How to Increase Breast Milk Supply: From Obvious to Last Resort

How to Increase Breast Milk Supply: From Obvious to Last Resort

Over the last eleven months, I have been exclusively pumping breast milk for my twins.  This is following 16 months of exclusively nursing my daughter. Both have had major challenges, but I became obsessed with the number of ounces I was making for my boys.  Along the way, I tried almost every way to increase breast milk supply. I wanted to share everything I spent hours researching in one place.

However you are feeling about increasing your supply, know that every drop counts and that you are doing an amazing job.  This is beyond hard work, especially following what our bodies were put through during birth. Babies just need to be fed and they especially need a happy mom.  

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The Obvious

Increase Water:  You need to drink water to make milk.  Most people don’t drink enough water to begin with, so when you add in the crazy life of a newborn and the need to drink extra water, a lot of moms fall short without even thinking about it.  I follow rule to drink as many ounces as your body weight, and then I try to add more.

  • Before you sit down to nurse or pump, fill up a cup of water so you can sip it during that time.  
  • Even better: have your significant other grab you a cup of water.  Make this their job as your job is already enough to handle.
  • Use a really big cup – I prefer a 30oz cup or water bottle and I refill it 3-4 times per day.  
  • Set alarms on your phone to make sure you are refilling your water.  In the early weeks after birth, you literally need a reminder to eat and drink.

Increase Calories/Eat More:  I know you probably want to lose the baby weight, but this is a decision you have to make as far as what is more important to you at this time.  Depriving your body of calories is not effective for increasing breast milk supply.  I’m not saying you have to put on weight to breastfeed, but you do need to eat a lot of food.  The recommendation for breastfeeding is 500 more calories than you would normally eat.  That’s even more than the recommended 300 extra calories while you are pregnant.  The choices of the foods are yours and if you eat a healthy diet, you can get in shape while breastfeeding.

  • Eat healthy fats: avocado, cheese, nuts and seeds
  • Avoid junk that doesn’t fill you up: chips, crackers, candy, soda pop
  • Try not to miss meals and eat healthy snacks every couple of hours throughout the day.  
  • Have a snack basket with healthy grab and go items: protein or granola bars, bags of nuts, hummus and crackers, or string cheese.  

Lactation Cookies:  I know I just told you to eat healthy, but who doesn’t want to sneak in a cookie now and then?  I’m sure you have heard of lactation cookies, this seems to be a quickly suggested milk supply booster.  The secret is they are not just cookies, they have some very special ingredients in them that help you make more milk.  This is my go-to recipe, but there are plenty of variations.  Make sure these ingredients are included in your recipe:

  • Brewer’s Yeast
  • Oatmeal (Also a great breakfast on it’s own!)
  • Flax Seed

Baby to Breast/Skin to Skin:  This is one of the most important things you can do in the early days after birth.  Skin to skin contact will help bring in your milk supply.  You also want to nurse baby as much as possible – don’t go by the clock – they are just learning to eat so the more you can get them to latch the more your body will be stimulated to make milk.  

This also goes for pumping – more pumping typically makes more milk.  If you are exclusively pumping, you should be doing so every two to three hours the first three or more months.  This works out to at least eight pumps per day. Even if you are pumping, getting that skin to skin contact with baby will help your supply.  

  • Take your shirt off and have baby in a diaper and cuddle up under a blanket.    
  • Feed baby on queue – when they cry or are upset, offer them the breast
  • Try to stay a pump ahead of baby so you are not trying to get the milk pumped as your baby is getting hungry

Massage:  A lot of times your breasts need help getting the milk out.  Massage is a great way to keep milk flowing whether your baby is latched or if you are pumping.  You can search techniques for massaging to help with expression.

  • Take a warm shower and massage your breasts in the shower prior to nursing or pumping
  • Massage while pumping – try the Lactamed pumping bra which was designed for this

Pumping Tips & Tricks

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Flange Size:  This is a pretty crucial one when it comes to pumping – you need a flange that fits your nipple correctly.  It is best to have a lactation consultant look at this for you, but there are online guides to help you decide too.  If you have an improperly fitted flange, you will not be emptying all the milk from your breasts and that will lower your supply.  

