Many breastfeeding and pumping moms are concerned about their milk supply. Some moms struggle with low milk supply from the beginning and may find it difficult to produce enough breast milk to exclusively breastfeed. Other moms may start off with a great milk supply but find their milk supply drops a few months after delivery, upon returning to work, or following an illness. When you have a low milk supply, you are willing to do just about anything to boost it. But, what are the best ways to increase milk supply? Are expensive supplements claiming to boost milk supply really necessary, and why do some mothers struggle with low milk supply in the first place?
Causes of Low Breast Milk Supply
- Infrequent Feeding or Pumping - The most common reason for low milk supply in the first few weeks is insufficient breast stimulation or milk removal. Some mothers are unaware that they should initiate breastfeeding within an hour or 2 after delivery. In cases where mom has a difficult delivery sometimes mom, baby, or both are too tired to nurse directly after delivery. Waiting to breastfeed or pump can lead to delayed onset of copious milk production (also referred to as milk “coming in”). Typically moms will notice their breasts becoming fuller and hear their babies swallowing during feedings 3-5 days after delivery. But, if breastfeeding or pumping did not get started right away or there were not enough nursing sessions or pumping sessions in the first 3 days it could take several more days before the milk comes in.
- Missed Feedings - If you're bottle-feeding your baby, it is very important that the mom still pumps in place of missed feedings at the breast. The amount of milk you produce is driven by breast stimulation and milk removal. When feedings are missed, our bodies do not receive the signal to produce more milk, or worse, our body begins slowing down milk production because it believes less milk is needed. When supplementing is necessary, or while waiting to receive help with latching from a lactation consultant or IBCLC, moms should use a breast pump to remove milk anytime the baby receives a bottle.
- Poor Feedings - If your baby is falling asleep at the breast or not latching and sucking properly, milk transfer will be low, causing slow weight gain for your baby and a low milk supply for you. Newborns are typically very sleepy and may need a lot of encouragement to stay awake long enough to finish feeding. It is recommended that you feed your baby while maintaining skin-to-skin contact since a baby is more likely to fall asleep at the breast if they are too warm. If you suspect your baby has a poor latch, it is also important that you work with a lactation consultant to improve your baby’s latch.
- Medical Issues - In some cases, mom may be predisposed to low milk supply due to conditions related to her thyroid, hormones, previous breast surgeries, or insufficient glandular tissue. In these cases, it is even more important that mom works closely with her healthcare team and lactation consultant.
Regardless of the reason(s) you may be struggling with low milk supply, you may still be able to increase breast milk production.
Tips for Increasing Milk Production
Tip 1. Increase Feedings - Sometimes increasing milk supply is as simple as feeding the baby more frequently. Newborns should be eating at least 10 to 12 times per day. If you are scheduling feedings or allowing your baby to go more than about 2 hours between feedings during the day, start waking your baby up and offering the breast more often.
Tip 2. Get Help with Latching - If you are experiencing pain while your baby nurses, feel like your baby’s latch is too shallow or are hearing a lot of clicking noises, chances are your baby has a bad latch. A bad latch limits the amount a breastfed baby drinks and can lead to not making enough milk. Sometimes it is as simple as correcting your baby’s positioning or helping your baby to open their mouth wider and take in more of the breast tissue while feeding.
Tip 3. Pump After Feedings - Since breast stimulation and milk removal is the key to increasing milk production it is often very helpful to begin pumping after feedings to signal to the body to make more breast milk. Even if you do not get a lot of milk when you are pumping, you will be increasing the demand on your milk supply leading to more milk production. To make pumping easier and allow you to double pump we recommend using a hands-free pumping bra.
Tip 4. Try Power Pumping - Power pumping is a technique that is used to quickly stimulate an increase in breast milk production. Power pumping is when you set aside 1 hour every day around the same time every day to pump in intervals. To begin you will pump both breasts simultaneously for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn your breast pump off and take a 10-minute break from pumping. After the break, resume pumping for 10 more minutes. Take another 10-minute break followed by another 10 minutes of pumping. Continue doing this once a day for 5-7 days in a row to mimic what it is like when your baby is going through a growth spurt and cluster feeding. Think of power pumping like “boot camp” for your milk supply.
Tip 5. Use Your Hands - While pumping or breastfeeding it is important to use your hands to massage your breasts. “Breast compressions” increase milk flow leading to increased milk transfer when breastfeeding and more milk output when pumping. The most effective way to do breast compressions is to start massaging near the back of the breast/chest wall and gently working your way down the breast towards the nipple. Again, a hands-free pumping bra will come in very handy!
Tip 6. Drink More Water - Breast milk is made up of water and fat. While breastfeeding or pumping you may notice an increase in thirst. This is because making breast milk requires lots of water. It is recommended that breastfeeding and pumping moms drink at least 100oz of water per day. Additionally, it is helpful to consume beverages that contain electrolytes.
Tip 7. Consider Herbs & Supplements - There are a few supplements that can help moms produce more milk. Some of the most popular supplements for increasing milk production are goat’s rue, blessed milk thistle, brewer’s yeast, moringa, and fenugreek. Remember, though, that simply taking supplements or herbs will not provide you with a significant increase in milk production if you are not also increasing breast stimulation and milk removal.
If you are struggling with low milk supply and are in need of a high-quality breast pump, you may be able to get one at little to no cost through your health insurance. Aeroflow Breastpumps can help you quickly and easily find out if your insurance covers a pump by simply completing our Qualify Through Insurance Form. After completing the form, your Specialist will contact you to discuss your coverage details and share all of your breast pump options. Once you choose which breast pump you would like to order, Aeroflow Breastpumps will ship it to your home free of charge!
About the Author
Brianne Griffis, CLC
Brianne is a Certified Lactation Counselor with Lactation by Aeroflow Breastpumps, which provides virtual lactation consultations, classes, and support to new and expectant moms through insurance.
Information provided in blogs should not be used as a substitute for medical care or consultation.