Today’s post is part one of a two-part series on making more milk. Stay tuned for the second half tomorrow on “The World of Galactagogues.”
When I find myself in a group of new mothers discussing breastfeeding, the topic of milk supply frequently comes up. There is such beauty in the simple “supply and demand” system of a nursing mother and child (or children!), but sometimes — for all sorts of reasons — things don’t quite work out, at least not as quickly as we’d hope.
Many of us have had times where we are concerned about our milk supply — often it is brief and passing due to health, hormones, stress, or just a growing, changing nursling. Some mamas suffer with more sustained problems, which can cause much worry and emotional strain as we try to balance our desire to nurse with our daily responsibilities and our babies’ growing need for calories — trying to figure out why the milk is just not there!
Our culture has, sadly, lost a lot of breastfeeding knowledge that used to be passed down from mother to mother, generation to generation. When I was faced with significant low milk supply, I had no idea what to do beyond the basics (which I was already doing!) and had to search long and hard to figure out what my options were. There are lots of things to try! Here are some of the things I’ve encountered — some of which were invaluable to me and my situation, allowing me to nurse my three girls, including twins, despite the odds.
Working with the System: Supply and Demand
The first obvious advice that is so true, is to nurse nurse nurse. Nurse often, and without limits or schedules. Take a “nursing vacation” where you let go of all other obligations for a day or two (hard, I know!) and stay in bed. Nurse in all sorts of positions, lying down, in the bath, etc. – having as much skin-to-skin time with your nursling as possible.
Also very important is to make sure your baby is getting the milk out well, particularly if the baby is a newborn, but even at later stages. Seek help from a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), a trained lactation nurse or doctor, or a La Leche League leader to make sure the latch is good and milk is being transferred effectively. If you can pump a significant amount out right after a feeding, chances are your baby isn’t draining your breast enough.
While nursing, try breast compressions to help increase milk flow when it dwindles, keep your baby nursing longer, and stimulate more letdowns. Try switch nursing as well, for the same purpose — going back and forth between breasts several times during one nursing session may keep your baby interested and allow you to have two or three letdowns instead of one.
Even if you are not setting aside a full nursing vacation, try nursing very frequently. Read your baby for early nursing cues and offer at the slightest cue to see if he or she will go for it — every two hours, or more often! The more stimulation through nursing your breasts get, the better. In my case, partly due to a condition that restricted breast tissue growth during pregnancy (polycystic ovarian syndrome/PCOS), my breasts did not have a large “storage capacity”, so I had to empty them frequently to make more milk.
One great way to allow for easy, frequent nursing is to wear your baby in a carrier on your chest. If you can, allow for skin-to-skin contact by wearing nothing (or just a thin camisole) underneath if you are home! Some of us are lucky enough to be able to nurse in a carrier — ring slings, stretchy wraps or carriers, mei tais and soft structured carriers work well for this — I could nurse my girls fairly discreetly while we were up doing things, on a walk, in line at the store — pretty much anywhere!
Nurse at night, throughout the night: Prolactin, the milk-producing hormone, peaks in the nighttime hours, so nursing at night can help you take advantage of higher milk production hours and give your supply a boost as well.1 Cosleeping helps immensely with this, though I also managed it with my twins sleeping in another room (we had a nice large recliner I could nurse and rest in with them safely). However, there is also truth to the idea that mama needs sleep in order to be healthy and able to make milk — so if you are able to, work with your partner to set up a schedule that allows you to get one longer chunk of sleep (ideally four hours) at night.
Pumping. Oh, pumping! It seems so many nursing experts suggest pumping as the main defense against low milk supply. For some (not all of us though), it does work wonders. Pumping in addition to nursing can help jump-start or maintain your supply, especially if your nursling is having trouble transferring enough milk. For a significant boost, try pumping after all or most feedings for several days (8-10 or more times a day is recommended, though I was rarely able to do that myself!). It is ideal to pump for 2-5 minutes after the last drop of milk comes out, though you can experiment with more or less. Alternately, you can try adding just a couple pumping sessions a day to see if that helps you — it may!
It can be so discouraging to pump without seeing much result (in the form of “liquid gold”), but remember if you are nursing full time as well you shouldn’t expect to see lots of milk — you are “priming the pump,” telling your body to make more. Ideally, your body will get the message and soon your baby will be getting that milk all on his own! Be careful to not disturb your baby’s feeding schedule; if you pump too long after your last nursing session, your baby may become hungry and not find much for her next feeding. It is so easy to get stuck in a cycle of pumping and bottle feeding, but in most situations you really want your baby to NURSE for most feedings, both to learn and practice this important skill and because a baby generally stimulates and gets out more milk than a pump.2
Statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with your health care provider. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis or courses of treatment.
- Circadian Periodicity of Serum Prolactin Concentration in Man ↩
- Any product recommendations in this post are the opinions of the author alone and are included for information only. They are not sponsored, and no advertising or affiliation earnings will be generated from this article in order to comply with the WHO code of marketing of breastmilk substitutes. ↩