Breastfeeding is the optimal food for baby and—bonus!—it has surprising benefits for mama, too. But what happens when you can’t produce enough milk? Is there a way to increase milk supply naturally?
Though there’s no one secret formula that works for everyone, there are absolutely ways to increase your milk supply. Just remember that building a healthy milk supply takes time and patience. Stick with it, mama—breastfeeding does get easier.
How to Increase Milk Supply Naturally 101
Nurse, nurse, nurse…
There’s nothing that can increase milk supply like your baby’s suckling. You see, breast milk creation is all about supply and demand, and it’s a tightly regulated system.
Don’t worry if your breasts don’t feel full or think baby isn’t getting much milk, the sucking reflex will help stimulate more milk in the long run. So, anytime you can, bring your baby to the breast and let him nurse, nurse, nurse.
When you do nurse, go skin-to-skin. Take off your shirt and bra and keep baby in just a diaper. Wrap a blanket around the two of you and nurse away.
This practice is not only incredibly bonding for mama and baby, it also helps release more of the hormones that produce milk, as well as the milk ejector hormones. Continue this practice during nap time, bedtime, and throughout night.
Put no time limit on nursing sessions
If you are struggling with supply, it’s best not to schedule feedings or limit how much time baby is on each breast. Try to give baby both breasts during each feeding for more overall production. Take a “nursing vacation,” and spend the weekend in bed with baby, nursing as much as possible.
Don’t use pacifiers, bottles, or food
These not only satisfy the oral stimulation, but can also reduce hunger, making baby less likely to nurse. Talk to your doctor but it’s best to only limit solid food if your baby is less than 6 months and he/she is at a healthy weight.
Get enough sleep and stay relaxed
Easier said than done with a newborn, but try as best you can. Studies show that mothers produce more milk and have a better milk letdown when they are calm and relaxed.
- Nap when baby naps.
- If you can, get a babysitter, neighbor or family member to help out.
- Cancel or eliminate too many outside activities and keep things simple.
- Order takeout or ask someone else to cook a nutritious meal.
- Listen to tranquil music, think of flowing streams and trust that you can and will successfully nurse your baby.
Make sure latch is right
If your baby can’t efficiently drain the breast, you may have problems with supply since the breast isn’t stimulated enough. It can be as simple as correcting a bad latch or addressing any anatomical issues that are preventing a good latch from a baby being lip tied, tongue tied, or mama having inverted nipples.
The good news is most of these issues can be corrected, so baby and mom can breastfeed successfully. If you’re having any issues in this department, it’s best to see a lactation consultant or seek out your local La Leche League chapter.
For a sleepy baby that falls asleep before they reach the second breast, stop her a few minutes into nursing and switch her to the other side. By doing so, you have a good shot at keeping her awake to feed more. Keep switching back and forth when you notice baby starting to dose off until breasts are drained.
You can also double feed, which is to nurse, take a break by burping baby, and then place her back on for another feed at both breasts. By taking the burping break, you are releasing gas bubbles in her stomach to allow more room for milk. When baby takes more milk, there’s a greater demand, which signals your body to increase milk supply.
How to Increase Milk Supply When Nothing’s Working
Be sure to drink a lot of liquids. I know we hear this all the time but it really does makes a difference. Shoot for at least 12 eight-ounce glasses a day, or drink to thirst.
Be sure you are eating enough to keep up with the demands of nursing. Moms who are exclusively breastfeeding need at least 500 more calories per day. Many moms are also able to boost supply by incorporating galactagogues into their diet.
- Grains like oatmeal, barley, millet, and quinoa.
- Spices like fennel, ginger, turmeric, and Brewer’s Yeast.
- Nuts and seeds like flaxseed, almonds, and sesame seeds.
- Teas like Mother’s Milk tea, which contains the herb fenugreek and moringa powder.
Note: My lactation cookies contain many of these pro-milk foods, which makes them very effective in increasing milk supply.
Take some helpful supplements
- Fenugreek is one of the most popular herbal supplements to boost supply. Though research supports this, anecdotally, some mother’s experience the opposite effect. When introducing fenugreek, go slow to see if it works for you. Check out my post on fenugreek for more information.
- Brewer’s yeast. Though there isn’t much scientific data to support Brewer’s Yeast as a galactagogue, it’s a healthy supplement that may moms swear by. It’s full of protein, iron (something breast milk is low in), as well as B vitamins.
- Green powders are great galactagogues due to their high calcium content and alkalinizing effects.
- Calcium. According to KellyMom, low calcium stores can hinder milk production. Try a calcium/magnesium supplement between 500 and 1500 mg.
- Blessed thistle. This herbal supplement works best when combined with Fenugreek. Take up to three capsules three times per day.
- Alfalfa is a natural milk booster and some say it also works best in conjunction with fenugreek.
- Legendairy supplements. Because our bodies all respond differently to different herbs, I love this variety pack. It features three different herbal blends, so you can figure out what works best for you. The Pump Princess has really worked for me.
Pumping can be a great short-term way to keep your breasts stimulated and producing more milk. I know from experience that consistent pumping really works. (Here’s how you can get a free breast pump.)
Pump after feedings
Pump right after a feeding until all of your milk drains from both breasts, then continue for an additional five minutes. If there is no milk from the beginning, just keep pumping—the stimulation will still help. Aim for 10 minutes on each breast. As an FYI, milk production tends to be highest between the hours of 2 and 5 a.m., so you may want to set an alarm and pump during this time as well.
Try power pumping
You can also try power pumping, a natural way to mimic cluster feeding with a breast pump. Check out this post for a special power pumping schedule.
As a very last resort, you can talk to your doctor about prescription medication to boost supply. According to KellyMom, your doctor may prescribe medications like Metoclopramide (Reglan), Domperidone (Motilium), and sulpiride (Eglonyl, Dolmatil, Sulpitil, Sulparex, Equemote) to increase prolactin levels.
It’s important to note that, although they can help, they do have potential side effects, including but not limited to severe depression, diarrhea, and nausea.
Breastfeeding Is Hard, But You Got This!
When we aren’t producing enough breast milk, our first inclination is to panic, but that’s the last thing we want to do. Stress can deplete milk supply more than anything else. (Here are some surprising ways to reduce your stress levels.) Breathe deeply and remember that everything will be OK. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that baby is fed.
If you’re still struggling, consider:
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