At some point in your breastfeeding journey, you’re likely to wonder how to increase your breast milk supply.
Maybe your supply takes a dip (or a plunge) and you want to build it back up again. Or perhaps you just want some extra on hand so that you can take some time away from your baby.
Whatever the case, many moms encounter a time where they’d like to make more breast milk. However, making that happen can be harder than you’d think.
So many of us struggle to increase our breast milk supply. But often it’s a struggle because we simply don’t know how to properly do it.
Too many new moms are under-educated about breastfeeding. And by no fault of their own—you simply don’t know what you don’t know.
And one area of our breastfeeding education that is often lacking is how to make more milk.
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Your Breast Milk Supply
One of the many things that new moms worry about is their breast milk supply. If you’ve chosen to breastfeed your baby, it’s likely something you’ll wonder about at some point.
It’s common for brand new moms to be worried about their baby getting enough milk. In most cases, you don’t need to be overly worried about it.
Your body is designed to create breast milk on demand. It will first create colostrum for your newborn, and soon change into mature milk as your baby grows.
Your breasts are able to adapt your milk to fit your individual baby’s needs at any given time. And that includes the amount of milk it produces.
Of course, it’s easy to worry about your baby getting enough milk when you can’t physically see how much milk your baby is eating each nursing session.
How to tell if your baby is getting enough milk
If you are concerned your baby is not getting enough breast milk, there are several ways to check. Keep in mind your baby’s needs will vary dependent on his age.
For example, your baby will not eat much at one time in the first week. Newborns have very small stomachs, only the size of cherry on their first day of life.
Newborn stomachs expand quite a bit in the first week, and continue to grow as they get older. So if your newborn doesn’t eat a lot in one session, don’t get stressed out about it.
You can tell whether or not your baby is getting enough milk in several ways.
First, are they having enough wet and dirty diapers?
In the first day of life, newborns typically only have 1-2 wet diapers. After a week, they should be up to about 6-8 wet diapers a day.
If you’re concerned about your baby eating sufficiently, keep track of his wet and diaper diapers for a few days. If there is an appropriate amount of diaper changes, your baby is likely getting plenty to eat.
Second, are they gaining an appropriate amount of weight?
The next way to test is your baby is getting enough to eat is weigh him. Is he putting on weight appropriate for his age?
If your baby is still regularly gaining weight, then he is getting enough breast milk. A healthy baby continues to put on weight appropriate for his age.
Schedule your baby for weight checks at their pediatricians office if you are concerned. Some hospitals may also allow you to bring your baby to the nursery to check weight.
Another place to go to check their weight would be at a breastfeeding support group. Many support groups are attended by a lactation consultant, and there are often scales available for you to weigh your baby if needed.
Third, try pumping your breast milk.
Of course, sometimes new moms still worry about their baby, even if they pass the diaper and weight tests. Don’t worry, it’s a normal concern.
If you want to see how much milk you are producing, try pumping your breast milk for a session or two. This will allow you to visually see how much milk is available.
Keep in mind that the time of day matters. You will produce more milk first thing in the morning, with the amount lessoning as the day goes on.
It’s also important to remember that your baby will be able to suck more milk out nursing than you will by pumping. Your baby almost always gets more from nursing than you do pumping.
So if you don’t pump as much as you think you should, rest assured that your baby is still likely getting more than that from nursing.
Why you might want to increase your supply
While your body is designed to naturally produce enough breast milk for your baby, there are some reasons you may want to intentionally increase your supply.
Baby needs more milk
The most obvious reason you might want to increase your breast milk supply is because your baby needs more milk.
For the most part, you can trust your body to adjust your milk supply as needed. Your body is able to tell if more milk is needed by how much your breasts are emptied each nursing session.
At some points, especially early on, your baby may want to cluster feed. Cluster feeding is when your baby nurses multiple times in a short span of time. Each feed is often shorter than normal, and much closer together than normal.
For example, your baby may nurse for ten minutes, then want to nurse again after five minutes. While it can be inconvenient and disconcerting at times, don’t stress about it.
Cluster feeding is your baby’s natural way to tell your body that it needs more milk. Your body will quickly respond by producing more milk to meet the need.
To build a freezer stash
Another reason you may want to increase your breast milk supply is to build up a freezer stash.
If your baby will take a bottle, having extra milk on hand is very helpful.
Having extra milk to freeze allows you to be away from your baby for longer periods of time if needed. This can come in handy if you want to have someone watch your baby for a bit while you go out.
