Worried About Milk Supply? Read How to Increase Breast Milk Output
Increasing your milk supply to feed your breastfed baby properly is a top concern among new mothers. But the strategies used to boost output depend on the age of your child and the length of your breastfeeding journey. Find out what you can do to increase your milk supply at delivery, in the first two weeks of motherhood, in the first month as well as after three months.
Understand how diet and calories affect your breast milk output and learn what foods women have eaten for decades to try and positively impact their supply. Finally, learn who to turn to when you need an advocate or resource with help establishing your milk supply.
Breast Milk Supply at Each Stage of Your Child’s Life
Your milk supply changes dramatically in the first few months of your child's life. While it is easier to increase your milk production in the early days of breastfeeding, you can still boost your supply after establishing a routine.
Increasing Milk Production at Delivery
Your body has been preparing for this day since the beginning of your pregnancy. For months pregnancy hormones have stimulated the growth of mammary glands and milk ducts. At delivery, your breasts will leak a thicker, yellowish fluid called colostrum. Small drops of this nutrient-rich “liquid gold” are enough to feed your newborn until milk production kicks into high gear. Women should nurse their baby as soon as possible and continue feeding at 2-hour intervals.
After Delivery Use Skin-to-Skin to Increase Milk Production
Skin-to-Skin contact has proven to have positive long-term effects on a healthy breastfeeding relationship. Global health organizations such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization advocate for babies to be placed “skin-to-skin within minutes of birth, remaining for 60 minutes or longer, with all mothers encouraged to support the infant to breastfeed with their babies show signs of readiness.” Ask for skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, and don't be dissuaded if you give birth via a cesarean. Skin-to-skin contact allows your body to relax, your heart rate to sync with your child and the release of the hormone oxytocin. All of these benefits contribute to a happier and smoother breastfeeding experience.
Increasing Milk Production in the First Two Weeks
What does it mean for your milk to come in and when does it happen? Milk "coming-in" refers to the time 2-5 days after birth when breasts feel firm, full and at times engorged. When you deliver the placenta after birth, the hormone progesterone drops and the hormone prolactin rises. This hormone shift alerts your body to start making milk.
In the first few days, hormones are the driving initiator of milk production. Your body has not yet learned how much breast milk is needed, so it goes into overdrive making milk before taking cues from your feeding patterns.
If you experience a forceful letdown, don’t waste any milk that might go into a nursing pad or your bra. Use a cup or a manual pump to catch those ounces coming from the letdown on the side you aren't nursing. Store this milk for future use and begin building your freezer stash!
Increasing Milk Production in the First Month
The first several weeks are a crucial time to show your body how much milk to produce. Some refer to this time as the “calibration window.” Your body produces milk on a demand and supply basis. The more demand for milk; the more supply you will have.
Here are tips for maintaining a stable supply in the first month:
- Nurse as frequently as possible. Pediatricians recommend nursing every two hours until baby is back to birth-weight. Once your child reaches this milestone, you should continue to nurse frequently without going more than four hours between feedings.
- Feed your baby from both breasts at each session. Why is this important? Frequency is more important than duration when establishing your milk supply. The more stimulation each breast receives the more milk it will produce.
- Alternate which breast you feed from first. Try this tip for remembering where to start! Put a bracelet or hair tie on the wrist of the side you nurse from first. (So feed from the left breast first, put a hair tie on your left wrist. At the next feeding session, start with the right breast and switch the hair tie to the right wrist.) Having a visual reminder of which breast to start on will allow you to easily alternate nursing sides without losing track.
- Ensure a proper latch. Babies incorrectly latched will have trouble emptying a breast of all of its milk. If this pattern continues, your body will assume that milk is not needed and incrementally start producing less.
Increasing Milk Production After 3 Months
Your breastfeeding routine should be more established around the third month of infancy. While there is no “normal,” a typical 3-month old child may eat 32 ounces of breast milk throughout five or so feedings a day.
Women who want to increase their breast milk supply after the third month should continue to nurse frequently. Feed on demand and add in one additional pumping session a day to keep milk supply strong. Utilize the method of “power pumping” where you pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, etc. for a total of 60 minutes to supercharge your supply.
