How to Increase Milk Supply
The Breastfeeding Myth
When a woman becomes pregnant and decides she will breastfeed her baby, there is the assumption that breastfeeding will just happen. Beyond the initial concerns of whether breastfeeding will be painful, most women don’t think much about whether breastfeeding will be easy or if they will produce enough breast milk.
While nearly all women have some sort of breastfeeding challenges in the beginning, most have the ability to produce plenty of milk for their baby. Regardless of what the data says, concerns about milk supply can be an isolating, frustrating and emotional time.
How to Determine If You Are Producing Enough Breast Milk
It can be difficult to know if you are producing enough milk. Everyone seems to have their opinion on how to measure the quantity. According to womenshealth.gov and americanpregnancy.org, there are several signs to look for to see if your baby is getting what he or she needs for optimal growth and development:
- Your baby wets around 6 diapers per day with clear or pale yellow urine that is not dark yellow or orange
- About 3 bowel movements per day that are soft to loose in texture
- Your baby’s cheeks are full while feeding rather than sucked in
- Your baby switches between short sleeping periods and wakeful, alert periods
- Your baby releases on his or her own from your breast or falls asleep and releases
- Your baby is satisfied and content after feedings
- You can see/hear your baby swallowing during feedings
- Your breasts may feel sore after feeding
- Your breasts feel soft, not hard, after feeding
Beyond these signs, your baby’s weight can offer helpful clues. Up to 3 months old, a baby typically gains around 1 ounce of weight per day after the initial weight loss they may experience in the first few days of life. It is important to have the baby’s pediatrician check your baby’s weight on the same scale each time since scales can range by several ounces.
Some women buy a baby scale and weigh their baby before and immediately after breastfeeding to calculate how many ounces of fluid entered the baby’s body. Whether this is an accurate method, however, is up for debate. The World Health Organization considers test weighing a good measure of breastmilk intake, yet a scientific study was conducted in 2006 to test this technique. While the study found the mean difference between weight change and actual milk intake was accurate, the precision of the test weighing was poor. The test concluded, “Test weighing is an imprecise method for assessing milk intake in young infants. This is probably because infant weighing scales are not sensitive enough to pick up small changes in an infant’s weight after feeding.”
Mom Factors that Can Decrease Milk Supply
Women produce differing amounts of breast milk amongst themselves as well as from day to day. Many things can cause a decrease in milk supply. Working with a certified lactation consultant and your doctor is always recommended, however, there are several common factors that can contribute to lower milk production.
As a new mom, a full-night’s sleep is often hard to come by. Postpartum fatigue is one of the most common complaints and is a major factor in breast milk production. While eight hours of sleep may be several months off, moms of newborns should try to take advantage of any opportunities to nap during the day.
You should seek a doctor’s help whenever you feel ill, lethargic or depressed. Your doctor can run simple tests to make sure you don’t have an infection, you aren’t anemic and your thyroid isn’t underworking. They can also talk with you about common depression symptoms and treatments. All of these issues can directly contribute to lower milk supply but can be treated. If you are placed on any medications, be sure to talk with your doctor about whether the medication will pass through to your baby via your breast milk.
If you become pregnant while you are still breastfeeding, you may experience a dip in milk production. Hormones required to sustain a pregnancy can often negatively impact your ability to produce enough breast milk throughout the pregnancy. You may need to supplement with baby formula or consider stopping breastfeeding altogether. Talk with your doctor and the baby’s pediatrician to determine what is best for you and your baby.
Just as your diet affects your health, size and mood, it can also impact your breast milk supply. Typically, however, it is more of a hydration issue than it is a nutrient inadequacy. Your milk supply can decrease when you are dehydrated, so be sure you are drinking adequate amounts of water throughout the day. Follow these tips from Livestrong to hydrate the right way.
Surprisingly, eating an excessive amounts of certain herbs and spices can result in a drop in your breastmilk supply. Peppermint and sage are the most common contributors, but other herbs to avoid include parsley, oregano, jasmine and yarrow.
Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can all interrupt the let-down reflex stimulated by the oxytocin hormone. It is recommended that these items be avoided or greatly reduced when breastfeeding.
Certain medications can impact your breastmilk production. Decongestants and allergy medications, such as pseudoephedrine, not only dries up your nasal passages, but they can also dry up your breastmilk.
Birth control pills, specifically the estrogen in them, has been known to decrease breast milk supply as well. Talk with your doctor about alternative forms of contraception.
Baby Factors that Can Decrease Milk Supply
The quantity of breast milk produced can be directly linked to the demand placed on the breast. If the baby is not positioned correctly, is not latched onto the nipple properly, or is competing with a nipple shield, the breast may be insufficiently stimulated. Similarly, if you aren’t nursing frequently enough, there may not be adequate demand on the breast. Experts say the more your baby nurses, the more milk your body makes. You should nurse whenever your baby is hungry for as long as he or she wants in the first few weeks of life. This can help establish a healthy amount of breast milk.
