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  • Naiomi Catron RNC, IBCLC

Low Milk Supply? 9 Tips To Increase Milk Supply

Low milk supply can be one of the most frustrating things a breastfeeding mom can face. Solutions aren’t always easy, and sometimes it can take a while to narrow down the root cause of the decrease in production.


One of the best ways to build a good milk supply is to nurse your baby early and often. Start as soon as they are born, and keep going any time baby signals that they might be hungry. You can’t overfeed a baby at the breast. It’s normal for newborns to nurse eight to twelve times a day - sometimes more. Feedings are typically every two to three hours, though they won’t always be evenly spaced around the clock. Sometimes babies will cluster feed and sometimes they will go a little longer between feedings.

You can’t overfeed a baby at the breast.

One misunderstanding some new parents have is that lactation professionals count these feedings from the start of one to the start of the next (rather than end to start). Just by timing feedings in that way, you can often get one or two extra times at the breast in per day. Always let your baby feed as long as they’d like on the first breast and always offer the second breast.


But even with the best breastfeeding management, some moms still have low milk supply. Working closely with Milk Diva Lactation Services (or a board-certified lactation consultant near you) is one of the best ways to sort out what is happening in your individual situation to cause your diminishing supply. As you’re working through the problem, here are some quick tips to boost the amount of milk you’re making:


Milk Supply is Mostly Based on Milk Removal

Want more milk? Then you might consider pumping or emptying your breasts more often. The baby is usually more efficient than the pump (unless your baby is having latching or milk transfer issues). But getting those hormones stimulated additional times each day can be the easiest way to get your body to recognize that it needs to crank up production.


Get to the Root Cause

This can take some detective work and often needs some professional input. Is it something in the way you are holding your baby? Is it something related to your health history? Is it a medication you’ve been taking? Did you have significant blood loss? Or is it related to your baby? Do they have a shallow latch? Do you have pain when nursing? Do they have low suction or do they fall asleep quickly at the breast? Do they have a tongue tie or another anomaly that would cause them to have problems getting the milk they need from the breast? If not enough milk is being removed, your body thinks it needs to slow down production.

Feeding Improvements

Even if your baby is already a few months old, go back to the basics of positioning and latching. Be sure your baby is turned toward you (tummy-to-tummy) with their head at breast level and no space between your bodies. Wait for a really wide open mouth and bring the baby to the breast (rather than the breast to the baby). If you need help with this, book either an in-person or virtual consultation with Milk Diva or another qualified IBCLC.


Try breast compressions at the end of a feeding on each breast. This will get a little more milk into your baby each time. If your baby routinely falls asleep very early in the feeding, consider switching sides several times to keep them awake.


Pumping Improvements

Check all of your pump parts to make sure they’re in working order. Replace any membranes that you think may be worn. Make sure the flanges are the proper size for your anatomy. Play around with the suction and repetition levels. Massage your breasts before and during the pumping session.


Power Pumping

Power pumping can be done in a variety of ways, but the theory is that you can use the pump to mimic baby’s cluster feeding as a way to increase your milk supply. Theoretically this is what baby’s do naturally when they go through a growth spurt, and you can trick your body into thinking the pump is the baby and more milk is needed. To do this, set aside one hour, once per day and pump on and off for 10 minutes at a time (pump 10 minutes, rest 10 minutes, pump 10 minutes, rest 10 minutes, etc. until you get to 60 minutes). You can play around with the amount of time for each pumping session or how many sessions per day you do.


Skin to Skin

Whether it’s while you’re feeding or if you’re just sitting around binge watching your favorite show, strip your baby down to their diaper, place them between your breasts, wrap a blanket or shirt around the two of you and relax together. This skin-to-skin contact will stimulate your hormone production.


Night Nursing

If your baby has started to sleep longer stretches, this has the potential to impact how much milk you’re making. While a 5-hour stretch of sleep for baby may not cause any supply problems for one mom, another mom may see her supply decrease. Or maybe the 5-hour stretch doesn’t cause problems, but when the baby sleeps 8 hours straight on a regular basis, mom feels like her supply has tanked. But it all depends on how much baby is nursing within a 24 hour time frame. A baby who still feeds every 2 hours but then sleeps a 5-hour stretch at night will still probably get plenty of milk hence keeping mom’s supply pretty even). But a baby who is only nursing a couple of times a day and sleeping all night may have a mom who struggles to keep up. So keep an eye on the big picture of how much a baby is taking over the course of 24 hours.

So keep an eye on the big picture of how much a baby is taking over the course of 24 hours.

If you notice that your supply is decreasing (whether it’s from your baby sleeping longer at night or not), take advantage of your higher prolactin (the milk-making hormone) level at night by nursing your baby. You don’t even need to wake them very much. Sometimes you can just lift them out of their crib and tickle their lips with your nipple, and they will latch on and have a good ‘dream feeding.’


Foods, Herbs, and Supplements

Be sure you are eating enough calories, staying hydrated and getting at 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep, per day (I know, this sounds like a tall order). Adding some specific foods to your diet can be one of the easiest interventions to support making more milk. These foods are healthy and won’t have any negative side effects. Consider lactogenic foods such as oatmeal, almonds, dried apricots, and flax, among others. Some herbs are also used as galactagogues. Fenugreek is the most common one, though there are others that may be used to increase milk supply, too. Work closely with a lactation consultant and herbalist or naturopath if you choose herbs to try increasing your supply - many of them interact with your body the way a medication would and some of them have contraindications if you have particular health problems.


Is Your Supply Actually Low?

Milk supply problems are one of the most common reasons mothers supplement with formula or wean from the breast altogether. Perceived insufficient milk supply - when a mother thinks her supply is low based on her baby’s behaviors - can cause a mother baby dyad to end their breastfeeding relationship before either of them were ready. The best way to avoid this is to learn what’s normal. Understanding infant feeding cues and normal breastfeeding behaviors can help a mom understand her baby is just doing what is expected. Learning that breast milk supply varies depending on time of day and in relationship to baby’s age can help her to intervene only when appropriate. Working closely with a lactation professional can help a mom sort out whether her supply is truly low, or whether she’s doing just fine and simply needs a more thorough explanation of how the whole thing works!

At Milk Diva we use a scale that is very sensitive to measure how much milk your baby gets after a breastfeed. Cool, huh!

If you have more specific questions and would like expert advice from an IBCLC, for your individual breastfeeding questions, schedule a Virtual Consultation.


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References:

Buckley, S. (2010) Ecstatic Birth – Nature’s hormonal blueprint for labor. E-book.

Galipeau, R., Baillot, A., Trottier, A., & Lemire, L. (2018). Effectiveness of interventions on breastfeeding self‐efficacy and perceived insufficient milk supply: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Maternal & child nutrition, 14(3), e12607.

Kent, J. C., Prime, D. K., & Garbin, C. P. (2012). Principles for maintaining or increasing breast milk production. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing, 41(1), 114-121.

Neifert, M., & Bunik, M. (2013). Overcoming clinical barriers to exclusive breastfeeding. Pediatric Clinics, 60(1), 115-145.

Riordan J & Wambach K. (2010). Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. 4th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

West D & Marasco L. (2009). The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk