If you’re worried that you’re not producing enough breast milk for your baby, you’re not alone.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that approximately 75 percent of new mothers start off breastfeeding their babies, but many stop either partially or completely within the first few months. One of the most common reasons for this is worry about insufficient milk production.
For many women, your milk supply is just fine. However, if you do need to increase your breast milk production, there are ways to do it.
Read on to learn how to increase your breast milk production using several evidence-based methods and some practices mothers have sworn by for centuries.
The following are things that you can do to increase breast milk production. How long it’ll take to boost your milk supply depends on how low your supply is to begin with and what’s contributing to your low breast milk production. Most of these methods, if they’re going to work for you, should begin working within a few days.
1. Breastfeed more often
Breastfeed often and let your baby decide when to stop feeding.
When your baby suckles your breast, hormones that trigger your breasts to produce milk are released. That’s the “let-down” reflex. The let-down reflex is when muscles in your breasts contract and move the milk through the ducts, which happens shortly after your baby begins breastfeeding. The more you breastfeed, the more milk your breasts make.
Breastfeeding your new baby 8 to 12 times a day can help establish and maintain milk production. But this doesn’t mean that more or fewer feedings indicates a problem.
2. Pump between feedings
Pumping between feedings can also help you increase milk production. Warming your breasts before pumping can help make you more comfortable and pump easier, too.
Try pumping whenever:
- You have milk left over after a feeding.
- Your baby has missed a feeding.
- Your baby gets a bottle of breast milk or formula
3. Breastfeed from both sides
Have your baby feed from both breasts at each feeding. Let your baby feed from the first breast until they slow down or stop feeding before offering the second breast. The stimulation of having both breasts breastfed from can help increase milk production. Pumping milk from both breasts simultaneously has also been found to increase milk production and result in a higher fat content in the milk.
4. Lactation cookies
You can find lactation cookies in stores and online on Amazon or you can make your own. While there’s no research available on lactation cookies specifically, some of the ingredients have been linked to an increase in breast milk. These foods and herbs contain galactagogues, which may promote lactation. More research is needed, though.
Some of these include:
- whole oats
- wheat germ
- brewer’s yeast
- flaxseed meal
Easy lactation cookie recipe
- 2 cups white flour
- 2 cups oats
- 1 tbsp. wheat germ
- 1/4 cup brewers' yeast
- 2 tbsp. flaxseed meal
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Mix the flaxseed meal with water in small bowl and let soak for at least 5 minutes.
- Cream the butter and white and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add egg yolks and vanilla extract. Beat on low for 30 seconds or until ingredients are combined. Stir in flaxseed meal and water.
- In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, and salt. Add to butter mixture, and stir just until combined. Fold in the oats.
- Roll dough into 2-inch balls and place 2 inches apart onto a baking sheet.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges start to golden. Let the cookies stand on the baking sheet for 1 minute. Cool on a wire rack.
You also can add dried fruit, chocolate chips, or nuts for some variety.
5. Other foods, herbs, and supplements
There are other foods and herbs that may increase breast milk production, according to the Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation. Some, such as fenugreek, have been found to take effect in as little as seven days. These foods and herbs include:
Always talk to your doctor before taking a new supplement, especially when breastfeeding. Even natural remedies can cause side effects.
There are several factors that can interfere with the let-down reflex and cause low milk supply, including:
Anxiety, stress, and even embarrassment can interfere with the let-down reflex and cause you to produce less milk. Creating a private and relaxing environment for breastfeeding and making the experience enjoyable and free of stress can help increase breast milk production. Try one of these 10 ways to relieve stress.
Some medical conditions may interfere with milk production. These conditions include:
Smoking and alcohol
Smoking and drinking moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol can lower your milk production.
Previous breast surgery
Not having enough glandular tissue because of breast surgery, such as breast reduction, cyst removal, or mastectomy, can interfere with lactation. Breast surgery and nipple piercings can damage the nerves that are connected to breast milk production.
You may be worried that your milk supply is low, but low breast milk production is rare. Most women make more than one-third more milk than their babies need, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There are many reasons your baby may cry, fuss, or seem distracted while breastfeeding, but it’s unlikely to be due to your milk supply. Teething, gas pains, or even just being tired can lead to fussiness. Babies are also more easily distracted as they age. This can interfere with feedings and cause them to pull away when you’re trying to breastfeed.
Every baby’s needs are different. Most newborns need 8 to 12 feedings in 24 hours, some even more. As your baby gets older, they’ll feed more efficiently. This means that even though feedings are much shorter, they may be getting more milk in less time. Other babies like to linger and suck longer, often until the flow of milk has almost stopped. Either way is fine. Take your cue from your baby and feed until they stop.
As long as your baby is gaining weight as expected and needing regular diaper changes, then you’re probably producing enough milk.
When your baby is getting enough milk, they will:
- gain weight as expected, which is 5.5 to 8.5 ounces each week until 4 months
- have three or four stools every day by 4 days of age
- have two wet diapers over 24 hours by the 2nd day after birth, and six or more wet diapers after day 5
Regular checkups with your child’s pediatrician will help determine if your milk supply may be low or if your child is undernourished. Tracking feedings and diaper changes can also help your doctor determine whether or not your milk supply is lower than it should be.
If your milk supply is low, supplementing with formula may be an option. Speak to your doctor or a lactation specialist before supplementing feedings with formula to avoid accidental early weaning.
A lactation specialist can create a supplementation plan for you to follow so that you can increase your milk production and gradually decrease supplementation.
If you’re worried that your baby isn’t getting enough milk or feel that your baby isn’t thriving, speak to your doctor or consult a lactation specialist. If low milk production is the problem, correcting it may be as simple as making a few changes to your routine or feeding technique, or adjusting a medication you’re on.
If you’re supply is low or you’re having other trouble with breastfeeding, try to remember the motto “Fed is best.” As long as your baby is well-fed and getting the nourishment they need, breast milk or formula are both fine.
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