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How to Increase Milk Supply: A Complete Guide

How to Increase Milk Supply: A Complete Guide

Low milk production worrying you? We've created the ultimate how-to for increasing your milk supply when breastfeeding and/or pumping.

Written By

Nicole Kainz

Instructor
November 16, 2021

Did you know one of the biggest reasons women stop nursing is due to concerns about supply? We want to help change that and make it as simple as possible for you to increase milk supply. Whether you’re breastfeeding, pumping, combo-feeding with formula, or juggling a mixture of them all (we see you, mama!), we are here to help you increase your breastmilk supply so you and your baby can both feel more satisfied.

With our guide to increasing milk supply, you will be able to breathe easier knowing your milk supply is increasing. 

How Much Milk Should You Produce?

Before we get into ways to increase your milk supply, let’s talk about how much milk you should be producing. Babies usually need between 26 and 40 oz a day, depending on the size and age of your baby, among other factors. How much you produce depends a lot on your baby’s needs, how often you breastfeed, how hydrated you are, and your diet.

While it is hard to know exactly how much you are producing—especially exclusively breastfeeding—one way you can measure how much milk your baby drank is by weighing them before and after they eat using an electric scale that shows grams. The difference in grams is the amount of milk they drank. Make sure not to change their clothes or diaper before you weigh them the second time. 

Signs of a Well-Fed Baby

Healthy Weight Gain

You may have noticed, your baby has a lot of doctor appointments in the first two years. 

One of the reasons for these visits is to make sure your baby is gaining the appropriate amount of weight. If your baby has stopped gaining weight or significantly slowed in weight gain and you are using your milk as nutrition, your pediatrician may talk to you about your milk supply and ways to increase it. 

Your Baby Is Producing Enough Dirty Diapers

When your baby is born, especially in those first few months, your day will consist of feeding your baby, changing their diapers, and trying to get them to sleep—and repeat. Babies typically use between eight to 12 diapers a day. 

If you notice those diapers start to lessen, you may want to consider increasing your milk supply. Some of these diapers should contain poop. Normal breastfeeding poop may be yellow, green, or brown, with a seedy, pasty texture. 

Your Baby Has More and More Energy

Babies are not overly active in the first few weeks, but between months two and three, your baby will start to be a little more interactive and energetic. Making more faces, sounds, and keeping a routine tummy time can help you gauge your baby’s energy levels. If you notice your baby with less enthusiasm and participation in these activities, it may be because they need more nutritional support.

Activities to Increase Milk Supply

There are many ways to increase your supply. The biggest thing to remember is breast milk production is all about supply and demand. The more your baby nurses or you pump, the more milk your breasts will make, in theory. 

If you are going back to work soon and are trying to increase your supply to pump breast milk while you are away, you can also use these tips to increase your milk supply.

Breastfeed More Often

One of the most important things you can do—especially in the first four weeks—is a nurse on demand. Anytime your baby wants milk, offer it. When you baby nurses, your nipples are stimulated, which produces more prolactin and oxytocin

Prolactin is a hormone that influences milk supply. Oxytocin is the hormone that releases milk. By nursing more often, you will be increasing the amount of milk produced, and it will release easier when your baby is feeding. 

Your breasts learn how much milk they need to produce for your baby. This is done by a polypeptide called the feedback inhibitor of lactation—FIL. If your breast is not emptied with the milk it has, the FIL will cause it to stop producing milk. This is put in place so your breast does not get uncomfortably full. 

While you can increase your production after the four-week mark, setting the foundation early on is very helpful in maintaining your supply. When you increase your production after the four-week mark, setting the foundation early on is very helpful in maintaining your supply. To learn more about how your body prepares for breastfeeding and transitioning into the #MomLife and breastfeeding journey that works for you, sign up for Medela Family – it’s free and you’ll get tons of expert-backed tips, content, and resources delivered to your inbox at just the right time! Finally, know that the FIL is independent in each breast. It is important to empty both breasts

The FIL is independent in each breast. It is important to empty both breasts while you are nursing your little one. If your baby doesn’t quite get to the second breast during a feeding, you can pump the other breast. There are a few times when nursing both sides is not recommended. 