Returning to Work When Breastfeeding
The 12-week mark also signifies a time when many women in the United States are transitioning back to work. A solid pumping routine and healthy freezer stash will allow your child to continue to receive the nourishment of breast milk for months to come.
Start building up your freezer stash before your maternity leave ends. Add in an extra pumping session in the morning and put those ounces in the freezer. Incorporate hand expression while pumping to get the most out of each session. Make small, circular movements starting from the outside of your breast and working in towards the pump. This massage helps your body release milk from each duct and drains your breast fully.
How Your Diet Can Increase Breast Milk Production
It is a myth that women need to eat specific types of foods to produce breast milk. After all, women are breastfeeding in California, Turkey, Argentina, Italy, South Africa – women breastfeed and eat differently in every country of the world!
A healthy diet with enough calories and a variety of nutrients is all that is needed to make breast milk. Focus on eating enough calories, drinking plenty of water and finding nutrient-rich foods to nourish your body.
Eat Enough Calories to Produce Breast Milk
Feeling hungry? Many women report feeling ravenous in the early days of breastfeeding. This hunger stems from mammary glands turning energy from your food (and your fat stores) into breast milk. Breastfeeding mothers need to add an extra 300-500 calories to their daily consumption. A plain bagel with cream cheese, four slices of bacon or 3 ounces of almonds would provide the added 500 calories to your diet.
Avoid hitting your calorie quota with sugary, fattening snacks. While two Snickers bars will meet the 500-calorie mark, they won’t fuel your body with healthy micronutrients found in vegetables or protein. Instead look for healthy lactation snacks that will replenish lost micronutrients and curb your hunger.
Do Specific Foods Boost Breast Milk Supply?
Brewer’s yeast, fenugreek, flax seeds, and nuts are commonly recommended foods to boost breast milk supply. High amounts of fiber, calcium, Vitamin B and magnesium qualify these foods as nutrient-rich choices for mothers who have depleted their micronutrient stores in pregnancy and childbirth.
Foods, supplements or beverages consumed to increase breast milk are called galactagogues. Women have eaten galactagogues for decades to increase breast milk output. The effectiveness of galactagogues varies among women. Some see an immediate boost in breast milk after eating brewer’s yeast or oats while others don’t notice a change in their supply. How can you tell which category you will fall into? Try eating lactation bars loaded with healthy ingredients! Milkful provides a money-back guarantee on their 6-bar packs if they don’t work to increase your milk supply.
Remember to combine galactagogues with healthy breastfeeding habits if you want to see a positive change in your milk supply. Women who are looking to boost their supply should not expect diet or supplementation to overcome poor routines or latch issues.
Who Can You Talk to If You Suspect Milk Supply Issues?
These healthcare professionals are trained and ready to help remedy breastfeeding concerns for mothers.
Lactation Consultants - IBCLCs
Mothers looking to connect with healthcare professionals trained in breastfeeding support should connect with a Lactation Consultant. International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) are qualified to diagnose latch issues, assist a mother with a Supplemental Nursing System, coach a breastfeeding moms on pumping or nursing schedules and deal with individual concerns or questions.
Obstetricians and Gynecologists - OB/GYNs
Don’t overlook your OB/GYN as a resource for breastfeeding support. Unlike a Lactation Consultant, an OB/GYN has a complete view of your medical history. As a physician, they are also better equipped to answer questions about medications and breastfeeding, contraceptive options for breastfeeding women and breast pain that may cause disruptions to sustained breastfeeding.
Your Child’s Pediatrician
It’s not uncommon for mothers to question whether or not their baby is getting enough milk. Rather than focusing on the ounces you produce, focus on how your baby is progressing. Your child’s pediatrician can answer whether or not your baby is gaining enough weight, creating a healthy amount of wet and dirty diapers and meeting developmental milestones. Talk to your child’s pediatrician for confirmation on whether or not you need to increase your milk supply based on your child’s progress.
Keep Reading Preparing for Daycare When Breastfeeding ›
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