It’s also a good backup to have if for some reason you are unable to nurse, or have a low supply.
For example, it’s normal for milk supply to drop when you are sick. Having extra milk to supplement with can really come in handy in this scenario.
Having pumped milk also allows others to be involved in the feeding process. This can be a great time for dad and siblings to bond with the baby as well!
To donate the extra milk
While a little less common, you may want to increase your milk supply in order to donate the extra to a breast milk bank.
Donating extra breast milk is a great way to help babies in need. Some moms are unable to produce breast milk for a wide variety of reasons. Other babies have unfortunately lost their mothers.
In cases where a baby cannot nurse or receive milk from it’s mother, it can receive donated milk through a milk bank.
This is a great way to help out babies in need and put your extra milk to good use.
How To Increase Your Milk Supply
Whatever your reason may be, you may find yourself at a point where you want to increase your breast milk supply.
For me, I hit this point after both Elijah and myself were sick with a bad cold. While we were sick, my milk supply dropped quite a bit.
It took quite a bit of work to build my supply up. Unfortunately, I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I didn’t know what else to do other than to go back to nursing as usual.
That’s why I think it’s really important for new moms to get good breastfeeding education while pregnant, or shortly after having their baby.
If you find yourself needing or wanting to increase your supply, here are some things to do to help you make more breast milk.
Drink more water
It’s no secret that breastfeeding can make you very thirsty. And it’s no wonder, considering breast milk is 88% water!
That means that in addition to the water you normally need, and the extra water you need while you heal from birth, you also need extra water to support breastfeeding.
If you’re not drinking enough water, your milk supply can easily drop. When your milk supply drops, the first thing I would do is increase the water you’re drinking.
It’s very easy to forget to drink enough, especially when it seems like you’re constantly drinking. Try to drink an 8-ounce glass of water after every nursing session.
I found that it was easiest to stay hydrated if I made the effort to drink right after nursing. That was usually when I was the most thirsty and could get myself to drink.
Don’t stress out if you can’t always drink a whole glass. Consistently drinking is better than trying to force yourself to drink a ton of water all at once.
Most of the time, I found that when my supply dipped it was due to a lack of hydration. It was usually an easy fix once I realized I had gotten lax!
While we’re on the topic of hydration, are you also fueling yourself sufficiently?
Breastfeeding is known to make you hungry, which makes sense. Your body is using extra energy and resources to make breast milk.
Despite this, it’s not uncommon for moms to forget to eat consistent meals and snacks. This is especially true early on when your body is also healing and going through the postpartum phase.
Even though your body needs to extra energy and nutrients, it’s easy to not take care of yourself. No one wants to get up and get a snack when they’re sore and exhausted. It’s much easier to stay put and try to sleep any chance we get.
But it’s incredibly important that you make the effort to keep yourself fueled with nutrient dense meals and snacks. If you don’t, both your health and your breastfeeding journey will suffer.
To make it easier on yourself, try keeping a stash of healthy snacks close to you nurse your baby. Keeping nutritious snacks and a drink nearby makes it far easier to keep up your energy while breastfeeding.
If you need ideas for nutrient dense, yummy snacks, check out The Postnatal Cookbook and the fourth trimester section of Eating for Pregnancy. Both cookbooks are filled with easy, delicious recipes that work well for the postpartum and breastfeeding periods.
Get sufficient rest
Another common culprit for low milk supply is simply not getting enough rest. It truly is amazing how much better your body does when it is well rested. Of course, this can be hard to accomplish with a baby—especially a newborn!
Just do the best that you can.
If needed, try to sleep, or at least rest, whenever your baby does sleep. Enlist some help watching the baby if you can. Have a spouse, family member, or friend take care of the baby for a bit while you take a nap.
Even if you are unable to fall asleep, try to lie down for a bit and give your body a break.
Avoid unnecessary stress
Did you know that stress can affect your milk supply? Yep! Allowing yourself to get overly stressed out can cause your supply to drop.
If you feel like your breast milk supply has dropped and you need to increase it, ask yourself if you’re feeling stressed.
Ironically, many of us get stressed about the fact that our supply isn’t what we want it to be!
Take a deep breathe. Try to relax and let go of the stress.
Breastfeed on demand
Assuming you are staying well hydrated and eating well, the next thing you want to be sure to do is breastfeed on demand.
Breastfeeding on demand helps ensure your milk supply regulates properly. When your supply is regulated, your breasts will only produce what is needed at any given time.
If your baby reaches a point where he needs more, you’ll likely end up with a few cluster feeds. Alternatively, your baby may just have a few longer than normal nursing sessions.
