Breastfeeding is based on supply and demand, and sometimes we run into problems. The root cause varies, from hormonal imbalance, to glandular tissue issues, to an incorrect latch. And while a lactation consultant can help with many of those inherent issues, sometimes your supply seems fine, then suddenly drops. What gives? Your baby may be sleeping more or beginning to eat solid food, or maybe you’ve just returned to work.
At this point many moms give up—in fact, only 36 percent of babies are breastfed through six months. But you can get through this! Here are some things you can do as your body adjusts to baby’s new demands for milk.
How to Increase Milk Supply When Nothing’s Working
Let’s start with things that can super-charge your milk supply if you need a boost. For an overview of the basics, skip to the bottom of this article.
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.
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.
Think like a cow—seriously! Cows produce more milk than almost any other animal on the planet. Their diets consist of greens and grains. Make it a goal to reach the following nutritional thresholds every day:
- Grains like oatmeal, barley, millet, and quinoa. Eat at least one cup of whole grains per day.
- Spices like fennel, ginger, turmeric, and Brewer’s Yeast. Include at least 1 teaspoon of these spices in each meal, for a total of approximately 1 tablespoon per day.
- Nuts and seeds like flaxseed, almonds, and sesame seeds. Eat at least two tablespoons of nuts and seeds per day.
Note: My lactation cookies contain many of these pro-milk foods, which makes them very effective in increasing milk supply.
Of course, you also want to 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.
- Teas like Mother’s Milk tea, which contains the herb fenugreek (keep in mind fenugreek can actually reduce production in some women—introduce this herb slowly) and moringa powder. Drink 1-2 cups per day.
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, particularly during ovulation and/or menstruation. 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.
- 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.
How to Increase Milk Supply When All Else Fails
If you’re really struggling with supply, these strategies serve as a last resort.
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.
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.
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How to Increase Milk Supply Naturally: The Basics
Remember: A breastfeeding relationship is based on a foundation of supply and demand. Be sure you’re also following the guidelines below:
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 and bottles
Pacifiers and bottles not only satisfy baby’s oral stimulation, but can also reduce hunger, making baby less likely to nurse.
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.
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:
Still Looking for Breastfeeding Help?
Breastfeeding Gets Easier (So Stick With It!) Cheat Sheet