Few things are more frustrating for a breastfeeding mom than having a short supply. As if you didn’t already have enough on your plate to deal with, atop of a serious lack of sleep, now you have to worry if your boobs will comply to your baby’s insatiable appetite. This is why low milk supply is a popular topic of conversation in breastfeeding groups and online community threads: It’s a big deal. But the surprising factor is that having low milk supply is actually quite rare. “Very few women truly have a ‘low milk supply,’ but many women have a perceived low milk supply, poor neonate latch or enough anxiety and exhaustion to impact their milk supply,” explains Kathy Fray, midwife and international private maternity consultant.
The good news is that it’s almost always possible to increase your milk supply. In fact, as a senior midwife, Fray admits she can hardly think of a situation when a client wasn’t able to increase her supply by following a multi-prong approach. Lactation, she explains, works on a ‘supply and demand’ basis, which means that if your baby’s demanding it, your body will supply it. “Even a woman with a single breast mastectomy can exclusively breastfeed her singleton baby because our bodies are designed for feeding twins; however it is difficult for a mother to increase her milk supply when she doesn’t have the supportive knowledge on how to achieve it.”
If you’re one of the many new moms looking for ways to boost your milk supply naturally but efficiently, here are some science-backed solutions.
Feed your baby more often—and fully
Remember that whole supply and demand thing? Here’s where it counts. “If milk isn’t being removed from the breasts often enough or with sufficient suction, the mom’s body will receive the signal that it doesn’t need to make as much milk and to slow down production,” explains Jacqueline Kincer, IBCLC, CSOM, senior lactation consultant, Holistic Lactation. “On the other hand, if milk is being removed frequently and with enough suction, her body knows it needs to hurry up and make more milk because her baby needs to eat again soon.” In simple terms, the emptier your breasts, the faster your body is going to crank up milk production.
Take a breastfeeding vacation
No, not an actual vacation (sigh), but rather a 24-hour period where pretty much all you do is nurse. Feed your baby or pump often, drink loads of water, and rest up throughout the day. “Breast stimulation every 2 hours during the day (and 3 hourly overnight) either breastfeeding the baby or using a breast pump, even if it appears ‘nothing’ is being expressed out, counts,” says Fray. “This imitates your baby going through a ‘growth spurt’ of wanting to feed, feed, feed so that by 24 hours later your breasts have increased their output.”
Sleep when the baby sleeps
This is quite possibly one of the most frustrating bits of unsolicited advice to receive as a new mom, but it’s necessary — and for more reasons than just one. The more sleep-deprived you are, the more stressed you become and the less milk you produce (it’s a vicious cycle). While you’re at it, Joanne Goldbort, PhD, course coordinator for Maternal Child Nursing at Michigan State University, suggests having your partner or support person take over the chores that need done. “This is the time to call on that friend or family member who said ‘I’m here if you need anything,’” she adds.
Increase night feeds
It’s never fun to have to wake up in the middle of the night to breastfeed or pump, but Stacey Stewart, certified lactation educator and founder of milkology®, recommends taking advantage of the peak prolactin levels (the milk-making hormone) that occur in the early hours of the morning. “Even if your baby is sleeping, wake them at three to four hourly intervals during the night to offer a breastfeed, if they doesn’t wake sooner on their own,” she adds.
Amp up the pumping
Consider adding in extra pumping sessions, ideally after or between feedings. “Pumping is very important when baby is not nursing efficiently or frequently enough, and can speed up your milk supply in all situations,” says Stewart. A good tip: “You could also pump the other breast while your baby is nursing!”
Massage your breasts while nursing
Not the sexiest of activities, especially when you’re breastfeeding and tired, but doing so can help get more milk out and keep your baby feeding longer, explains Stewart. “This can be particularly helpful for sleepy or distractable babies.”
Make sure your pump is working well
If you’re pumping, be sure that you’re using a hospital-grade double electric pump. “They’ve been proven to be the best pumps to empty breasts most effectively,” says Stewart. Also, make sure you’re using the correct size flanges. “Having the wrong-size flange can negatively affect your output and, in return, decrease your milk supply,” she adds.