Work with a certified lactation consultant as long as necessary until you achieve optimal breastfeeding practices. Sometimes, a simple adjustment can make all of the difference. Be patient and know most of these issues are easily fixed with proper advisement by an expert.
Ways to Increase Milk Supply
There are many ways to increase milk supply. The first step is to know if you are actually low on milk. If you and your lactation consultant and/or pediatrician believe your baby is not getting enough milk, the following tips can be helpful for many women.
Foods to Increase Milk Supply
Certain foods can be highly effective in increasing breast milk supply. There are several foods to eat while breastfeeding to increase milk supply. The most common foods include:
Oats are perhaps the most common lactogenic food. It is believed that the high iron content in oats is partly at play. Oats are also rich in zinc, manganese, calcium and fiber. They contain B vitamins as well, which are known to help increase energy, improve mood, and decrease anxiety and depression. The saponins, plant estrogens and beta-glucan found in oats have been found to either stimulate milk glands or raise hormones related to breast milk production.
Brewer’s yeast is a good source of iron, chromium, selenium and B vitamins which all increase energy and combat the baby blues. It has been used for centuries as a galactagogue, helping many moms see an increase in their milk supply.
Black Sesame Seeds
Black sesame seeds are a rich source of calcium and contain estrogen-like plant properties. Many breastfeeding mothers eat them to increase milk supply.
Nuts are high in essential minerals, such as iron, calcium and zinc, as well as vitamins K and B. They contain high amounts of essential fatty acids and protein, but are also one of the most widely used lactogenic foods in the world, commonly used in traditional ayurvedic medicine.
Best Practices to Increase Milk Supply
Just as there are several factors that contribute to a decrease in milk production, those same factors play a role in increasing milk supply. Diet is just one element. Ensuring your baby is properly positioned and latched to your breast is critical to adequately stimulate and drain the breast. Keeping your baby awake for a full feeding can also help ensure each breast is being drained.
Nursing as often as your baby wants to nurse can establish good milk supply early on. If your baby is not nursing every three hours, consider pumping between nursing feedings to encourage milk production. Remember: the more milk you demand of your breasts, the more milk they will produce.
Be sure to change sides when you nurse so each breast is equally drained. If your baby falls asleep or is finished before a breast is drained, consider pumping that breast until no more milk is produced.
Some experts recommend avoiding giving your baby any sucking device, such as a pacifier if you are trying to increase your milk supply. “All of baby’s sucking needs should be met at the breast.”
Breast pumping will enable you to increase the frequency of breast emptying, thereby placing more demand on milk production. Many mothers find it helpful to pump between nursings, pump after an incomplete nursing, or in tandem with a nursing baby.
How to Increase Milk Supply When Pumping
According to breastfeedingbasics.com, “The best way to increase your supply by using a pump is to double pump for 5-10 minutes after you nurse your baby, or at least 8 times in 24 hours.” It also recommends massaging your breast as you nurse to produce richer, higher-calorie hindmilk.
Another tip is to pump on one breast while you nurse your baby on the other breast. This has a two-fold benefit: 1) as your baby stimulates the breast he or she is nursing, the other breast is equally stimulated, producing more milk, and 2) the nursed breast received double demand, thereby increasing its supply over time. Be sure to alternate pumped and nursed breasts each time. Some moms find their first feeding in the morning produces the most milk.
How Long Does It Take to Increase Milk Supply?
Depending on the method, increasing milk supply can take anywhere from a day to several weeks. Certain foods can increase milk supply rather quickly, however, changing certain practices can yield immediate benefits.
Working with a certified lactation consultant and doing your own research will help you better understand the intricacies of breastfeeding. Placing your baby in an optimal position for nursing, nursing more frequently and pumping while you nurse can yield a higher production in a short amount of time.
If you choose to eat a lactation snack that contains ingredients found to boost milk supply, choose one that does not include high amounts of sugars, but check ingredients to ensure a low sugar content doesn’t mean they used artificial sweeteners instead. Snacks lightly sweetened with honey or coconut nectar are much better options. You should also consider avoiding artificial flavorings and ingredients that do little to nourish your or your baby’s body.
Instead, find a lactation snack that contains whole, real ingredients found in nature. These will offer the most health benefits and provide valuable vitamins and nutrients that can be easier to digest and absorb. Follow the instructions on the product. Many require you eat or drink the product once or more per day to achieve optimal benefits.
The decision to nurse a baby is one every mother must make. Depending on the health of her or her baby, nursing may or may not be recommended. If you are currently breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, know there are plenty of resources and support to help you overcome any challenges that may arise, including increasing milk supply. Give you and your baby time to adjust, practice good breastfeeding habits and seek help when needed.
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