Check your Parts + Use Duckbills:  If you are doing a lot of pumping, replacing your parts on a regular/monthly basis will help everything stay running smooth.  The tubing and valves especially are ones I’ve noticed that need to be replaced.  Flanges don’t need to be replaced as often, but it’s best to do so if you can to prevent milk buildup and keep them sanitary.  I also changed to a silicone duckbill valve and that helps with suction so much better than the two-piece plastic valve and membrane.  

Check Your Settings:  Many pumps will have various settings on speed and vacuum power.  I personally love how customizable the Spectra is with this.  It is a learning curve to see what gives you a better milk output.  I have found that having a medium vacuum setting and a slower speed are more effective for drawing milk out while some prefer a high vacuum and high speed.  This is a guess and check process to see what will work best for your body.

Another thing you can do with the settings is try to trigger more letdowns.  Use the letdown setting (faster, shorter pumps,) again after your milk has stopped flowing.  You could trigger 2-3 letdowns in one pumping session which would mean more milk!

Power Pump:  Power pumping is very simple but it does require an hour of your time.  I typically do this at my last pump of the day when all the kids are in bed.  It is best to try to do this daily while you are trying to increase supply. Another note on this is that I do not try to stimulate another letdown when I start the pump again – I just use the regular pumping mode.  This was something I read along the way and it seems to work better for me.

  • Pump for 20 minutes
  • Rest for 10 minutes
  • Pump for 10 minutes
  • Rest for 10 minutes
  • Pump for 10 minutes

Supplements to Increase Milk Supply

Herbal Supplements:  I’m sure you’ve heard of Lactation Tea.  This is an herbal supplement in the form of a tea bag.  If it is easier for you to have a few cups of tea a day, definitely check these out.  I wrote about Earth Mama Organics Milkmaid Tea here and have also tried a Shatavari blend from Traditional Medicinals.  I didn’t see a huge increase with lactation tea, but some moms have loved the boost they give.

Pill supplements have similar herbs to the tea, just in pill form.  These are just easier for some people to take.  There are so many herbs you can use and this is another guess and check to see what works best for your body.  I will list some of the most popular ones I’ve come across, (and tried of course.)  Companies like Legendairy Milk and Eurphoric Herbals combine the herbs into one pill if you want to try more than a single herb.

  • Fenugreek
  • Goat’s Rue
  • Blessed Thistle
  • Moringa
  • Shatavari
  • Alfalfa
  • Fennel

A note about Fenugreek:  Although this is a highly recommended herb for your milk supply, it can work the opposite and tank your supply as well.  I have heard different numbers thrown around – as much as 50% – as the chances of it having negative effects.  Just be cautious while taking it.  If you see any decrease, I would discontinue fenugreek and try something else!

Prescription Medication:  If you are really at the end of your rope and too stubborn to give up, (like myself,) you can call your OB and chat with them about a prescription.  There are a couple of medications available that can help your milk supply. Reglan is typically prescribed in the US while Domperidone is commonly prescribed in Canada.  Do some research, look at the side effects and see if you want to try one of these medications as a last resort.

What Really Helped Me

I fought my milk supply for months and have discovered how crazy my body can be through the process.  What ultimately ended up working for me was basically giving up and letting it go. By “it” I mean the stress of trying to increase breast milk supply.  I resorted to pumping less to save my sanity and my supply remained pretty consistent. While I felt like I was really doing everything I could pumping ten times a day, I got the same amount of milk at five pumps per day.  I surrendered to supplementing and my kids were happier – and slept better too! Now, in the final months of pumping, I am building a freezer stash. Seriously body?

We are told breastfeeding is supposed to be this natural, second-nature thing.  While it is lovely, it’s not easy.  It takes a lot of effort from an already exhausted mama.  You are doing everything you can for your baby.  You are keeping them alive and spending all hours of the day worrying about their well-being and putting yourself last.  If breastfeeding isn’t working out, step back, surrender, supplement – you are not failing.  Keep your baby happy and yourself cared for too.

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