If you are a breastfeeding mom, especially if you are a pumping mom, you are probably worried about how to increase your breast milk supply.
No matter what your reasons are for choosing to breastfeed, at some point in time the dreaded am-I-making-enough-milk thought will pass through your mind and then it will consume you. Trust me, I’ve been there.
The good news is there are things that you can do to increase your breast milk supply if you’re worried about it.
The goal is to obviously have enough milk to feed your baby, but if you can get lucky and be able to make enough to freeze for a rainy day, then why wouldn’t you?
The key to having a great milk supply is to establish your supply from the beginning.
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How Long Does it Take to Establish Milk Supply?
During the first few months of your baby’s life, your body is flooding with different hormones. The hormone most associated with producing breast milk is called prolactin.
Prolactin is what your body needs to actually produce the milk. It reacts with other hormones throughout your body to send the right signals to your breasts that your baby is hungry and you need milk.
The trick though is making sure that your body utilizes the prolactin appropriately.
For the first 6-12 weeks after your baby is born, your milk supply will be predominately hormone based. Your body really wants to make milk because it knows that you have a newborn that needs it.
The problem that many women run into though, is they are not sending the right signals to their bodies that they need more milk during this very important time.
Things like supplementing and not fully emptying your breasts can have a big effect on your milk supply
After about the 12-week mark, your milk supply stops being hormone based and is supply and demand based. If you are not demanding it, then your body will stop suppling it. It’s as simple as that.
While your milk supply will still fluctuate after this point, called regulation, it takes longer to see any effects and your supply is less likely to grow very much. It can happen, but it takes more work.
If you can make sure that you establish a proper supply early on, then you will be much better off.
Your newborn will need to eat between 8 and 12 times a day in the beginning. Nursing and/or pumping that frequently will help ensure that your body is producing enough to feed your baby.
How Do You Know if Your Milk Supply is Low?
Many women will struggle with the idea that they have a low milk supply. While that is definitely something that can happen, that doesn’t mean that it necessarily will.
There are some signs that you can look out for though that will let you know if you do truly have a low milk supply.
Signs of a Low Milk Supply
Signs of a low milk supply include:
· Poor weight gain
While it is normal for newborns to lose between 5-7% of their body weight after birth, losing more than 10% or not coming back up to birth weight by their second week of life could be a sign of a low milk supply.
· Not enough wet and dirty diapers
Newborns will typically have one wet diaper for each day of life until the seventh day (one on the first day, two on the second day, etc.). Then 5-6 wet and/or dirty diapers a day is common. If your baby is not having wet diapers, then you should consult your doctor about possible dehydration.
· Signs of dehydration
Signs such as not enough wet diapers, sunken fontanel, and appearing listless or lethargic are all reasons to consult your pediatrician about a possible low milk supply.
*If you are ever worried that your baby may not be getting enough milk, always consult your pediatrician!
How Do I Know if My Baby is Still Hungry After Breastfeeding?
Some women assume that they are not making enough breast milk because their baby still seems hungry after breastfeeding.
It’s important, especially if you’re nursing, to figure out if your baby is still actively eating or if he is just looking for comfort. You’ll be able to figure this out by watching the way that he eats.
When your baby is actively drinking, he will be doing slow and deep sucking motions and you’ll be able to see his jaw drop as he swallows.
If he is just looking for comfort and using you as his pacifier, the motion will be light and quick with no swallowing.
Babies will do this in the beginning of a nursing session to stimulate a letdown, but if he has eaten for a full 15 to 20 minutes and is still doing this, then he likely is just sucking for comfort.
You can try offering a pacifier to give your nipples a little break.
If you are bottle feeding your baby and he fusses after finishing the bottle, look at how long it actually took him to drink it.
If your baby is drinking his bottle too quickly, then his stomach is not able to tell his brain that he is actually full. That will cause him to get upset once the bottle is empty because he hasn’t yet realized he is full.
My son was notorious for this and it made me think that I wasn’t pumping enough breast milk for him. We ended up sticking with the size 0 nipple from Tommee Tippee until he was around 10 months old because of this.
A good rule of thumb, is that it should take your baby roughly 5 minutes to drink one ounce of milk from a bottle.
