“How can I increase my milk supply?” remains one of the most frequently asked questions among breastfeeding mothers. Some mothers have plenty of milk with no problem, but that wasn't the case for me, yet I was still able to successfully breastfeed all three of my children. I'm sure this list is not all inclusive, so comments are welcome if something has worked for you and may be helpful for other mothers, please share!
Strategies to increase milk supply
The common methods to improve milk supply basically fall into two categories:
- Methods that increase breast stimulation, usually by improving milk removal from the breast. Because of how the physiology works, more milk removal = more stimulation = more milk production.
- These are substances – medicines, herbs, foods, drinks and so on that are believed to increase milk production.
Here we will focus on number 1.
Increasing breast stimulation
I’m starting here, because this will be the make-or-break factor. If your breasts aren’t being stimulated by regularly having milk removed from them, nothing else you do will help. Nothing. So it’s absolutely critical that you have to get this right. We’re often so keen to just pop a pill to make more milk, but please trust me when I say that you can’t skip this stuff. In fact, most of the time, just implementing these things will give your supply the necessary boost without needing any pills.
Make sure baby is latching and suckling effectively
This is the number one most important thing you can do! You will know that your baby is suckling effectively if you can see or hear him swallowing regularly – one swallow every 1-3 sucks is a good ratio (one swallow every 10 sucks means he’s just swallowing his own saliva). If your baby is struggling to get a good latch, keeps falling off the breast or is simply not swallowing much, I strongly suggest that you see a lactation consultant to find and fix the problem.
Feed more often
One of the best ways to boost your milk supply is simply to fed more often. Take a “babymoon” if you can – just spend a day or two in bed with baby, breastfeeding as much as possible. Babies instinctively increase their feeds when they are going through a growth spurt and need more milk: those every-five-minutes feeds give your milk supply a huge boost!
If you’ve been feeding on a schedule, trying to “stretch” baby between feeds, stop immediately. You should never limit baby’s time on the breast; it’s a recipe for milk supply issues. Feed baby at the first sign of hunger.
This one goes hand-in-hand with breastfeeding more often. Assuming your baby is suckling effectively, the very best way to stimulate your breast is to allow baby to suckle as often as possible! That means no bottles and no pacifiers when you and baby are together. Yes, I’m seriously suggesting that you let baby use you as a pacifier – it will give your milk supply a good boost.
Feed at night
For some reason unknown to science, our bodies secrete more of the milk-making hormone (prolactin, specifically) when baby feeds at night. So throw out the sleep training books and work in an extra night feed if you can. “Dream feeding” is an excellent way to do this – it simply means feeding while baby is still half asleep. Of course, if you have one of those babies that feeds ten times in the night, you can skip this suggestion!
Keeping your baby skin-to-skin can give your milk supply a great boost. In my experience, this works especially well with newborn babies and premature babies. The skin-to-skin contact stimulates your body to secrete more milk-production hormones. It also allows baby to suckle more often, which increases breast stimulation. Try putting baby skin-to-skin for naps, or carrying baby skin-to-skin in wrap.
Express in addition to breastfeeds
If you are feeding as much as possible and still need a boost, expressing your milk may be just the thing you need. You can hand express or use a breast pump, whichever is easiest for you. For maximum breast stimulation, express after baby finishes breastfeeding. You may not get much milk out, but by demanding milk from an already emptied breast you are sending a very strong message to your body that you need more milk.
If your baby is not suckling well at the breast for any reason, pumping is non-negotiable. You will need to thoroughly pump your breast at least 8 times per 24 hours to maintain a good milk supply.
Keep your breasts empty
It may sound counterintuitive, but you don’t want your breasts to get too full. A full breast sends the message to your body that “whoa, there’s too much milk, slow down!”. So aim to keep your breasts soft. This is where extra feeds and pumping come in. If you can feel fullness in your breast, then congratulations – you have enough milk, and you can stop worrying about increasing it even more.