Tips for Increasing a Low Milk Supply
These days, more and more new moms are opting to breastfeed their babies. While the practice has come in and out of favor over the decades, the more we learn about the benefits of breast milk, the better an option it seems. There’s some truth to the old saying “breast is best,” and that may be an important part of your parenting experience.
But sometimes, new moms find they have issues with low milk supply. There are a lot of factors that can affect your milk supply, and trying to increase it can be stressful. Read on to learn about what can cause low milk supply and what you can do about it.
When Your Milk Should Come In
If you’re worried you may have low milk supply, the first thing to do may be to wait for a few days. It can sometimes take a little while for your milk to come in, and your milk ducts may not be fully developed yet. Breastfeeding stimulates duct development, so in time, your milk supply may increase to what it needs to be.
It may take as long as a week for your milk to come in fully. Until that time, you’ll be producing colostrum, a yellowish substance that’s packed with nutrients and important antibodies. If your milk hasn’t come in, but your baby is getting colostrum and seems healthy and happy, you don’t need to worry.
How to Tell If You Have Low Milk Supply
Depending on when your milk comes in and how much colostrum you’re producing, your baby might not be getting enough. It is important to make sure your baby is well-hydrated and nourished, but there are also a lot of misconceptions about how to tell if you have low milk supply. We’ll talk about those in a moment, but first, let’s talk about signs of low milk supply.
If your baby isn’t gaining enough weight (about an ounce a day after the first few days), that can be a sign of low milk supply. You may also notice your baby not using as many diapers. If your baby isn’t pooping or peeing as often, or if their urine is dark-colored, they may not be getting enough hydration.
What Causes It
There can be several different reasons that you may not be producing enough milk. Milk production has nothing to do with breast size, so if you’re smaller, don’t worry. More common causes tend to relate to medications or previous medical procedures.
If you’re on hormonal birth control, you may not produce as much milk. There are various other medications that may impact milk production. Previous breast surgeries, including nipple piercings, can also impact your milk production.
If your baby is feeding a lot (ten or twelve times a day), is waking up during the night, or feeds for a long or short amount of time, it can seem like you aren’t producing enough milk. But don’t worry. All of these are perfectly normal, and as long as there aren’t any other problems, you don’t need to worry about low milk supply.
You may have also heard that once a baby has had a bottle, they can’t go back to the breast, or vice versa. This is a myth; babies can switch between the two with usually very little difficulty. Softer breasts, an inability to pump milk, and breasts that don’t leak milk are also normal and not necessarily a sign of low milk supply.
One of the best things you can do to help increase your milk supply is have skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Recent studies have found that skin-to-skin contact has incredible effects on newborns, so it isn’t a surprise that it helps with milk production and breastfeeding, too. One of the things skin-to-skin contact does is helps promote the release of the hormone oxytocin, which helps with an increase in milk supply.
Undress your baby (except for their diaper) and remove clothing from the top half of your body. Settle your baby on your chest, and, if you want, wrap a blanket over you and the baby. Stay there as long as you need, allowing your baby to feed if they want to.
Using a Breast Pump
Another great way to stimulate milk production is to use a breast pump. Although this doesn’t have the hormonal stimulation benefits of breastfeeding, it can help promote more milk supply.
Milk production is a supply-and-demand system, so if you aren’t making enough milk, providing more “demand” can increase your production. You should still breastfeed your baby whenever possible, using any pumped milk to feed them in between. But in between feedings, using a breast pump can help signal your breasts that they need to produce more milk.
If you have sensitive nipples or an especially low supply, using a breast pump may be uncomfortable or unproductive. In this case, you can hand-express breast milk, which can be a gentler way to promote more milk production. This can also be important to keep your baby fed if you have issues with latching or other breastfeeding challenges.
Wash your hands, and make sure you have a sterile container nearby to store the expressed breast milk. Hold your container under your breast with one hand, and with the other, cup your breast, placing your thumb on the upper part of your areola and your index finger on the lower edge. Push your thumb and finger back towards your chest, and then squeeze them in a rhythm that mimics your baby’s feeding.
Rotate your hand to get milk ducts in different areas of your breast as you do this. It may help to think about your baby, or to do this right after, or even during, a feeding. If you only get a little bit at first, don’t worry; this is helping to increase your supply.
Change Birth Control
Hormonal birth control can be a factor in low milk supply. This can include the pill, as well as the patch and injection options for birth control. This is most likely to be an issue if you start back on birth control within your baby’s first four months of life, so talk to your doctor if this is the case.
It is important to find an alternative to birth control while you’re breastfeeding if you don’t want to get pregnant again. While breastfeeding does make it harder to get pregnant, it isn’t impossible. If you don’t want to get pregnant again right away, talk to your doctor about options for non-hormonal birth control.
Avoid Certain Medicines and Herbs
We mentioned that hormonal birth control can affect milk production, but there are other medicines and herbs that can, too. Sudafed, other cold medications, methergine, and bromocriptine can all impact your milk production. If you’ve been talking these medications, talk to your doctor about alternatives.
Certain herbs can also decrease your milk supply. You should stay away from large amounts of sage, parsley, and peppermint as much as possible in the early days of breastfeeding. A little won’t hurt, though, so you can still have your peppermint tea if you like.
Try Lactation-Friendly Foods
Just like there are foods that lower breast milk supply, there are some foods that can help promote it. In the age of the internet, there are dozens of lactation-friendly recipes for cookies, granola bars, and more. These can be amazing for stimulating more milk production.
It may seem odd to think that a food can affect your milk supply, but some food, such as oats, can help. They contain a compound called saponins, which helps the body create prolactin. As you might gather from the name, prolactin helps to encourage milk production in the body.
Give It Time
In many cases, the best cure for low milk supply is time. As we mentioned earlier, breast milk is a supply and demand system. The more your baby nurses, the more milk you’ll produce, so as much as you can, be patient.
If you have to, don’t be afraid to supplement your baby’s food supply while you’re trying to increase your milk production. The important thing is that you both stay healthy and happy during this process, and there’s nothing wrong with using formula when it’s needed. Keep trying these other methods to promote milk production, but focus first on keeping your baby healthy.
Get More Breastfeeding Tips
Being a new mother is hard, and feeling like you aren’t able to feed your baby enough can be horribly stressful. But some patience and a few of the methods we listed above will help you increase a low milk supply. Remember, everyone’s journey as a parent is different, and you’re doing great.
If you’d like to get more breastfeeding tips and learn more about lactation-friendly foods, check out the rest of our Nourisher blog and bars. Our bars are designed to promote lactation and are packed with natural, delicious nutrients.