On the flip side, if it is taking your baby longer than 30 minutes to finish his bottle, then he likely has a nipple that is too slow for him.
Knowing the proper nipple flow size for your baby can be a little difficult to figure out at first, but you’ll get there.
Sudden Drop in Milk Supply
If you’re milk supply takes a sudden dive without a change to your habits, then you may want to look into outside influences.
Influences such as:
- Health issues
- Not enough calories
- Not enough water
- And Pregnancy
These things can all affect your milk supply.
Even something as simple as wearing a bra that is too tight can cause your milk supply to fluctuate. Take care of the other influences and your supply should bounce back.
If you get pregnant while you are still breastfeeding though, your supply will diminish and there isn’t much that you’ll be able to do about it.
Your body will be preparing to provide for your new baby, not your old one.
You’ll also need to verify with your doctor how long you are allowed to continue breastfeeding and/or pumping while pregnant since the added nipple stimulation can induce contractions.
Why is My Milk Supply Low?
Answering that question really depends on what you consider low.
Many women will feel like they have a low milk supply because they are not producing 80 ounces a day and are not able to build up a freezer stash.
Not having that is NOT a sign of a low supply though. Producing that much milk is actually an oversupply.
The goal is, and always should be, to feed your baby and not your freezer. If you’re able to have some extra for a freezer stash, great! But that isn’t the goal.
A low milk supply is when you are not producing enough milk to feed your baby. If that is the problem, then there are some ways to try to build it, but you should also consult your doctor.
If your supply is very low, there are medications that can be used to increase your milk supply as well as milk donation programs that you can become a part of if you decide not to go the formula route.
Always talk to your doctor if you are ever worried about your baby’s nutrition.
Is My Milk Drying Up?
No. While it is possible to trigger weaning if you are not nursing or pumping enough (typically 3 times a day or fewer can trigger this for most women), your milk supply is not gone for good.
Once you start producing milk, you can always produce milk.
Just get back on your schedule, throw in some more pumping or nursing sessions, drink some more water, eat some milk-making foods, and just relax. It’ll come back.
Can You Get Your Milk Supply Back Once it’s Gone?
Yes. It is completely possible to relactate if that is what you’re planning on doing. You’ll just need to get back on the schedule like if you had a newborn.
That means pumping or nursing 8-12 times a day for a minimum of 20 minutes each to stimulate production.
It takes time, but it is completely doable.
How Can I Increase My Milk Supply Naturally?
Trying to increase your milk supply without the use of medications and supplements should always be the first thing you try.
Medications and supplements, especially before your supply has regulated, can give you a false sense of security with your supply.
They can boost your supply, but you may feel that you can cut down on nursing or pumping sessions too soon which can cause you to lose some of those ounces later on.
Always try to establish your supply without supplements before you go that route.
Pump or Nurse More Often
If you are exclusively pumping, try throwing in an extra pumping session each day. Even if you don’t get much out during that session, taking the time to signal to your breasts that you need more milk is always beneficial.
You should also be pumping on your baby’s feeding schedule. This is the main thing that most pumpers tend to forget.
You’re still trying to feed your baby. Your body doesn’t know that it is a pump instead of a baby.
If you aren’t getting the milk out then there is no place to store more. The more often that you empty your breasts, the faster your body will produce it, which in turn will lead to more milk.
Make sure that you’re using a good quality pump as well. It can make ALL the difference in the world.
I have a Medela Pump in Style Advance that I love. I have never had a single issue with it.
I also really like the fact that the S1 has a rechargeable battery pack making it completely portable. That can be hugely convenient.
If you are directly nursing your baby, you can take what most women call a “nursing vacation”.
Basically, you just offer your breasts any time your baby is the slightest bit interested for a couple of days.
Your baby will not only be well fed, but your body will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you need more milk.
Supply and demand, remember?
Drink More Water!!
I’m sure that after 40 weeks of people telling you to drink plenty of water, the last thing in the world that you want to hear is that you have to keep drinking it, but you do.
Breast milk is 88% water. If you aren’t drinking enough water, then you won’t be making much milk.
You should aim for at least 100 ounces of water a day. I typically fill up a gallon pitcher every day and put it close to where I’m working so that I can keep a visual track of how much water to have.
