Most breastfeeding mums worry at some point that they are not producing enough breast milk for their baby. It’s very rare that a woman cannot make enough milk for her baby. Usually any issues which affect milk supply can be easily reversed. Here are our top ten tips on how to increase breast milk supply.
How to Increase Breast Milk Supply
1. Feed On Demand
‘Demand feeding’ means feeding baby when it shows signs of hunger, for as long as baby will feed. This method may contradict some ‘expert advice’ to feed on a schedule for a set amount of time, or the age old ‘feed every four hours’. Suckling stimulates the hormone (prolactin) which help to increase your milk supply. It follows the laws of supply and demand – the more milk your baby demands the more milk you make. A baby should feed at least 8 times in 24 hours, and more if possible.
If you often find your breast are full and hard, then this indicates you are going too long between feeds or not allowing baby to feed long enough to empty the breast. That uncomfortable feeling is nature’s way of reminding you that baby needs fed.
2. Learn The Cues
Although babies cannot speak yet, they can still let you know they are ready for a feed. Learning the three stages of baby feeding cues is a great way to avoid having a fractious baby who is too upset to feed. Babies who are reach the crying stage before a feed are using up a lot of energy, making them too sleepy to feed enough, which decreases your milk supply.
Try watching you baby for these cues so you can recognise when baby is hungry.
Early cues mean “I’m hungry”
- open mouth
- rooting (looks like a hen pecking when you hold them close)
- turning head side to side
- rapid eye movement
Mid cues mean “I’m really hungry”
- increased movement
- hands/fists in mouth
- lip licking/smacking
Late cues mean “Calm me, then feed me”
- agitated movement
- turning red
- refuses to feed
3. Contact a Professional
One of the main reasons for low milk supply is poor attachment or positioning of baby to the breast. Preferably your midwife, breastfeeding support worker or health visitor as they have much more experience with breastfeeding issues than the majority of GPs. Ask them to observe you during a feed so they can give you advice of how to improve your breastfeeding technique. They may also be able to diagnose any issues with you or baby which may be affecting your feeding success. Please don’t struggle in silence as this can lead to low mood combined with a hungry baby and a desperate dash to the shops to buy formula. Asking for help when you need it will ensure you get support to continue breastfeeding without feeling like your failed you baby.
4. Avoid Dummies and Shields
Dummies or soothers are not advised for breastfeeding babies before mums milk supply is established as they can interfere with mums ability to recognise babies feeding cues (see step 2). Nipple shields should be the last resort for mums with sore nipples as babies cannot drain the breast as effectively when a nipple shield is used. A shield also prevents the sensation of suckling which is needed to produce the milk making hormones.
5. Use a Breast Pump
A breast pump can help to increase you milk supply as it
- Can empty the breast if baby is full
- Can be used on both breasts
- Stimulates the nipples
Pumping and breastfeeding is very time consuming. If you think you’ll start to feel like a dairy cow then you may want to consider using a double breast pump. A double pump not only helps to greatly increase hormone production but also saves you time. Take into consideration your lifestyle, mums with other children may struggle to dedicate so much time to doing both. Therefore I recommend that using a breast pump to increase milk supply is used by mums whose babies are not nursing effectively. See our ‘Which breast pump?’ page to find out which pump would be most suitable for you.
6. Check Your Diet
It is essential that you eat at least 1800 calories and drink 6-8 glasses of fluids when breastfeeding. You will burn an extra 500 calories a day when nursing, so it’s important you replace these you your body has enough fuel to help you make milk. You may have an increased appetite and a very thirsty when you are feeding. There are no foods which are off limits when breastfeeding, however it’s best to follow healthy eating advice to ensure your milk is full of vitamins and nutrients for baby. If you need more advice on what to eat when breastfeeding check out our article on a breastfeeding diet.
7. Get Rest
Making milk is hard work for your body, it’s important you get enough rest to ensure you body has enough energy. This means that you should try and nap when baby is napping. Don’t try to be a super mum, if family and friend ask to help then accept the offer. Get dad to take baby/other children out for a couple of hours for you to get a bit of peace and quiet. It’s amazing what a few good hours of sleep can do to your mental and physical state when you’ve been sleep deprived since mid-pregnancy!
8. Keep Baby Close
Lots of skin to skin contact with baby increases of oxytocin, a hormone which stimulates milk supply and bonding. Breastfed babies who get lots of skin to skin are known to have less breastfeeding problems. It also helps to regulate baby’s temperature, heart rate, breathing and makes them less likely to cry. Keeping baby near to you also means that you are more likely to see their early feeding cues. Strip baby down to its nappy and wear a front opening top, a small receiving blanket will keep babies back warm. Encourage dads to try this technique too. If you’re out and about consider buying a baby sling to keep baby close to you rather than away from you in a pram.
9. Offer More
Nipple stimulation is important step to milk production, but so is the stimulation of more than one breast, as the body thinks the baby need more. A simple technique called ‘switch nursing’ is when you switch the baby from breast to breast during one feed. You may chose to feed on one side until babies feeding slows. Rather than using annoyance techniques to wake baby, simply switch to the other breast. Repeat this during the feed until baby is satisfied from the feed, usually when they fall asleep or detach easily. This technique should not be used on babies who have problems attaching as it may cause baby to become overtired from effort.
10. Feed at night
Prolactin (the milk making hormone) is released at its highest level during the early hours of the morning, peaking between 2-5am. Night feeds are extremely important if you want to increase you supply as it signals to your body that baby still needs milk. You may want to try baby in a co-sleeper crib to make night feeding easier. If baby is in a good sleep routine from an early age, then you may want to wake and pump for 10-15 minutes to imitate baby feeding during the night. A night deed also helps to relive breast engorgement which can lead to further breastfeeding problems.