Worries about low milk supply are the number one reason why new moms wean their babies earlier than they were hoping. Although it’s actually quite rare for nursing moms to produce insufficient milk for their babies, it can happen. The good news? Low milk supply can be improved once you know the cause. Let’s go through the basics on increasing your breast milk supply.
How does milk production work?
To understand why some moms may need to increase their milk supply, let’s break down how milk production actually works. After giving birth, prolactin levels increase. The hormone prolactin tells the mammary glands to synthesize milk from the mother’s blood, establishing your milk supply.
When your baby suckles, this triggers the let-down reflex that releases the milk from the nipple, and increases oxytocin production. When oxytocin levels rise, this tells your body to release breast milk.
In general, milk production is a matter of supply-and-demand: the more the baby drinks, the more milk your breasts make. Since Baby calls the shots on milk production, it’s quite uncommon for a mother not to produce enough milk to meet their needs.
Do I need to increase breast milk?
Low milk supply is rare, but it can happen. If you’re concerned you’re not making enough, speak to your doctor, midwife or lactation counselor. You may need to increase your supply if you have the following problems:
1. Low levels of prolactin and oxytocin
Prolactin and oxytocin are in charge of managing your milk supply, so if these hormones are deficient, breastfeeding may be difficult. In particular, if your baby has poor “latch-on” technique when attaching to the breast, they may not be triggering the nerves in the nipple that keep these hormones flowing well.
2. Medical problems
In some cases, an underlying health problem like high blood pressure, poorly controlled diabetes or anemia can make it harder for your body to produce milk. Milk production can also be affected as a side effect of certain medications, including common herbal remedies and hormonal birth control.
3. Physical and emotional stress
Physical and emotional stress can suppress milk production. Feeling run-down or sleep deprivation can make it harder to produce the milk your baby needs, as can pent-up emotional stress.
4. Breast problems
Problems like blocked mammary glands or infections in the breast tissue can cause inflammation and prevent milk ejection. This can also cause uncomfortable symptoms like pain, heat or swelling in the breasts, and could leave you feeling generally unwell.
How to increase breast milk
If you think you need to improve your milk supply, don’t panic. A professional lactation counselor can help you identify the problem. Some of the strategies you will encounter may include:
1. Feeding more frequently
The more your baby nurses, the more your breasts are stimulated into producing more milk. A healthy newborn should generally be nursing about 8 to 12 times each day. This keeps your levels of prolactin and oxytocin on the up and up so you can continue to make milk.
2. Staying hydrated
It’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re nursing, so remember to drink up when you’re thirsty. You don’t need to drink extra liquids if you don’t need them. It’s important to stay hydrated, so try to get plenty of caffeine-free, non-alcoholic drinks over the course of the day. Warm or tepid rather than ice-cold drinks may also be more comfortable and relaxing.
3. Getting cozy
Milk production can drop when your body temperature gets too cold, so be sure to stay rugged up in the cooler months. A warm bath or shower can also be a great way to de-stress and unwind at the end of the day.
4. Getting some movement
Moderate exercise can get your blood moving and promote good hormone balance, but it’s important not to overdo it in the days right after birth. If you had an uncomplicated delivery and you’ve got the all-clear from your doctor, think about incorporating some activities like gentle yoga or stretching when your baby’s napping so you can get back to an active lifestyle.
5. Wearing comfortable clothes
Tight or ill-fitting clothes and underwear can be very uncomfy for breastfeeding mothers. Consider investing in a well-fitted nursing bra so you can be sure you’re getting the support you need without being too squished up.
6. Getting enough calories
Breastfeeding takes a lot of energy out of you, so do yourself a favor by making sure you’re getting all the energy you need. A healthy, balanced diet can help you feel your best when you’re looking after your baby.
Now is not the time for excessive dieting: rather than calorie-counting, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full is the way to go when you’re breastfeeding.
7. Stressing less
Looking after a newborn is stressful stuff – especially if you’re a first time mom. The huge life changes combined with the all-too-common sleep deprivation can leave many breastfeeding moms feeling stressed out. But there’s the vicious cycle: stress can make it harder for your breasts to supply and release milk.
Instead, try to take a little time each day to relax with something you enjoy. Remind yourself you’re doing the best you can, and that’s great. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your partner and support network.
8. Finding a good feeding position
Proper latch-on and feeding position is important for the baby to get all the milk they need. Experiment with different feeding positions until you find the one that’s perfect for you and your baby to relax and feel comfortable. Ask a lactation counselor if you need help getting the perfect latch-on and positioning: it’s their job to help you breastfeed well.
9. Trying breast pumping or expression
Effective breast pumping or expression by hand can prevent and relieve blockages in milk ducts, as well as stimulate milk flow. If you’re feeling tension or inflammation in your breasts, try expressing breasts gently by hand, or using a milk pump to relieve some of the pressure. See a doctor if it gets too uncomfortable.
How to increase breast milk starts with you
Worries about low milk supply are very common among new nursing moms. Before trying remedies which supposedly boost your output, check with your doctor or midwife to see if that’s really what your body needs. The good news is that even if you do need to increase your supply, it’s possible once you know the cause.