Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for your baby, but sometimes you may worry that you are not producing enough milk for your baby’s needs. There are many factors that can affect your milk supply, such as your baby’s latch, feeding frequency, health conditions, and lifestyle habits. Fortunately, there are also many ways to naturally increase your milk production and ensure a healthy breastfeeding relationship with your baby. In this article, we will share some tips and advice on how to increase breast milk, based on evidence and expert recommendations.
How to Know If Your Milk Supply Is Low
Before trying to increase your milk supply, it is important to know if your milk supply is actually low or not. Many mothers may have a false perception of low milk supply due to normal changes in their breasts, baby’s behavior, or milk output. The best way to determine if your milk supply is adequate is to monitor your baby’s growth and well-being. Some signs that your baby is getting enough milk are:
Your baby is gaining weight steadily and following the growth curve.
Your baby has at least six wet diapers and three bowel movements per day in the first month, and at least five wet diapers and one bowel movement per day after that.
Your baby is alert, active, and satisfied after feeding.
Your baby is nursing at least eight times in 24 hours, and for at least 10 minutes per breast.
You can hear or see your baby swallowing during feeding.
Your breasts feel softer and lighter after feeding.
If you notice any of the following signs, you may have a low milk supply and should consult your doctor or lactation consultant:
Your baby is losing weight or not gaining enough weight.
Your baby is fussy, hungry, or sleepy all the time.
Your baby is nursing very frequently or for very long periods, but still seems unsatisfied.
Your baby is not having enough wet or dirty diapers.
You cannot hear or see your baby swallowing during feeding.
Your breasts feel hard, full, or painful before or after feeding.
You are pumping less than an ounce of milk per session.
How to Increase Your Milk Supply Naturally
The good news is that you can increase your milk supply naturally by following some simple tips and practices. The key to increasing your milk supply is to stimulate your breasts more often and more effectively, so that your body can produce more milk in response to your baby’s demand. Here are some ways to do that:
Breastfeed more often. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you make. Try to nurse your baby at least eight to 12 times in 24 hours, and whenever your baby shows signs of hunger, such as rooting, sucking, or crying. Do not limit the duration or frequency of your baby’s feedings, and let your baby decide when to stop. Avoid skipping or delaying feedings, and offer both breasts at each feeding. If your baby is sleeping for long stretches at night, you may need to wake them up for a feeding to maintain your milk supply.
Pump between feedings. Pumping between feedings can also help you increase your milk production, especially if your baby is not nursing well or often enough. You can pump after feeding your baby, or whenever you have some free time. Try to pump for 10 to 15 minutes per breast, or until your milk flow stops. You can use a double electric breast pump to save time and stimulate both breasts at the same time. You can store your expressed milk in the fridge or freezer for later use, or donate it to a milk bank if you have excess milk.
Use breast compression. Breast compression is a technique that involves squeezing your breast gently with your hand while your baby is nursing. This can help increase the flow of milk and keep your baby interested and alert. To do breast compression, hold your breast with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other, and apply gentle pressure when your baby pauses between sucks. Release the pressure when your baby resumes sucking, and repeat as needed. You can also do breast compression while pumping to increase your milk output.
Try galactagogues. Galactagogues are substances that can help increase milk production. They can be natural, such as herbs, foods, or supplements, or synthetic, such as medications. Some of the most common galactagogues are:
Fenugreek: Fenugreek is a herb that has been used for centuries to boost milk supply. It can be taken as capsules, tea, or seeds. The recommended dose is 3 to 6 grams per day, but you may need to adjust it according to your response. Fenugreek may cause side effects such as gas, diarrhea, or allergic reactions, and may interact with some medications, such as blood thinners or diabetes drugs. Fenugreek may also make your urine or sweat smell like maple syrup.
Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a whole grain that is rich in fiber, iron, and calcium. It can help increase milk supply by providing energy and nutrients, and by stimulating the production of oxytocin, a hormone that triggers milk let-down. Oatmeal can be eaten as breakfast, snacks, or cookies, and can be combined with other lactogenic ingredients, such as flax seeds, brewer’s yeast, or nuts.
Blessed thistle: Blessed thistle is another herb that can enhance milk production. It can be taken as capsules, tea, or tincture. The recommended dose is 3 to 5 grams per day, but you may need to adjust it according to your response. Blessed thistle may cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, or allergic reactions, and may interact with some medications, such as antacids or antibiotics.
Domperidone: Domperidone is a medication that can increase milk supply by increasing the levels of prolactin, a hormone that stimulates milk production. It can be taken as tablets, usually 10 to 20 milligrams three to four times a day, but the dose may vary depending on your response and doctor’s advice. Domperidone may cause side effects such as headache, dry mouth, or irregular heartbeat, and may interact with some medications, such as antidepressants or antifungals. Domperidone is not approved by the FDA for increasing milk supply, and should only be used under medical supervision.
