How to Increase Breast Milk – A Complete Guide
If you are a mom who is wondering how to increase milk supply for your baby, this article can help you determine which steps and actions you can take in order to increase milk flow in a stress-free and easily manageable fashion.
During pregnancy, your breasts will begin the initial phases of preparing for breastfeeding. Your breasts will swell as a result of a swelling of alveoli, which are the glands in your breast that produce milk. Breasts are actually not filled with milk in prep of baby. Progesterone & estrogen cause ductal (progesterone & alveolar (estrogen) growth to prepare for milk production.
There are two different types of milk that is produced after pregnancy: colostrum and mature milk. Colostrum is the first milk produced after birth, but many women produce colostrum before baby is born as well. Colostrum is much thicker in consistency than mature milk and is yellow in color, and is important because it contains vital proteins and antibody properties that is crucial in protecting your baby from illness.
Your breasts will produce enough colostrum to feed your baby for the first few days after birth—baby will only need a small amount of food during these days. After colostrum, your breasts will produce mature milk, which is thinner and bluish-white in color.
When breastfeeding, your baby will latch onto the nipple, stimulating the nipple to release the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin activates the tissues that produce milk; oxytocin causes the breast to push out, or ‘let down’ the milk—this is also referred to as the milk-ejection reflex. In order to help facilitate a positive breastfeeding experience, skin-to-skin contact between you and baby when nursing is very important.
Steps on How to Produce More Breast Milk
If you notice a decrease in milk flow and/or production, or would like to increase breast milk naturally without using supplemental formula, there are a few tricks how to increase milk supply naturally.
Adjust your breastfeeding technique.
One easy way on how increase milk supply is changing your breastfeeding technique. The cause may be that baby isn’t positioned well enough, or hasn’t properly latched on in order to experience an ideal breastfeed. If you are worried about your baby “latching on” properly, here’s a great video that can help walk you through the process step-by-step: How to Breastfeed: Getting Baby to Latch On
If baby does not settle after a feed, wait a half hour and offer a quick breastfeed—like topping off the gas tank of your car, to use a crude analogy. Sometimes all baby needs is a little extra bonding time between you two to settle down, and the “topping off” strategy can be a great solution to that problem.
Sometimes how to increase milk supply is to switch breasts/change sides during a feeding, even several times during one feeding. This is a great practice when you feel your baby’s sucking decrease in strength—some moms have found that switching breasts during feeding encourages a stronger suck, which in turn stimulates a good let-down reflex. If you are switching during feeding, let baby finish before switching to the other breast. This can take 20 minutes, especially for younger infants, but it is very important for baby to choose the length of the feed.
If you feel like your baby is still struggling during feeding, you can also try massaging your breast, stroking from your body towards the nipple as baby feeds, just do not interrupt the latching on your baby has established on your nipple.
Breastfeed more often.
This is one of the easiest ways you can increase milk production, and doesn’t have to be a permanent change. For a few consecutive days, feed baby every 2 to 3 hours during the day, or offer your breast in between feedings. If your baby is awake, you can always try to get in a quick 5 to 10-minute feed. Younger infants will feed on average 8-12 times per day, but that can be increased based on needs and your desired milk flow/production. Please keep in mind that increasing the frequency of breast feeding can be correlated with fussy periods and wonder weeks, as is a natural progression of infant development patterns.
Pump after nursing.
Pumping is also a great method to help increase milk supply, especially if baby only feeds from one breast. By pumping after nursing you can help naturally boost your production and provide you some extra milk supply on hand to store, when you want a break from the constant cycle. Pumping can also help relieve pressure or pain from the breasts.
Wear the right bra.
Wearing a bra that compresses your breasts or that’s tight around the rib band or cup can cause issues with milk flow and supply. Wearing the wrong type of bra can even lead to constricted or plugged milk ducts. You can see more of our world famous nursing bra’s here.
You’re mental, physical and emotional state during feeding times can have an effect on baby. One way to answer your question, “How to increase milk supply” is probably the easiest to do: relax! Turn off the TV, close the door and leave your phone out of reach. Making sure you are relaxed and comfortable also helps you better let-down milk. Position yourself comfortably in a chair, have a beverage and/or book on hand, breathe deeply, and enjoy this time you and baby are sharing together. Make sure there is skin-on-skin contact during breastfeeding—this helps baby develop a breastfeeding rhythm, which is crucial for feeding. It is also worth noting that not all babies suck at the same pace, or feed during the same time. Some babies will be brief, some will take longer. Some babies like to suckle even after the breast has been drained. Let them decide when they are done; it will decrease both their and your stress during feeding time. If baby is fussy, you can try to use your breast instead of your typical comforting strategy (e.g. stuffed animal, holding and singing a song, etc.) to soothe them.
How to know if your baby is getting enough milk?
Now that we’ve covered how to increase milk supply for baby, here are some signs to look for to determine whether or not your baby is getting enough milk and/or you are producing enough milk for nursing:
- If baby is creating 5 very wet disposable diapers or 6-8 very wet cloth diapers.
- If the urine is very pale in color and/or is odorless. If urine is dark, this may be a good indication your baby needs more milk and as an added precaution, seek medical advice from your pediatrician.
- If a younger infant, bowel movements are runny and occur on average three times/day over several weeks. If bowels are more formed, this may be a good indication your baby needs more milk and as an added precaution, seek medical advice from your pediatrician.
- If an older infant, fewer and more solid bowel movements should occur.
- Healthy skin color and good muscle tone. A way to test if your baby is dehydrated is to see if their skin is sagging. If you gently “pinch” the skin of the arm or leg, does it bounce back immediately or is it sluggish to return to its former state? If it’s the latter, chances are your baby needs more milk.
- Alertness level can help determine whether or not they are getting enough milk.
