Many expecting parents dream of the moment they’ll first cradle their little one in their arms and start providing for their most basic needs.
For some breastfeeding moms, this expectation may become a source of worry and anxiety if their milk supply doesn’t come in shortly after delivery.
First, take a deep breath. Your baby will be nourished and you’ll be OK. Whatever you’re providing your newborn with right now — be it a few drops of colostrum with formula supplementation or formula alone — your baby is benefiting.
If your milk volume doesn’t seem to be increasing 3 to 5 days after delivery, you may even be tempted to stop trying to breastfeed because you’re worried about your baby having enough food.
But before throwing in the towel on your milk supply or feeling like a failure, take a moment to keep reading — there are things you can do that may help. (And you’re not a failure, period.)
You may feel very alone and like you’ve done something wrong if you find that your breast milk hasn’t come in shortly after birth. But be gentle with yourself — you haven’t done anything wrong. You’re certainly not alone, and there’s a good chance more milk is on its way by in the next week or two.
There are plenty of reasons for a delay. Your breast milk supply may take a little longer to come in or increase if:
- It was a premature birth — particularly if your baby needed to be separated from you right after the birth.
- You have a medical condition like diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- You have obesity.
- You had/have an infection or illness that includes a fever.
- You had a cesarean delivery.
- Your pregnancy included a prolonged bed rest.
- You have a thyroid condition.
- You had a traumatic birth or a postpartum hemorrhage.
- You were unable to breastfeed in the first few hours after giving birth.
Because breast milk production is tied to demand (meaning, removal of milk from your breast), it’s important to make sure that you’re stimulating your breasts frequently and getting out as much milk and colostrum as possible.
Even if you’re making sure to drain your breasts frequently, there are many unique variables that can impact when your milk supply begins to increase.
It’s important to give yourself grace and take measures to encourage a strong supply whenever it does begin to change from colostrum to more mature milk. (See a little lower for some hints to help you with this!)
While it can be extremely frustrating waiting for your breast milk to increase, know that there’s still time for it to happen.
By consistently stimulating your breasts — either with a breast pump or manually — and offering your baby the opportunity to breastfeed, you’ll protect your milk supply and encourage your milk volume to increase sooner rather than later.
Getting help from a professional right away if your milk is coming along a little slower is important to ensure that you establish a healthy milk supply.
There are many things you can do to encourage a greater milk supply both at the hospital and when you’re at home:
Massage your breast area as well as pump or hand express milk
Stimulation of the breast can help in the creation of important milk receptor sites and increase the amount of milk you’re producing. It’s important to spend time engaging and massaging your breasts.
Use a hospital grade pump
These types of pumps have extra suction that can make a big difference not only in the amount of milk that you’re able to extract from your breasts, but also the amount of stimulation your breasts feel. This can lead to a significant increase in the amount of future breast milk you’re able to produce.
Related: The 10 best breast pumps — and how to choose one
Express milk frequently — even if only a small amount comes out!
You should breastfeed, pump, or hand express every 2 to 3 hours in the beginning. Remember that your milk supply is based around supply and demand. It’s essential that you try to drain milk from your breast frequently, so that your body knows it should produce more for your baby.
Especially if your little one is separated from you for any reason, it’s important to use a good hospital grade pump to stimulate and drain milk/colostrum from your breasts.
Hospital staff and lactation consultants can work with you to develop a pumping and feeding plan that will encourage your milk volume to increase.
Use a heating pad or take a warm shower before expressing milk
Heat and massage are great ways to encourage your breast to let down more milk.
Listen to relaxing music
Hearing soothing tunes will help relax you and get the hormones flowing that you need to let down milk. If you’re pumping, looking at pictures of your baby may help as well.
Drink lots of water and get as much sleep as possible
Breast milk includes a lot of water, so just by increasing your water intake you may be able to increase the amount of breast milk you produce.
Many women find that they produce more milk after sleeping, since it offers their bodies a chance to relax and get the right milk-producing hormones flowing.
Bonus points for eating lots of healthy food, since you’ll also produce less breast milk if you get sick.
It may seem like the whole world is weighing on your shoulders as you wait for your milk volume to increase, but there are many ways to make sure that your baby stays healthy and fed.
If your premature baby isn’t putting back on weight after delivery or otherwise needs milk for some reason, don’t worry. Medical staff will feed your little one as much breast milk as you are able to produce and supplement with formula as needed.
Although you may be unhappy with the colostrum or small amount of breast milk you feel you have to offer after a pumping session, your baby will benefit from it! No amount is too little to share with your little one, and any milk that comes from you is specially formatted by nature for your baby.
Using formula for a brief window while your milk increases doesn’t mean that you’ll be unable to breastfeed your baby in the future. If you’re uncomfortable feeding your baby formula, you can speak to your doctor about using donor’s milk. This is milk from people who have produced more than their babies need. It’s screened and stored in milk banks.
Your doctor or lactation consultant will be able to direct you to a local milk bank if you need donor’s milk.
Your baby may not be getting enough to eat if:
- They appear dehydrated (soft spot or eyes sunken in, skin losing elasticity).
- They have fewer wet and dirty diapers. Your baby should be having at least 6 to 8 wet diapers a day after their fifth day of life.
- They cry throughout and following feeds (e.g., no signs of happy milk-drunk baby).
- They’re not back to birth weight by 14 days of life. After an initial decrease in weight right after birth, your baby should be steadily gaining weight.
- They become lethargic or unresponsive.
If you notice signs that your baby isn’t getting sufficient milk, contact your pediatrician as soon as possible. They can determine if there are any other problems and work with you to ensure that your child stays healthy.
It can be both empowering and intimidating to think that breast milk is all your baby needs to stay nourished.
Especially if your breasts aren’t feeling engorged and your milk volume doesn’t seem to be increasing in the first few days after delivery, you may be worried that you’ll never be able to keep your baby full and that you’re somehow inadequate as a parent.
So listen: This is not true! (Read that again.) Remember that there are many reasons why your milk may be a little delayed. Work with a lactation consultant or your doctors and nurses to maximize the amount of milk you produce and ensure good, long breast milk producing potential. A rough start doesn’t have to mean the end to your breastfeeding expectations.
And in the event that your milk doesn’t come in at all due to a medical condition, don’t blame yourself. Your baby will be just fine, and you’re still doing a great job. Fed is best.