Try to Stay Away From Artificial Nipples

You may have been told by a lactation consultant or a nurse not to give your baby a pacifier. You may have even heard the term nipple confusion. This is when you give your baby a pacifier or bottle and not the breast. 

If your baby is fussing, and you give them a pacifier, the opportunity for nipple stimulation is lost. This is especially important in the first few weeks. As with anything, there are exceptions to the rule. While you should always offer the breast to your baby, if they are hungry, if they are sleeping, they can have a pacifier. There are other times when pacifiers help with certain neurobehavior organizations. 

When it comes to a bottle, there can be changes in the nutritional sucking patterns. When a baby drinks milk from the breast, they have to work very hard to get the milk out. Babies must move their tongues in a wave motion to express the milk from the ducts behind the areola. 

Bottles are much easier. To get the milk out of a bottle, the baby will make the same motions as they do on the breast, but the bottle does not require as much pressure. In this case, the baby may become “lazy” if they are offered the bottle and may not want to go back to the breast, especially early on. 

Use a Nursing Supplementer Device

If your milk supply is low, and you’ll want to make sure you are getting the benefits of the baby latching on the breast for the hormones it creates. For this, use a nursing supplementer device. This device is used to provide more milk to your baby while they nurse. 

With a container of milk around your neck, fine tubing is attached to your nipple. While the baby is eating, they are also expressing milk from these tubes. You can fill this device with previously expressed breast milk or formula. 

The benefit of using a nursing supplementer device is your baby is still eating at the breast. They are continuing to improve their latch and their sucking mechanics. If you are not producing enough milk, or your letdown is on the slow side, your baby can get frustrated. 

This device allows them to get continuous milk, while you are increasing your supply. You are also getting the benefits of the hormones being released while they latch on the breast. As your supply increases, you can gradually reduce the amount of milk from the device. 

Use the Breast Pump

Breast milk is all about supply and demand. Your breast has a delicate balance of hormones—prolactin and oxytocin—which create and let down the milk. They also have the FIL. The FIL stops the production of milk when your breast is not emptied. If your baby is not completely emptying the breast, you can use the breast pump to empty it. 

The breast pump is also important when you are not with your baby. If you have gone back to work or are on a trip, pumping your breasts will help train them to continue to make milk. You can save this milk to give to your baby at a later time.

Meditation

While breastfeeding seems like a physical experience, there is also an emotional component. When you are stressed, scared, or anxious, your oxytocin can be inhibited. 

There were two studies that looked at mothers of preterm infants, and it showed that while using relaxation techniques they increased their milk supply. Put on some calming music or your favorite meditation app, and relax while you are feeding your sweet baby. 

See a Lactation Consultant

One of the best things for a nursing mom to do is see a lactation consultant. Sure, when you imagine breastfeeding or you see it on tv or see one of your veteran mom friends nursing, it looks easy! 

Lactation consultants will help make sure your baby is latching properly to express the most milk. They can also teach you new ways to hold your baby while you nurse to make sure all of the milk ducts are being stimulated. They can also provide you peace of mind if you are new to breastfeeding and worried about your supply. 

Foods and Drinks to Increase Milk Supply

Making sure you are nursing often and emptying your breasts are very important, but so is how you support your body through breastfeeding. While you are taking care of your infant around the clock, don’t forget to give yourself some of that care. 

Make sure to get the nutrients you need. You can add in herbs and other foods that may help increase milk supply. Also, it is important to remember that you need 450-500 more calories a day while you are nursing. 

