If you are nursing your baby and have a low milk supply and want to increase it, I have compiled a list of things that you can do. Before we get to the list, though, I would ask you this question: What makes you think your milk supply is really low? Many moms think they have a low milk supply when they really don’t. There are many things, such as amount of milk you pump and the feel of the breasts, that are not valid ways to determine low milk supply. If you don’t know by now, my favorite website for breastfeeding information is Kellymom. They have a great list of things that do NOT mean you have a low milk supply. I encourage you to read the list now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Now that you have that information, let me take this time to remind you that I am not a doctor nor in the medical field at all. Please consult your health care practitioner before trying any of the recommendations I list below. If you suspect a low milk supply you should contact a board certified lactation consultant or a La Leche League leader. I am simply a mom who has breastfed her child for 23 months now (and counting) without supplementing with a single drop of formula, and I want to help other breastfeeding moms, too.
Top Recommendations For Increasing Milk Supply
It comes down to a simple fact: the more milk that is removed from the breasts, the more will be produced.
- Nurse frequently: Since milk production is a supply and demand process, nursing, nursing, and more nursing is the biggest thing that will increase your supply. Aim to nurse every 1.5-2 hours during the day and every three hours at night. You could even try up to every 30 minutes during the day. If you tell your body you need more milk, your body will respond by making more milk. (And just a reminder, when you are nursing every two hours, it means two hours from start of feeding to start of feeding.)
- Skin to skin contact: If you can, take your baby to bed with you for a whole day or two and lay shirtless and just nurse frequently and rest. The physical proximity provided by skin to skin contact encourages baby to nurse frequently and therefore helps increase milk production.
- Offer both sides at each feeding: I would suggest nursing for at least 20 minutes on each side. Let the baby finish the first side and then offer the second side. I know when nursing you are supposed to watch the baby and not the clock, but sometimes sleepy babies stop nursing before they are finished and they just need to be encouraged to continue!
Nursing Strategies to Help Increase Supply
In addition to the nursing strategies mentioned above (frequent nursing, skin to skin contact, and offering both sides at a feeding) here are a few more nursing strategies you can try to hopefully increase your milk supply:
- Nurse longer: Let your baby finish one side before offering the other; don’t watch the clock or limit the feeding to a certain amount of time. This allows the baby to get more of the high-fat hindmilk.
- Switch nursing: The goal of switch nursing is for the baby to get more of the creamier hindmilk. Let the baby nurse on the first breast until sucking slows down and then move him to the other breast and encourage him to nurse actively again. When his sucking slows, move him back to the first breast and then finish the feeding on the other breast. You may need to change his diaper or burp him between switching sides to help keep him awake. For more information, visit Ask Dr. Sears.
- Double-nursing: After you’ve finished nursing your baby on both sides, hold him upright for 10-20 minutes to allow trapped gas bubbles to escape and thus make room for more milk. Then nurse him on both sides again. For more information, visit Ask Dr. Sears.
- Nurse at night: Prolactin is the hormone which stimulates milk production. Prolactin levels are higher at night and increase during sleep. This might be why some babies want to nurse at night; moms may make more milk at that time. If you nurse between 1am and 4am when the prolactin levels are higher it might help you surge faster.
- Pump while nursing: Pump one breast while he’s nursing on the other and then switch. When the feeding is over, double pump (pump both sides at once). Double pumping has been shown to increase prolactin levels.
- Power nurse: Put your baby to the breast for 5-7 minutes per side once an hour. Do it as many hours in a row as you can stand. After 24 hours you should notice a big difference in your supply. It might be a challenge if you’re busy, but it’s very effective and worth it.
- Massage: Massaging and stroking the breasts before nursing can help the milk flow. I have also heard of massaging castor oil on the breast.
- Relaxation and visualization: Relaxation and visualization techniques can help. While nursing, relax and softly stroke your baby. Imagine and visualize abundant milk, as much as an ocean, flowing from your breasts to your baby. When away from your baby and pumping, looking at a picture of your baby can help make the milk flow. I kept a few of my favorite pictures in my pump bag.
Other activities that increase prolactin levels are exercise and sexual intercourse. Of course if you are newly postpartum, your health care provider has probably advised you to avoid or reduce physical activity for a few weeks.
Kellymom.com also has an article on increasing breastmilk intake by the baby.
Try a Galactagogue
A galactagogue is a substance that increases milk production.
- Eat oatmeal: Although there is no scientific evidence regarding oatmeal and milk supply, many moms have seen an increase in their milk supply when having a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast every morning. One possible explanation is that low iron levels in moms can lead to decreased milk supply. Since oatmeal is high in iron it makes sense that it could possibly help increase milk production in some women. I have eaten a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast for years, so it was just part of my regular diet. I didn’t have too many supply issues and I think that eating oatmeal so frequently could have helped.
