look undernourished or lethargic? Is she looking or acting like she could be dehydrated? No? Ok, then perhaps it is not a matter of a flawed supply, but, perhaps it is a flawed measuring mentality we are using?
I know it can be So very hard to separate emotion and attempt to think rationally when these poor little helpless creatures are depending on us for nutrition and survival, and we aren’t even sure of our capability to provide in the first place! Not to mention the constant reminders of our “inadequacy” when we go to the pediatrician to discover our precious baby had a 10% weight loss, and the guilt sets in… I have been there, dealing with a preemie, constantly praying for just an ounce to be gained, it was so hard to trust myself that I was providing adequately for my son. But it is important to remember the many variables that go into a determination that baby is not getting “enough”.
Top 10 Ways to Increase Milk Supply
Assess whether or not your Milk Supply is Actually Low.
First thing's first. Before you even get started, make sure you aren't defeating yourself by trying to increase your milk supply when there isn't even a problem. Always be sure to address concerns with your health practitioner, but here are a few things to consider when evaluating whether or not your milk supply needs a boost.
Is your baby consistently gaining weight after the first week? Keep in mind that many of the “rules” for infant weight gain are based on growth patterns of formula-fed babies, and may not apply to your breastfed baby.
Is your baby having at least six wet and two or more poopy diapers each day?
Does baby seems satisfied after feedings? This may mean that the baby spontaneously lets go from the breast, has a relaxed appearance, is sleepy and has limp arms and hands.
Are your breasts softer after feedings? This could imply that you are fully releasing your milk with each feeding.
Try Nursing in Different Positions.
I would suggest utilizing 2-3 positions every day. Not only is this helpful in draining milk from All of the ducts in your breasts (remember the supply & demand process), it also is helpful in preventing mastitis, plus, you may find that your baby actually likes different positions better as she grows. Along the same lines, it is also important to assess whether baby is latching properly. If she is not able to latch properly, then she will not be able to drain all the milk from the ducts, which will cause a negative response to the “demand”. If you are struggling with knowing whether you are using proper technique, it may also be helpful to reach out to a Le Leche League group or leader for support, or a lactation specialist at your local medical center.
Check for Lip/Tongue Tie
If baby is having trouble latching, your milk supply can suffer. One of the most common causes of latching difficulty is if baby has a lip or tongue tie.
Evaluate your Rest and Nutrition.
Being a new mommy is Hard work (did I already say that?), and you know what I realized… the dishes can wait. The dusting can wait. Heck, even a shower can wait… sometimes. What breastfeeding mommies need most is Rest, Hydration, and Good Nutrition. Although breastfeeding only requires roughly 500 extra calories a day, you need to make sure that those calories are coming from a good whole source. There is So much information on this that I cannot even begin to go there. If you are interested in nutrition for a breastfeeding mom, here is a post from the Weston A. Price Foundation to help direct you and offer nutritional recommendations that I personally agree with.
Have a “Nurse-In”.
Take 24-48 hours, get some good movies, or start a new tv show series on Netflix (I personally enjoyed The Office, Parks & Recreation, and Kyle XY ☺)… And then, it’s just like it sounds… like a Lock-in from your youth days, have a Nurse-in. Make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks, lots of water for hydration, and commit to nursing every 1-2 hours or so. Make it fun for yourself and baby… this does not have to be 24-48 hours of torture! Allow yourself to catch up on Instagram (ehem, I mean Sleep) in between feedings, and rather than focusing on the amount you are producing (those stinking numbers again), focus solely on the time you are bonding with baby and Jim Halpert 😉
Take a Warm Bath with Baby.
This was probably my most favorite thing to do when my son was very little. I found that the bath would relax both of us, and be prime time for encouraging nursing. The warm water also helps to release milk from the ducts in your breasts, and make it more easily available for baby. Skin-to-skin contact is so important for babies and helps to nurture a comfortable intimacy between the two of you. Definitely try this if you haven’t already!
Pump Between Feedings.
It may seem impractical, and frankly, impossible, but pumping between feedings or pumping one side while baby nurses on the other, could prove to be very beneficial… and remember, this is not for forever! It works to raise the demand, telling your body that baby is Very hungry, and thus, increase supply. I realize this is easier to suggest than to actually do, but even pumping ONE extra time a day in between feedings can help to increase your supply!
Try Some Herbs or Essential Oils.
The benefits of God-given herbs and essential oils never cease to amaze me. A Galactagogue is a substance or action that stimulates milk production. Here are a few Herbal Galactagogues to consider, and remember that galactagogues work best when used in conjunction with increased breast feeding or pumping time.
- Fenugreek – Fenugreek is the most popular herbal remedy used around the world for increasing the production of breast milk. Of note, supplementation with fenugreek can make your (or baby's) urine smell like maple syrup. Be sure to let your pediatrician know that you are supplementing with fenugreek as they could misdiagnose your child with “maple syrup urine disease” if they are unaware of a potential cause being supplementation. Learn more about fenugreek here.