- Weight gain, growth in size and head circumference are all signs of a well-fed baby.
- Sleeping and eating habits: this can be tricky to monitor. Every infant is a bit different, so their level of “typical” behavior might deviate from these signs, especially during fussy periods and wonder weeks. That being said, your baby showing a feeding time schedule/habitual feeding periods (even if that means waking you up at 4 in the morning to feed) can still be considered “typical”.
Fussy periods are times during infant development when your baby is more clingy, cranky and cries more, often resulting in less sleep. One way to help your baby get through fussy periods easier is to increase the times per day you breastfeed and increase attention given to baby. Wonder weeks can be associated with fussy periods—fussiness can be the precursor to your infant’s development in some capacity, such as their first steps. Arsenic hour is a time during the evening, typically early-to-mid-evening, where babies can go from happy and smiling to fussy and crying. Arsenic hour typically occurs around week 6 through week 12, which it starts to taper off. Please note that before you think your child is experiencing fussy periods, wonder weeks and/or arsenic hour, it is important to determine of your baby is in good health.
Am I losing my milk?
When you and baby are first breastfeeding, the feeling of fullness and leakage are common occurrences during the first few weeks of infancy. You may notice your breasts feel less full or less leaking throughout infancy, or your baby’s nursing time has drastically decreased, but this doesn’t mean a lack of milk or a decrease in production. This can actually happen at certain, calculable times of development:
- The first few days after birth, when the body is switching from producing colostrum to mature milk,
- When baby is 3-4 weeks old and is nursing more frequently,
- Between 3 to 6 months in age.
There are a few reasons you may feel like your breasts aren’t producing as much milk during these times, and it’s a result of a few different factors. When your baby is a newborn, they are less familiar with breastfeeding, and thus it can take them longer to latch on as well as more time to actually feed (average 30-40 minutes). It is also very common during early stages of infancy for your breasts to overproduce milk—just like how baby needs to learn how to breastfeed, your body also needs to learn how much milk it needs to produce on a daily basis. Over time, your baby will be more effective and efficient at breastfeeding and your body will be able to better “calculate” on average how much milk to produce. Based on the timeframes listed above, your baby will be going through developmental and behavioral changes during these times that can result in fussy periods and wonder weeks (see above). This may mean shorter, but more frequent feeding times, including waking during the night for feeding, and is often associated with increased crying or fussiness. This does not mean baby is not getting enough milk, but is more likely associated with these periods of growth. Decreased feeding times may mean going from 30-40 minutes down to a 10-minute feeding time as baby grows and develops. As babies develop, it is also more common for them to get distracted during feeding by sounds, the Television, etc. which can also lead to a decreased feeding time—this behavior is typically seen around months 4 to 6. If your baby used to sleep soundly through the night and is now waking up, more likely than not it is a result of some factor other than a drop in milk production—teething, ear infection/ailment, or increased feedings during the day can all have an effect on your infant’s sleeping schedule.
Signs your milk production is actually decreasing:
Now that you know what some of the “false alarms” for decrease in milk flow are, here are a few signs and symptoms that can actually mean a decrease in milk flow:
- If your baby’s weight gain has slowed down significantly, this can be a sign of decreased milk flow. This can be expressed in the forms of less-active/less alert and more lethargic behavior.
- If there are less/erratic wet and/or poopy diapers, this can be a sign of decreased milk production. The only time this will not be the case is around the six-week mark, where many babies experience a decrease in poopy diapers overall.
There are many factors that can influence milk production: changes in breastfeeding techniques or patterns, prescription drugs/changing medications, changes in sleeping patterns, adding food or liquids to baby’s diet, even stress or separation periods between mommy and baby can influence milk production.
The Hormonal Shift
Around the time when baby is 3 months, your body will go through some changes that also can effect milk production. Milk production stops being regulated by mom’s hormones and start being controlled by the body’s familiarity/frequency of feedings. If your breastfeeding was sporadic and/or less frequent prior to the hormonal shift, this may result in a decrease in milk production based on what your body perceives are the baby’s nutritional needs. If these tips and tricks do not provide you with the milk flow you expect or are still unsatisfactory for baby, you may need to consult a lactation consultant for more help and/or look into supplementation. Supplementation can be incorporated in with breastfeeding, which still allows you and baby to establish that bond during nursing while providing baby with the nutrition he or she needs.
- Australian Breastfeeding Association: Increasing Supply
- Australian Breastfeeding Association: Fussy Periods and Wonder Weeks
- Breastfeeding Association Canada: 10 Valuable Tips for Successful Breastfeeding
- Breastfeeding USA: Losing Your Milk: What seems like dwindling milk can actually be normal changes in baby and you
- London Health Sciences Centre: Building Your Milk Supply
- Mayo Clinic: What causes a low milk supply during breast-feeding?
- Medela: Fenugreek – An Herb to Increase Milk Supply;
- Medela: Breastmilk Supply
- Mother & Child Health: How Can I Increase My Milk Supply? Becky Flora, IBCLC
- Women’s and Children’s Health Network: Wonder weeks
- BabyCenter: Low Milk Supply
- Kids Health: Breastfeeding FAQs: Supply and Demand
- org: Providing Breastmilk for Premature and Ill Newborns
- Mayo Clinic: What causes a low milk supply during breast-feeding? Elizabeth LaFleur, R.N.
- WebMd: Breast-Feeding and Your Milk Supply – Topic Overview
- La Leche League International: Milk Supply Issues
- Breastfeeding Basics: Increasing Your Milk Supply, Anne Smith IBCLC
- National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Breastfeeding Report Card
- Unicef/World Health Organization: Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative
- BC Baby Friendly: Nursing Brochure
- Breastfeeding Association Canada: Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding
- Kelly Mom www.kellymom.com