- Fenugreek: Fenugreek is one of the most common herbs taken to increase milk supply. You will probably notice an increase in milk production in 24-72 hours. You will also probably smell like maple syrup! Kellymom.com has great information about using fenugreek to increase milk supply.
- Alfalfa: Alfalfa is also commonly used to increase milk supply. Just a caution, alfalfa should not be used by people with lupus or other auto-immune disorders. See Kellymom.com for more information on alfalfa as a galactagogue.
- Blessed thistle: Blessed thistle is another commonly used galactagogue. See Kellymom.com for more information on blessed thistle.
- More Milk tincture: This liquid extract is made with certified organic galactagogue herbs (blessed thistle, nettle and fennel seed) and is available from motherlove.com.
- Organic Mother’s Milk Tea: You can find Mother’s Milk tea in many health food stores. Most brands contain fenugreek, fennel, nettle, and/or blessed thistle. It is considered a mild galactagogue.
- Homeopathic remedies: There are several homeopathic remedies that can help increase milk supply: Lactuca Virosa, Galega Off, Calc Phos, Urtica, Ricinus Comm. I suggest getting advice from a homeopathic doctor as they are trained to find the right remedy for your situation.
- Bach’s Rescue Remedy: This is a homeopathic remedy that helps trigger the letdown reflex. It can have a slight sedative effect, so use with caution.
- Lactation cookies: Don’t you love a reason to eat cookies? Here is a recipe for lactation cookies. Some of the ingredients might sound familiar to you by now: oats, brewer’s yeast, flaxseed meal.
Kellymom.com has a great list of many herbal galactagogues. As a reminder, you should research the risks and benefits of these herbs in order to make the best decision for your situation. If you need help you can contact a board certified lactation consultant.
There are also several prescription medications that can increase milk supply, although I would prefer to save that as an absolute last resort.
Take Care of Yourself
Your body is working very hard to produce milk for your baby and you need to give it all the resources it needs.
- Drink water: Be sure you are drinking enough water, at least half your weight in ounces.
- Eat a well balanced diet: Be sure you are eating when you are hungry. I know life as a mom is busy but you need to take care of your needs as well. I would also suggest making sure you are getting enough protein and eating healthy fats in your diet, which you should be doing anyway. Some examples are olive oil, mixed nuts, seeds, avocado, etc. Here are some more diet suggestions for pregnant and nursing mothers from the Weston A. Price website. I also found an article mentioning the great importance diet has on adequate milk production.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been shown to increase prolactin levels and therefore may increase milk production. Acupuncture could also be used to treat possible reasons for low milk supply, such as thyroid issues. I have used acupuncture myself (for different reasons) and can’t recommend it enough. It really is amazing how well it works for so many issues.
- Get adequate rest: As I mentioned before in my article Breastfeeding Tips: How to Prepare for Success, I know it’s hard to get enough rest as a new mom, especially if you have older children. But I can’t stress enough how important it is for you for many reasons – including nursing. Your milk-making hormones work more efficiently when you have reduced levels of stress hormones.
- Get help around house: Find someone to help you with household chores or older children. Now is the time to take people up on their offers to help you out. Have teenagers come over to play with your older children while you nurse your baby or rest. Have family or friends help with cooking, cleaning, or laundry.
- Slow down: There isn’t much that really needs to be done around the house. Cleaning can wait a bit. Birth announcements can wait a bit. If you are trying to do too much, you have permission to let go of everything but the basics. Let your spouse help as much as he can. If you make nursing your baby a priority, you will be able to establish, and maintain, a good milk supply.
Things to Avoid
There are several things that can hinder your efforts to increase milk supply:
- Formula supplements: Whenever your baby has a formula supplement, it’s telling your body you don’t need to make more milk. If it’s medically necessary to supplement with formula, try an alternative method that doesn’t involve artificial nipples (spoon, cup, or with a nursing supplementer).
- Pacifiers: All of baby’s sucking should be at the breast. Limit or stop pacifier use while encouraging baby to nurse more effectively.
- Early introduction to solid foods: If you are introducing solids to your baby, keep in mind that an increase in solids may mean a reduction in nursing frequency.
- Antihistamines and decongestants: If you can, avoid antihistamines and some decongestants.
- Low thyroid: You might want to get tested for low thyroid if the usual methods for increasing milk supply don’t work.
- Certain herbs: Kellymom.com has a list of herbs to avoid while breastfeeding. The list includes herbs that decrease supply as well as those can be harmful to mom or baby.
True low milk supply is very rare, possibly affecting 2-5% of women. Indeed, there could be an underlying health issue. Mobi Motherhood International has a website with great information about living with low milk supply and offers a few possible reasons for low supply.
I wish you all the best in your attempts to increase your milk supply. And congratulations on deciding to breastfeed your baby!
Wendy – Parenting Tips 365