- Fennel – Women have been using fennel to make more breast milk for centuries. (1) Fennel is believed to be a galactagogue, or a substance that increases breast milk. Fennel's reputation for enhancing breast milk is related to its natural estrogen-like properties. Learn more about fennel for breastfeeding here.
- Brewer's Yeast – Brewer's yeast can be taken in powder or tablet form, but powder can easily be added to smoothies. Of note, if you are prone to vaginal yeast infections, I recommend avoiding supplementation with brewer's yeast.
- Blessed Thistle – And, here's a fenugreek and blessed thistle supplement I would try.
- Essential Oils safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding
Please do your research before taking any of these things. Fenugreek, for example, can lower your blood sugar, so for diabetic moms, this may not be a safe option. As always, it is a good idea to discuss supplementation, herbal or otherwise, with your physician. Also, a side note, make sure the herbs you choose are from a reputable source, and are free from any pesticides or toxins.
I will also briefly mention that I have heard that a good stout beer can help to increase your milk supply. Although I tried this, and it seemed to produce beneficial results, there is still no definitive evidence for this. Here is an interesting study on the effects of beer for increasing milk supply. I personally never attempted to nurse or pump right after drinking, so maybe that would have affected the results I had in some way.
Again, proceed with caution 😉
Make Sure You are Not Defeating Yourself or Being Defeated…
There are some health conditions that may be working to decrease your supply, and exploring the option that there may be a hormonal imbalance (possibly Thyroid) or some other kind of condition like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), that being treated, may alleviate some of the side effects of an imbalance in your body. Antihistamines, Decongestants, and Diuretics are among the pharmaceutical-type drugs that could negatively affect your milk supply. Herbal supplements such as Peppermint, Sage, Oregano, & Jasmine may not be helping. Diet, Alcohol, Caffeine, Stress, and Lack of Sleep (I know) can also all negatively affect your milk supply. Bottom line is, if you’re beating your head against the wall trying to figure out why your supply isn’t increasing, it might be helpful to take a step back and reassess other things that could be causing a problem in the first place.
And finally, Don’t Beat Yourself Up! Celebrate the wins.
Breastfeeding is hard work, it’s okay to feel like you’re just not that into it sometimes… remember the benefits of breastfeeding for you and baby, and, it might even be helpful to write down a list of the Specific Benefits that breastfeeding gives to You and to Your Baby as a reminder. Seriously though, it’s not the end of the world if things don’t work out. The fight is worth it, but in the end, what matters most is a happy and healthy baby, and happy, healthy, and Sane Mama!☺
Celebrate even the seemingly small victories! You deserve a pat on the back and a big round of applause Mama!
When all else fails…
Unfortunately, despite all our best efforts, sometimes things don't work the way we want them to. I wish I had been aware of the fact that there are some really awesome alternatives to traditional store-bought formula when we were in need of the information. There are so many reasons why you should avoid the typical formulas you can buy or get free from your Pediatrician… but that's a whole ‘nother article! For right now, if you have found yourself in need of an alternative nutrition source for baby, check out these resources on the subject… (These links are just to wet your whistle, and get you thinking. There are so many options out there. If you are considering an alternative to traditional store-bought formula, please discuss with your child's pediatrician.)
Resources & Considerations regarding Baby Formula
- This is an interesting article on what new research has shown are the effects of formula related to metabolic stress and an increase in risk for later disease
- Recipes for homemade formula on the Weston A. Price Foundation site (If you are considering an alternative to traditional store-bought formula, please discuss with your child's pediatrician first.)
- Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon, is also an awesome resource for the more curious readers out there
- This one is focused on the concerns with Soy formula, from Sarah the The Healthy Home Economist
Natural & Organic Formula Recommendations
UPDATE 08/03/2021: I originally posted this article in 2013. Since then, things have change immensely with more natural formula options on the market. Here are a few I would use and recommend if I were in need right now. This list is not comprehensive, but is a good starting point.
- Earth's Best Organic Dairy Infant Powder Formula with Iron, Omega-3 DHA and Omega-6 ARA
- Earth's Best Organic Gentle Infant Powder Formula with Iron, Easy To Digest Proteins
- Burt's Bees Baby Organic Ultra Gentle Infant Formula with Iron
- Burt's Bees Baby Organic Sensitive Infant Formula with Iron
- Else Plant-Based Complete Nutrition Formula for Toddlers, 22 Oz., Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, Corn-Syrup Free, Gluten-Free, Non-GMO, Natural Ingredients, Vitamins and Minerals for 12 mo.+, Vegan, Organic
- Happy Baby Organics Infant Formula, Milk Based Powder with Iron Stage 2
P.S. If you are looking for some more breastfeeding resources and encouragement, I share my own personal breastfeeding journey here.