Cluster feeding and nursing longer than normal will cue your body that your baby needs more milk. As long as your baby is emptying the breast of milk, your body will create more to meet the new demand.
While some moms like to have a breastfeeding schedule, it’s usually best to feed on demand. Watch for your baby’s feeding cues and offer breast milk whenever you notice one of these cues.
If you don’t notice any hunger cues, then the rule of thumb is to offer the breast every 2-3 hours for newborns. Keep in mind that older babies may go longer between feeds, but eat more in one session.
Allow cluster feeding
Personally, I only experienced one cluster feed with Elijah. It started around 3am when he was only three or four days old. If I’m being honest, it was rough.
That particular night I was alone at the hospital. Elijah had just been released from the nursery (due to some birth complications) and allowed to stay in the room with me.
He cluster fed for two to three hours. He probably would have kept at it too, if the nurse hadn’t come to take him to the nursery to be weighed and checked out before the pediatrician arrived that morning.
At that point, I probably would have given him a pacifier if I had remembered to pack on in his diaper bag. I was so exhausted, and it was honestly the craziest I had ever felt in my life.
But I also had a nagging thought in the back of my head reminding me that I needed to push through the cluster feed to get my milk to come in. And sure enough, it helped kickstart that process and my milk came in shortly after.
All that to say, when your baby wants to cluster feed, let him for as long as you are able. It will help trigger your body to create more milk to meet the demand.
I don’t recommend going at it until you feel like a crazed animal. Allow cluster feeding for as long as you can mentally and physically handle it.
Remember, your mental health is important too. If you get to a point where you just can’t keep cluster feeding, it’s okay to offer a bottle of pumped milk or supplement with a little bit of formula.
Breast and nipple stimulation
Why does feeding on demand and cluster feeding work? Because breast and nipple stimulation is a big part of how your body knows to let down milk and make more.
The more stimulation your breast receives, the more signals it gets to increase your milk supply.
For that reason, nursing is usually optimal when you’re trying to make more milk. Nursing not only empties the breast better, but it also provides that needed stimulation.
You can also try massaging your breasts and hand expressing milk. Do this both before and after nursing your baby. Both will help fully empty your breasts of all milk and also provide extra stimulation.
Power pump / pump between feedings
While nursing is optimal, power pumping and pumping between feedings can also help empty your breasts and provide stimulation.
Assuming your baby is able to latch well and nurse effectively, nursing almost always removes more milk from the breast. Which in turn cues your body to make more milk.
However, while generally not as effectively, pumping can help to remove any leftover milk after nursing. It can also provide extra stimulation by mimicking the sucking motion that your baby uses while nursing.
Think of power pumping as replicating a cluster feed. You’ll pump for a certain period, take a short break, then pump again. Power pumping helps create a “demand” for your body to meet.
Sample power pumping schedule:
- Pump for 20 minutes
- Rest for 10 minutes
- Pump for 10 minutes
- Rest for 10 minutes
- Pump for 10 minutes
- Rest for 10 minutes
While power pumping, remember to drink extra water to stay hydrated. You may also want to keep some healthy snacks on hand in case you get hungry.
If you’re power pumping, it may be handy to use a hands free system. You can get just hands free collection cups such as Freemie’s, which can adapt to whatever pump you already have. Or you can a pump specifically made to be hands free such as the Willow pump.
Using a hands free pump or collection cups can make power pumping easier. You’ll be able to use your hands to do other things, and may even be able to get up and walk around if you have a hands free pump.
If you go this route, don’t forget to get a hands free pumping bra to go with it!
Make lactation snacks and smoothies
If you need an extra boost to increase your breast milk supply, try making some lactation snacks and smoothies.
Lactation snacks and smoothies make special use of ingredients that are known to increase your breast milk supply. Because of these ingredients, may find that their supply increases after eating lactation snacks.
You can make many lactation snacks right at home with healthy ingredients that also support breastfeeding. And they’re delicious!
The Key To Increasing Breast Milk Supply
Ultimately, the key to increasing your breast milk supply is to fully empty the breasts each time you nurse or pump, and provide stimulation to the breast tissue and nipples.
If you need to make more milk, do whatever you can do ensure that your breasts are completely emptied each and every time you feed your baby.
You also want to create more demand by nursing more often, pumping between feeds, power pumping, or cluster feeding. It can be a bit of a hassle, but with some consistency you should see your breast milk supply increase fairly quickly.
Leave a comment below and tell me what has worked for you!