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is very important in maintaining and increasing your milk supply. While there is little research on this topic, ask any nursing mom and she will tell you to drink lots of water—while she takes a sip of her reusable water bottle. Coconut milk can also help increase your milk supply and provide natural electrolytes. Hydration can come in the form of fruit and vegetable juices, herbal teas, and milk—nut milk included. 

Whole Grains

Many women have touted oatmeal as increasing their milk supply. Oatmeal is full of protein, fiber, vitamin E, and minerals like iron. There is research that shows that anemia—a lack of iron—can be the cause of lower milk production.

Protein is also incredibly important for the production of breastmilk. Not only does protein increase milk supply, but it passes through the milk to support your growing baby.

Papaya

Papaya leaf juice is another option for increasing milk supply. This juice increases the prolactin hormone which influences the production of milk. Making papaya leaf juice is easy. All you need is a blender, water, and papaya leaves.

Once you thoroughly wash the leaves, give them a rough chop. Add them to the blender with your water, and blend them up. They are a bit bitter, so you can add a little lemon, salt, or sweetener to your juice. 

Herbs

Many women report using herbal galactagogues—herbal substances that increase milk supply.. Some of these herbs have been used for thousands of years to support supply. While there isn’t a ton of research on the use of herbs, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence. 

Remember, even if you use these herbs, nothing takes away from nursing and emptying your breast to increase supply. Here are some herbs that are commonly used: 

  • Fenugreek
  • Blessed Thistle
  • Fennel
  • Goat’s Rue
  • Garlic
  • Milk Thistle
  • Shatavari

Many of these herbs are included in lactation teas made from these herbs. They can also be added to lactation cookies, smoothies, or oatmeal. 

Lactation Cookies

If you have talked to any nursing mom, lactation cookies have likely come up. The name says it all. These cookies are made with certain herbs—usually fenugreek—to increase milk supply. 

Other ingredients may include coconut oil, oats, dates, chia seeds, and almonds. The ingredients differ from the cookie you have, but they are all aiming to do the same thing—increase your milk supply. There are also recipes you can make at home. 

Having an easy snack to have during the day can help with your increase in caloric needs, as well as help with supporting your milk supply. Put a little tin of cookies by your nursing station. That way you have a little pick me up while you are nursing your baby.

Prescription Medications to Increase Milk Supply

Along with herbal galactagogues, there are also prescription medications that act as galactagogues. While these medicines may increase prolactin, it is still important to continue to let your baby nurse as often as possible and completely empty your breast. 

Metoclopramide (Reglan)

Metoclopramide may be beneficial in some women to increase milk supply. You and your doctor need to weigh the pros and cons of taking this medication. Some of the adverse reactions can include depression, insomnia, seizures, and gastrointestinal issues. The medication can also cause intestinal discomfort for your baby. 

Domperidone (Motilium)

As of now, domperidone is not FDA approved and is not available for sale in the United States. It is, however, used in Canada. This medication is not without its side effects, as well. It may cause dry mouth, gastrointestinal issues, and cardiac arrhythmia. 

Domperidone has mostly been used by women with babies born prematurely to increase milk supply.

Conclusion

Supply issues can be a challenge for many women, often leading them to stop breastfeeding altogether. This does not have to be the case. There are many ways to increase supply. The key to supply issues is understanding the demand of milk supply. 

The more your baby—or the pump—expressed milk from your breast, the more milk they will produce. The more you empty your breast, the more they know they need to make more milk. 

There are ways to establish supply and demand when it comes to milk supply. Besides nursing as often as possible, be mindful of nipple confusion, use a nursing supplementer device, and make sure to be in a relaxed state can all help your supply. 

There are things you can eat and drink that can help increase the supply or medication if needed. One of the best things you can do is meet with a lactation consultant. They can help with any supply concerns you have.

Expectful is here to empower you through every stage of motherhood. We bring you the best in holistic maternal health with scientific research to back it up. 

Nicole Kainz
Instructor
Perinatal Writer

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