If you google “how to increase your milk supply”, then you’ll find about 1000 different answers.
Most of them are aimed towards marketing a specific product – such as lactation teas, cookies, shakes, drinks, pills… you name it, it’s out there.
But from my personal experience breast feeding/pumping for twins, and working with moms as a NICU nurse, there are a few ways that are almost guaranteed to increase your milk supply.
These methods have worked for years, they are scientifically supported, and are what lactation consultants and clinicians recommend.
The more milk you remove, the more you make.
The marketing strategy of “supply and demand” has never been more true than when considering how breast milk is created and stored within the breast.
While there are a finite number of milk-making alveoli in the mammary glands, there really isn’t a finite number of ounces that your boobs can make. When it comes down to it, you’re constantly making breast milk… that is, as long as you are removing it.
That means that if you take more milk out, more milk will refill those alveoli, meaning you’ll have more milk the next time. So the easiest way to ensure that you make more breast milk is to empty the breasts more often.
When your baby is first born, it is recommended to not go any longer than 3-4 hours between feedings/pump sessions. If your baby is acting satisfied longer than that, then great! That means that your baby is getting enough of the fatty hindmilk that comes towards the end of a feed/pump session, which keeps him/her fuller, longer. But if you’re worried about your supply, keep reading.
Let Your Baby Cluster Feed
Babies eat more when they are hungry. So it makes sense that the breast would kick into high gear if you are having to feed your screaming hungry baby every 2 hours. This is called cluster feeding and is completely normal. Babies usually cluster feed when
- brand new, only hours or days old
- when going through a growth spurt especially in those first few months.
If you are exclusively breast feeding, then you need to listen to your baby. Look for their hunger cues and don’t wait until they are screaming bloody murder. There are all kinds of signs and clues (turning head, hand to mouth, rooting) to help you feed your baby before she gets to that point.
Try Power Pumping
A great way to remove more milk in a time efficient way is to power pump. Babies do this naturally when cluster feeding and you mimic it using a pump. This means that you would
- pump for 20 minutes,
- take a 10 minute break,
- pump for 10 more minutes,
- take another 10 minute break,
- pump for 10 more minutes
The entire shebang takes an hour. But if you add this to your pumping/breastfeeding regimen once or twice a day, you’ll notice that you start to get more milk in your sessions. It takes a couple of days (2-3) before you’ll notice the results.
Increase your water and calorie intake.
When you are breastfeeding (or pumping), you should increase your calorie count by 500 calories per day per child in order to adequately cope with the added physical toll it takes on your body.
In terms of water, you should be drinking half of your body weight (in ounces) per day on a regular day. When breastfeeding, you should be drinking even more.
Most breastfeeding moms report they drink almost a gallon a day, regardless of their weight/size. While this seems like a ton of water (and it is), it’s actually pretty doable, simply because you stay so thirsty! I know I’ve been so crazy thirsty since I’ve been pumping.
I carry a bottle of water around with me everywhere so I can easily just take a drink whenever I think about it.
Monitor stress levels
Another great way to help boost your milk supply is the most “simple” of the ways, but may actually be the hardest. Relax!
Being a mom is stressful, and so is low milk supply. But those things go hand in hand with potentially why your breast milk supply is lower. The more tired, stressed out you are, the less milk you will have and the less milk you will produce.
There are also lots of studies that show that the stress hormone, cortisol, is transferred to babies via breast milk, meaning that if you are stressed out and feeding your child, your child will feel stressed as well.
I know that as you’re reading this, you’re starting to panic that every little stressor will affect your baby in a negative way. That’s not the case! When I’m talking about stress here, I’m talking about long term, mismanaged stress. So feeling stress is completely normal.
But if you start to have a feeling of overwhelming stress and are unable to cope with it, it’s time to seek help. Not only is this bad for the baby, but ultimately, you’re at risk for postpartum anxiety and depression after your baby is born – some people don’t feel the effects of these until months later. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you need to reach out and ask for help.
The better taken care of you are, the better your baby will be cared for.
A great way to handle the stress of a newborn baby is to sleep when he or she sleeps. Don’t worry about the laundry and the millions of other tasks that need to be done.
And you’ll make more milk after you sleep, too. If you need an excuse for why you deserve a nap (which you don’t), just remember that to make milk you have to have rest. Take that nap, mama, you’ve earned it!
Galactogogues Could Help
While western science doesn’t really agree on the use of galactogogues, there is scientific evidence that there are some substances (both natural and artificial) that can boost breast milk supply.
Whether you add these substances to food, teas, or whatever, just know that they can interact with other medications you may be taking. You always want to check with your healthcare provider before you add any supplements to your diet. There’s also some side effects of the different medications and supplements that you can use.
Try Some Natural Remedies
The most common “natural” remedies that are talked about in our hospital/area are
- milk thistle
All of these are easy to find in Walmart, the grocery store, and basically any drug store you come across. They come in pill form, powder form, and there is a mixture of these usually in most “milk teas” or “mama teas” that you’ll come across.
Most of these don’t have any negative side effects, but there are mixed responses from moms about how well they work. Milk thistle does have some reported potential GI effects, such as nausea or diarrhea. Concentrated asparagus root was also mentioned to have potential milk-boosting effects.
Try a Medication as a Last Option
Medications that are prescribed by providers include
- metoclopramide (Reglan – the most common one I’ve personally seen used)
- domperidone (Motilium)
- chlorpromazine (Thorazine),
- a few others such as oxytocin, low dose estrogen.
The big things with these are that none and I mean NONE of these medications were created or originally intended to be used to boost milk supply.
They all are intended for different things –
- Reglan is used for different stomach and reflux issues
- Motilium is to help boost the motility of the gut – meaning it speeds up the contractions/increases the amount of movement within the stomach and bowel
- Thorazine is an antipsychotic medication
If that doesn’t make you nervous, I’m not sure what will. There’s nothing wrong with using these medications to help boost your milk supply, at all.
It’s just something to be wary of, and is always the last option recommended for our moms. These medications have many different side effects from migraines to diarrhea.
Pursue Breastfeeding Today
No matter what, know that you are doing the best for your baby by choosing to breastfeed. No matter how long the breastfeeding journey lasts, or whether you are exclusively breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, or somewhere in between, that liquid gold you are making for them and giving them is a great gift. You’re a superwoman for even getting this far!
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I’m Peyton! I’ve been a NICU nurse working with our tiniest humans and their moms for several years now. From my work with lactating mothers as an RN and aspiring lactation consultant to my personal experience breastfeeding and pumping for my twins, I have lots of info to share! I’m passionate about all things mom, babies, and breastfeeding!