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If you’re here, you’re probably wondering how to increase breastmilk supply. And while that can be a legitimate question and problem, most of the time it actually isn’t.
When we talk about milk supply, we often talk about “perceived insufficient milk supply” (PIMS), as many women don’t believe they’re producing enough milk to adequately feed their babies when, in reality, they actually do. For others, however, milk supply truly is an issue. An estimated 12-15% of women experience “disrupted lactation,” which includes the inability to produce enough breastmilk. So no matter what category you fall into, mama, we promise you this: you are not alone!
We’ve reached out to Melanie O’Reilly Rogers, a lactation professional, to get the down low on what you need to know about milk supply. In this article, we’ll help you figure out whether you <em>actually need to increase your milk supply</em>, and look at the difference between anecdotal advice and evidence-based ways of doing so.
In this article, Melanie will:
- Address common signs mamas THINK mean that their supply is low;
- Give the 2 actual signs that mean milk supply is low;
- Talk about other reasons you might want to increase your supply; and
- Give you 3 great ways to increase your milk supply naturally.
Do you need to increase your breastmilk supply?
There are a lot of signs that lead many new mothers to think their supply is low, but these alone aren’t necessarily good indicators. Those signs include:
- Fussy baby: Babies are generally fussy in the beginning. They’re still figuring out life! It doesn’t mean that baby is hungry.
- Baby “chugs” a bottle after a nursing session: Typically, a baby will drink a bottle if it is offered. It’s important that you pace feed bottles to avoid babies “chugging.”
- Low pump output: The pump is not your baby. What you pump is not indicative of what baby is getting, and can also vary greatly depending on your pump! Everyone will respond differently to each kind of pump, and it’s important to make sure you’re using it correctly. A lactation consultant can definitely help with that.
These issues alone are not signs that your supply is low.
Here are the 2 things you should look for to tell if your supply is enough:
- 6+ wet diapers in 24 hours
- Appropriate weight gain and not weight loss
We get it. Breastfeeding can feel overwhelming, and not knowing how much milk your baby is getting can be tough. But in terms of supply, these are the things that matter most. And the great thing is that these are two very simple things to watch.
In addition to diaper output and weight gain, pay attention to baby’s hunger cues (rooting, putting things in their mouth, restlessness, etc). Check out this post for a more in-depth explanation: Is my baby getting enough milk?
What To Do If Your Milk Supply is Good But Baby is Not Getting Enough Milk
While many moms think their supply is low because the baby isn’t getting enough milk, when in reality, there’s a different problem keeping baby from consuming enough calories despite adequate milk production.
Here are the main non-supply-related reasons your baby might not be getting enough milk:
- Baby’s latch: If your baby has a poor latch (due to being lazy, extra tired from jaundice, lip or tongue ties, or a newborn recessed chin), then you are not being “emptied” efficiently. A certified lactation consultant can give you personalized tips to improve baby’s latch!
- Not feeding enough: Sometimes baby doesn’t get enough milk because they aren’t being latched to the breast as frequently as they need to be. Pay careful attention to hunger cues to ensure you’re feeding baby adequately!
If you discover you haven’t been following hunger cues, let us reassure you, mama. You’re not alone! Babies can be hard to read and you and your little one are still learning together. Please don’t blame yourself!
Why would you need to increase your breastmilk supply?
There are a number of reasons to work on increasing your milk supply.
The most obvious, perhaps, is that you don’t produce enough milk to feed your baby. Looking at the issues we discussed above can help determine if this is you.
Another is to fill as many bottles you can as a pumping mom. Babies can be overfed via a bottle very easily.
Pro tip: practice pace feeding to avoid overfeeding your baby when feeding from a bottle.
Finally, many mamas want to increase their milk supply to build up a milk stash. Whether for a night out, going back to work, or just wanting a break from feeding, we totally understand wanting to create a freezer stash.
If you’re going back to work, remember that you only need enough for a day or 2 and what baby is eating now is what you’ll be pumping when you’re away!
To create a stash, build in one pumping session before the baby’s longest stretch of sleep. This will also help if you’re wanting your husband to help with breastfeeding. More than that could lead to oversupply, which trust me (and keep reading), is not the dream you may think it is.
How to Increase Breastmilk Supply
Once you’ve figured out that yes, increasing supply is necessary, you will probably find lots of information on ways to increase breastmilk supply.
There’s a reason that a common Google search is “What foods help produce breast milk?” Nursing mothers want the answers to these questions!
1. Power Pump
Add a power pumping session or 2 to your day. Power pumping mimics a cluster feeding baby and tells your body that you need more milk.
To power pump, pump for 20 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, pump for 10 minutes.
People often ask, “How can I increase my milk supply quickly?” Power pumping, just like any other reliable method, isn’t going to yield more milk right away. But it is going to tell your body that you need more milk, so your body will start producing it. For some people it takes 2 days, for some people it can take 2 weeks. Consistency and persistence is key here!
If you’re power-pumping, it’s important to make sure your pump parts are working correctly and you’re pumping correctly with your modes on your pump. You should be starting with short, quick sucks to mimic your baby. Then, when you get a letdown, switch to the long, deep sucks. When your milk stops flowing, switch back to the short, quick sucks and repeat.
2. Latch, latch, latch
Some moms suggest going on a “nursing vacation.”
This means you lock yourself in your room with your baby for a day or 2 and just keep baby latched and engage in a lot of skin to skin contact. Skin to skin and frequent latching is known to help with milk supply because it produces oxytocin- as I’ve said, it’s a supply and demand system.
3. Eat Foods to Increase Milk Supply
Many moms swear by foods to increase milk supply. Commonly recommended foods include:
The research on these methods isn’t as evident as we’d like it to be, but there is evidence to suggest that psychological benefit of consuming these foods benefits milk supply, whether or not the actual product has an effect.
This is a tricky one, but we’ll talk you through the details. Many people suggest drinking more fluids to improve milk supply, specifically recommending products like:
We’re keeping this on the list of things to do to increase breastmilk supply for one reason only: most of us don’t hydrate properly!
Here’s what the science says–extra hydration beyond what the mother needs normally does not boost milk supply. BUT, failure to hydrate properly can decrease supply. Since most of us are not adequately hydrated to begin with, we think monitoring hydration is a good tip for anyone who isn’t already keeping up with good water intake.
5. Nurse on Both Sides
Some moms like to fully drain one side before switching while feeding, but that’s actually a recommended method for dealing with breastmilk oversupply.
To stimulate milk production, you want to empty your breasts as much as possible. Be sure each feeding removes milk from both breasts so that both breasts will get the memo it’s time to make more milk!
What questions do you have about your body’s breastmilk supply? Let us know in the comments below!
Thank you to Melanie O’Reilly-Rogers for consulting on this article and providing graphics. Melanie is deep into the training to become a breastfeeding counselor. She blogs at mostlyundercontrol.com about breastfeeding, twin parenting, early childhood activities at home, meal planning, and just general parenting chaos. She’s a simple mom who is pretty easy to please. In her spare time (i.e. when the kids go to bed), she can be found on her couch eating lots of ice cream with no guilt and watching too much TV with her husband.
Other Breastfeeding Articles
- Breast milk oversupply
- Dairy free breastfeeding
- Exclusively pumping tips
- How to choose a breast pump
- The best nursing pajamas
- Pumping at work
- Best breast pumps for working moms
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.