12 Tips to Increase Milk Supply for Breastfeeding Mothers

What can you do to increase milk supply if you aren't producing enough milk for baby? Usually, it's all about supply and demand--- the more you nurse or pump, the more milk you'll produce. With this guiding point in mind, here are 12 ways to increase your milk supply.

It's one of the biggest breastfeeding worries: What if you aren't producing enough breastmilk for your baby? And if you are faced with low milk supply, what can you do to remedy this?

Most moms will produce enough milk for their babies, but if you're having trouble with milk supply, you're not alone.

The most important thing to keep in mind about breastfeeding is that your body produces milk to meet your baby's demands. The more breastmilk that's expressed, the more milk your body will produce in response.

Learn more from Holly Erwin, Cook Children's Lactation Expert, on how to increase your milk supply:

With this guiding point in mind, we've made this list of 12 ways to increase your milk supply.

1. Breastfeed frequently.

The best thing you can do to increase milk supply is to breastfeed frequently. This is because the amount of milk your baby drinks, and how frequently your baby nurses, are the two most significant factors that affect your milk production. So, pay attention to your baby's cues, and nurse whenever they signal that they are hungry (such as with hand-to-mouth movements, wiggling, stretching, and tongue movements). This will usually be every 2 to 3 hours in the first few months (8 to 12 feeds every 24 hours). Feeding on demand, rather than on your rigid schedule, will help you keep your milk flowing consistently.

2. Make sure baby is in the right position to nurse effectively.

There are multiple nursing positions where baby will be able to nurse effectively. But no matter which one you and your baby choose, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "you should be able to draw a straight line that connects the baby’s ear, shoulder, and hip on either side of the baby’s body." This alignment is key for baby to be able to drink enough milk, and for your body to produce more in response.

3. Make sure baby is latching properly.

Just like position, latching is key for baby to effectively drink milk from your breast. If they aren't latching properly, baby will struggle to drink enough, which will lead you to produce much less breastmilk.

When properly latched onto the breast, baby will have enough of the breast in the mouth that the nipple is drawn to the back of their mouth. This way, baby will be able to compress the areola (the darker area around the nipple) with their jaws and tongue, and take enough milk.

How to encourage the proper latch?

Place your thumb on top of your breast and the other four fingers under it, keeping all fingers clear of the areola so they don't get in the way of baby's latch.

Then, present the nipple. Gently compress the breast to make the latch easier, and stroke baby's lip to get them to open their mouth wide.

Baby will need to open their mouth wide enough to achieve the proper latch, so make sure to wait to pull baby towards the breast until their mouth is open as wide as possible.

Skin-to-skin contact will also help baby latch on properly.

For more on helping baby with position and latching, please read this article from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

4. Make sure baby is drinking enough breastmilk.

As we've emphasized above, the amount of milk baby drinks is one of the two key factors that drive milk production. If your baby has trouble drinking milk, and doesn't empty your breasts enough, your supply may drop.

Make sure baby controls when a feeding is over, so there's a better chance that they are draining your breast.

And know these signs that baby is feeding well. If baby does not show these signs, it's likely that they're not getting enough milk.

  • Baby should make clear swallowing motions that you can see and feel.
  • Baby should seem satisfied after each feed (not lethargic or screaming for more food).
  • Baby should fill their diapers: by day six, they should have 6 or more wet diapers every 24 hours, and 3 or more yellow bowel movements every 24 hours.
  • Baby should not want to feed twice in an hour or less .
  • Baby's feedings should not last for an hour or longer (very long feeds are a sign that they're struggling to nurse).
  • Baby should regain their birth weight by two weeks of age, and not have trouble gaining weight after that.

For more on knowing when your baby is drinking enough breastmilk, check out our Q and A with Lactation Consultant Corky Harvey, RN, IBCLC, MS.

5. Pump as often as you need to, to supplement nursing.

Using a breast pump is key to increasing your milk supply when you're away from baby, such as when you work outside the home. As Lactation Consultant Corky Harvey recommends, you should pump at the same times that your baby would nurse if you were home with them, and stay consistent with pump times. You will usually need to pump at least 3 times---pump as often as you need to. For example, you might pump on the way to work, mid-morning, lunchtime, and mid-afternoon.