Before taking any galactagogues, you should consult your doctor , as they may not be suitable or safe for everyone. You should also remember that galactagogues are not a substitute for frequent and effective breast stimulation, and that they may take some time to work.
Make healthy lifestyle changes. Your lifestyle habits can also affect your milk supply, so it is important to take care of yourself and your well-being. Some of the lifestyle changes that can help you increase your milk supply are:
Drink enough water. Staying hydrated is essential for your health and milk production. Drink water whenever you are thirsty, and aim for at least eight glasses of water per day. You can also drink other fluids, such as milk, juice, or herbal teas, but avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, as they can dehydrate you and affect your baby.
Eat a balanced diet. Eating a balanced diet can provide you with the calories and nutrients you need to produce milk and nourish your baby. Include a variety of foods from all the food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. You may need to eat an extra 300 to 500 calories per day while breastfeeding, depending on your weight and activity level. You can also take a prenatal vitamin or a multivitamin to supplement your diet, but check with your doctor first.
Rest and relax. Resting and relaxing can help you cope with stress and fatigue, which can lower your milk supply. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps, and ask for help from your partner, family, or friends when you need it. You can also practice some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, to calm your mind and body. Relaxing can also help you release oxytocin, which can improve your milk let-down and flow.
Avoid smoking and drugs. Smoking and drugs can harm your health and your baby’s health, and can also reduce your milk supply and quality. Smoking can decrease your milk production, alter the taste and smell of your milk, and expose your baby to nicotine and other harmful chemicals. Drugs can pass into your milk and affect your baby’s development, behavior, and safety. If you smoke or use drugs, you should quit as soon as possible, or seek help from your doctor or a support group.
When to Seek Help for Low Milk Supply
If you have tried the above tips and still have concerns about your milk supply, you should seek help from a doctor. A low milk supply can have many causes, some of which may require medical attention or intervention. Some of the possible causes of low milk supply are:
Hormonal problems, such as thyroid disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome, or diabetes.
Breast surgery, such as breast reduction, augmentation, or biopsy.
Breast infection, such as mastitis or abscess.
Medications, such as birth control pills, antihistamines, or decongestants.
Anatomical issues, such as inverted or flat nipples, tongue-tie, or lip-tie.
Premature birth, multiple birth, or illness in the baby.
How to Supplement Your Baby If Needed
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may need to supplement your baby with some additional milk, either from your own expressed milk, donor milk, or formula. This may be the case if your baby is not gaining enough weight, has jaundice, or has a medical condition that requires extra fluids. Supplementing your baby does not mean that you have to stop breastfeeding, or that you have failed as a mother. You can still continue to breastfeed and increase your milk supply while supplementing your baby, as long as you follow some guidelines:
Talk to your doctor about how much and how often to supplement your baby, and what type of milk to use. They can help you determine the best plan for your baby’s needs and your breastfeeding goals.
Use a supplemental nursing system (SNS) if possible. An SNS is a device that allows your baby to receive supplemental milk while nursing at your breast. It consists of a container that holds the milk, and a thin tube that attaches to your nipple. Your baby can suckle your breast and the tube at the same time, stimulating your milk production and maintaining your baby’s latch and suck. An SNS can also help your baby associate your breast with feeding and comfort, and reduce nipple confusion or preference.
If you cannot use an SNS, use a cup, spoon, syringe, or dropper to feed your baby the supplemental milk. Avoid using a bottle or a pacifier, as they can interfere with your baby’s latch and suck, and cause nipple confusion or preference. If you have to use a bottle, use a slow-flow nipple, and try to mimic the breastfeeding position and pace. You can also try paced bottle feeding, which involves holding the bottle horizontally, pausing frequently, and switching sides to mimic breastfeeding.
Always offer your breast before and after giving the supplemental milk. This can help your baby get used to your breast, and stimulate your milk production. You can also try to nurse your baby when they are sleepy or calm, as they may be more willing to latch and suck.
Reduce the amount of supplemental milk gradually, as your milk supply increases and your baby’s weight improves. Monitor your baby’s growth and well-being, and consult your doctor or lactation consultant regularly to adjust your feeding plan.
Breastfeeding is a natural and rewarding process, but it can also be challenging and stressful at times. If you are worried about your milk supply, remember that you are not alone, and that there are many ways to increase your milk production and ensure a healthy breastfeeding relationship with your baby. The most important thing is to breastfeed or pump frequently and effectively, and to seek help and support from doctors and peers when you need it. With patience and perseverance, you can overcome any breastfeeding difficulties and enjoy the benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby.
Dr. Karuturi Subrahmanyam, MD, FRCP (London), FACP (USA)
Internal Medicine Specialist
Phone : 85000 23456