I have also noticed that drinking enough water keeps me from getting clogged milk ducts. I’m much more prone to them on days when I’ve been a little slack on my water, so that’s another incentive to drink more.
I love, love, love, LOVE my Hydroflask. I have multiple sizes and colors in my house from large 64oz growlers to smaller 24oz mugs.
Hydroflask is AMAZING! They’re products last basically forever (the only one I replaced was the one my husband left on an airplane), and they have great customer service.
They even have an EXTREMELY easy system for replacing lids if they happen to get damaged.
The water temperature will also last for hours! My husband uses his big growler for hot tea, and it will stay warm all day for him. Definitely worth it!
I know that worrying about your breast milk supply can be stressful, but you need to just relax. Stress is the number 1 way to hurt your milk supply.
So, take a deep breath and try to get some extra sleep tonight. You’ll be amazed how well your supply does when you are relaxed and you’ve actually gotten some rest.
Breastfeeding Supplements to Increase Milk Supply
There are a million and 1 supplements on the market out there claiming to increase breast milk supply. Some of them work, some of them don’t.
The big thing is finding the breastfeeding supplements that work for YOU. I have tried just about everything, so here’s what I’ve found out.
If you aren’t already taking a lecithin supplement and are exclusively pumping, then start taking one now.
It doesn’t necessarily increase your breast milk supply, but rather makes your milk less sticky so that you can empty faster.
This is not only useful because you’ll spend less time at the pump, but also because if you can empty more adequately, then you can in turn make more milk.
Lecithin is also amazing at helping to relieve clogs to help keep them from turning into mastitis. I’ve been there. It sucks. Use the lecithin.
I normally take 2 in the morning and 2 at night. Not everyone needs that much, but I’ve had mastitis twice and I never want to risk having it again.
I like the NOW Sunflower Lecithin. There are soy lecithin options as well, but too much soy tends to upsets my stomach, but choose what works for you.
I’ve used moringa a lot during my pumping journey and it’s great. The best combination that I found is using it in conjunction with Goat’s Rue.
After about a week or 2, my daily average was up 5 ounces. That’s a win in my book!
Brewer’s Yeast comes in powered or tablet form. I personally never noticed much difference when I took it, but I know some women that swear by it.
The powder is great because you can just add it to your food, but be careful. It has a pretty strong taste that can overpower a lot of foods.
I’ve added the NOW Brewer’s Yeast to granola bars and cookies. It wasn’t as noticeable there and I think I really just wanted a good excuse to eat cookies. They’re for the baby!
If you want to avoid all of that then just go drink a beer. (Where did you think the yeast came from?) The best options are your richer darker beers such as stouts, ales, and porters.
And yes, the milk is fine to feed to your baby. No need to pump and dump. It would be more dangerous for you to try to take care of your baby while drinking than it would be to feed him your milk.
Fenugreek is a weird one. Some women have great results from it, but there are some that actually have a decrease in milk supply from it.
I personally don’t take it, but I mention it because most lactation supplements have it as an ingredient and I want you to be informed.
If you take it and don’t notice an increase in 24-48 hours then stop taking it. If it will work for you, it will work quickly.
Just a side note as well, fenugreek will make you smell like maple syrup. If you don’t smell like syrup then you aren’t taking enough.
One of the best fenugreek based products on the market is Let There Be Milk. I know several women that absolutely swear by it.
Early on in my pumping journey I gave this stuff a try and I just want to warn you, it tastes god awful.
The trick is to put it all the way in the back of your mouth and quickly wash it down with something. The taste doesn’t linger thankfully, but it’s weird at first.
I just didn’t want you to be caught off guard.
Which Foods Increase Breast Milk?
Ever wonder why you’re always starving? It’s because your body is burning a huge amount of calories every day making milk.
Each ounce of milk takes 20 calories to produce. If you make 35 ounces a day, that is 700 calories that you’ve burned just sitting there!
I know that after having your baby you’re probably looking forward to dropping any baby weight that you have hanging around, but be smart about it.
Dropping calories is going to decrease your milk supply before it will decrease your waist size.