At work, advocate for the time to pump whenever you need it, and make sure you have a clean, private space to do so. Be sure to eat plenty of nutritious foods while pumping, and drink enough water.

Then, continue to nurse baby as much as possible when at home (in the morning and at night, and most feeds on the days you don't leave home to work).

This way, your body will respond to the same "demand" as before you returned to work, and keep producing enough milk for your baby.

6. Add more pump time to your day.

To promote an increased milk supply, add more pumping time to your day. There are a few ways to do this. The first is to lengthen your pump session by 5-10 minutes. For instance, if you normally pump for 10 minutes, increase your pump time to 15-20 minutes. You could also add another short pumping session into your day.

7. Try power pumping.

Another way to add pump time is to dedicate a "power pumping" session where you pump off and on for about an hour. This mimics "cluster feedings," where baby feeds more frequently over a shorter period. (If your baby already has a cluster feeding pattern, it's much better to take advantage of that than to "power pump.")

  • Follow this pattern:
  • Pump for 20 minutes
  • Rest for 10 minutes
  • Pump for 10 minutes
  • Rest for 10 minutes
  • Pump for 10 minutes, then end the session.

Since this technique quickly empties the breast, your body will believe it needs to produce more milk for baby. It may take about a week to notice results of "power pumping," though, as your body becomes accustomed to the new "demand."

If an hour-long "power pump" doesn't work, try following a similar schedule to the above for a 2-hour session.

8. Think about pumping between feedings, if you aren't too tired.

If your breasts don't feel empty after nursing (sometimes, but not always, a sign that your baby's having trouble), you could use your pump to empty out the rest of your milk immediately after the feed. Just like with power pumping, this increases the "demand" for breastmilk to encourage an increased supply.

You could also try pumping around 30 minutes to an hour after a feed, to create a similar effect.

Regardless of which method you choose, watching a show or reading is a great way to pass time during an after-feed pump, and give yourself an incentive to tack on the extra pumping time.

9. Don't wait until your breasts are full to start feeding or pumping.

As Lactation Consultant Corky Harvey told us, "Allowing your breasts to get full every time before you feed or pump will actually lower your milk supply. A full breast stops producing milk. But the breast makes more milk in response to milk being removed. Removing the milk is essential to a good milk supply."

10. If bottle-feeding, choose a bottle that mimics your breast, and be sure to pump more.

Giving baby a bottle is perfectly fine while you're breastfeeding, but you'll need to choose the right bottle so baby can continue to remove milk from your breast effectively. It's best to choose a bottle that closely mimics your breast, with a slow flow to match your own milk flow, and a breast-like nipple. Also, position your baby and the bottle to mimic the position they use to suck at the breast. Be sure to give baby enough feeding time on the breast as well. Then, baby should be able to switch back and forth between bottle and breast, and keep removing enough milk from your breast during feeds, without developing nipple confusion.

Also, remember that frequent pumping is key when you use the bottle. "You'll need to pump to protect your milk supply," says Lactation Consultant Corky Harvey, "or else your supply will drop. For a good milk supply, remember the rule: if the baby receives a bottle, mom needs to pump."

11. Try lactation cookies, bars or powders.

If your milk supply is still low after making sure baby is feeding properly, and after adding pumping, a lactation aid may help.

Lactation cookies, bars and powders are made with ingredients like oats, barley, brewer's yeast, flaxseed and fennel, which promote a healthy milk supply. Look for store-bought options that are made or approved by certified lactation consultants, or try making your own cookies or bars with at least some of the above ingredients.

12. Talk to a lactation consultant if you need assistance.

If your nipples are extremely sore, scabbed, or bleeding, your baby is likely not latched deeply enough, and is having trouble drinking enough milk for you to maintain your supply. In this situation, you should seek the help of a lactation consultant. You should also seek a lactation consultant if your baby is having trouble gaining weight (another sign that baby is having trouble nursing, and one that is likely connected to low supply).

And even if you haven't noticed these visible cues, it's helpful to talk to a lactation consultant as soon as possible if your milk supply is low, especially if the other tips listed above don't seem to work.

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