Until then, keep eating. Your baby needs the calories. Foods that can really help with your supply include:
- Flax Seeds
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Brewer’s Yeast
Foods higher in healthy fat and calories include:
- Coconut (including the oil)
- Olives (including the oil)
Add some of these options to your daily diet and your milk supply will thank you.
Can Pumping Increase Milk Supply?
Contrary to popular belief, pumping can be a great benefit to your milk supply.
If you are directly nursing your baby, then you can throw in a pumping session after you’ve nursed to help to stimulate milk production.
The best time of day to do this is after your first session of the day. Your milk supply greatly increases at night between 1-5am since your prolactin levels are naturally the highest at that time of the day.
You will be the most “full” first thing in the morning because of this.
Go ahead and nurse your baby like normal. Once your baby is finished, throw on the pump and go for 15-20 minutes to remove the remaining milk and stimulate more production.
Even if there is no milk actually flowing, having the stimulation tells your body that that amount of milk was not enough and that you need more.
If you don’t have a low supply and are looking to build a bit of a freezer stash, this is a really easy way to do it.
How Many Times a Day Should I Pump to Increase Milk Supply?
If you do not have an actual low supply, then pumping once a day after a nursing session should be plenty to help you increase your supply.
I wouldn’t pump too often since you could end up with an oversupply if you aren’t careful and that has its own set of issues.
If you are exclusively pumping, then sticking to 8-12 times a day will be your best bet.
How to Increase Milk Supply When Pumping
There are a couple of easy things you can do to get more milk while pumping.
One of the absolute best ways to boost your milk supply when you’re pumping, is to power pump.
Power pumping is when you pump for 20 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, and pump for another 10 minutes. The whole thing will take you an hour.
This is to mimic cluster feeding. Babies do this for several reasons, but mainly when they are going through a growth spurt.
Doing this tells your body that you need more milk and you need it now.
Increases from power pumping typically show up after a couple of days. If you want faster results then you can try power pumping more times.
I wouldn’t do more than 2 or 3 times a day though because your poor boobs will need a break.
If the extra pumping starts making your nipples a bit sore. Try adding a little coconut oil to your flanges before pumping.
Just a little bit will help keep the uncomfortable pulling to a minimum. The milk is also safe for baby, so no worries there.
Most lactation consultants will tell you that you shouldn’t pump longer than 20 minutes. This information is for nursing mothers, not exclusive pumpers.
As an exclusive pumper, you should be aiming for a MINIMUM of 20 minutes plus an additional 5 minutes after your milk has stopped.
Even if you aren’t getting any more milk out, or you’re just getting drops, this stimulation is telling your body that that amount of milk was not enough and that you need more.
Your body doesn’t want to do more work than it absolutely has to. So, if it thinks that 2 ounces was enough because that’s all you pulled out, then that is all it is going to make.
If you want more then you have to demand more. Supply and demand, remember?
You want to aim for multiple let downs. Your first one will have the majority of the milk, but your second or even third one will have all of the fatty hind milk that your little one really needs.
You want to get all of that. Use the letdown feature on your pump several times to help force multiple let downs.
How Long Does it Take to Increase Milk Supply?
The time it will actually take you to boost your milk supply can vary greatly from woman to woman. The key is to pay attention to your body and what it needs.
If you aren’t nursing or pumping enough, then increase those sessions and the time length.
If you aren’t drinking enough water or eating enough calories, then throw in an extra snack or two and try drinking water every time you breastfeed.
Do not be surprised though if it takes 1-2 weeks to really see a difference in your milk supply. This is especially true if your supply has already regulated.
Don’t get stressed out about it and just stick with it. Stress is one of the fastest ways to decrease your milk supply.
Just relax and let what will be will be. As long as your baby is getting enough milk then that is all that matters.
And if you aren’t producing enough and you need to supplement with formula or donor milk, then that’s okay too.
Love is not measured in ounces and fed really is best.
Are you having trouble increasing your milk supply? What steps are you taking to raise it? Let me know in the comments below or come join the conversation in our Facebook group!
Until next time!
- Low Milk Supply: What’s Causing it and How to Fix it
- How to Survive Exclusive Pumping: Everything New Moms Need to Know
- The Best Breastfeeding Supplements that Actually Work