How to Naturally Establish or Increase a Healthy Breast Milk Supply

Woman breastfeeding baby in nursery
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The first four to six weeks of breastfeeding are critical for breastfeeding success, especially if you're a first-time mom. It's when you and your baby are figuring it all out and finding a routine. It's also the time when you're establishing a strong and healthy supply of breast milk.

Maintaining and Increasing Your Milk Supply After the First Few Weeks

If you're like many new moms, you might be worried about making enough breast milk for your baby even after the first few weeks.

While this is a common fear, there are only a small number of mothers who truly aren't able to make enough breast milk. If your supply of breast milk is low, it can usually be increased naturally by taking a few easy steps. Confirming your breastfeeding technique and breastfeeding more often are the two most important actions necessary to establish and maintain a healthy supply of breast milk.

How to Establish, Maintain, or Increase Your Breast Milk Supply Naturally

That being said, just because you can make enough breast milk, doesn't necessarily mean it happens automatically. There are some things that you'll need to do to build and maintain a healthy breast milk supply. Here are the ways to establish a strong and healthy supply of breast milk or increase your breast milk supply naturally. Try these before you look into alternative treatments, such as herbs or medication.

1. Evaluate Your Baby’s Latch

Make sure that your baby is latching on to your breast correctly.

 Latching your baby on properly is the most efficient way to increase your supply. A poor latch is often the main reason a mother's supply of breast milk isn't as abundant as it can be. Without a proper latch, your baby cannot remove the milk from your breast well. However, when your baby is latched on correctly and draining the milk from your breast, it stimulates your body to produce more.

If you are not sure how to determine if your baby is latching on correctly, talk to your doctor or contact a local lactation consultant.

2. Breastfeed, Breastfeed, Breastfeed

Your body makes breast milk based on the laws of supply and demand. Increase the demand, and you'll increase the supply. As long as your baby is latching on to your breast well, the more you breastfeed, the more you're telling your body that you need more breast milk.

In the first few weeks after your baby is born, you should be breastfeeding every two to three hours around the clock. If more than 3½ hours have passed since the start of the last feeding, you should wake your baby up to nurse.

Even if you have an older child who has been breastfeeding well for a while, by increasing the number and length of breastfeeding sessions, you should be able to boost your breast milk supply naturally.

3. Use Breast Compression

Breast compression is a technique that's used to help a baby take in more breast milk while breastfeeding. It's also a way to remove more breast milk from the breast when you're using a breast pump.

You don't need to use breast compression if your child is breastfeeding well. However, if you have a sleepy baby or a newborn who's not a strong nurser, breast compression can keep your breast milk flowing and your baby drinking.

4. Stimulate Your Breasts

Use a breast pump or a hand expression technique to continue to stimulate your breasts after you finish breastfeeding your baby. The extra stimulation will tell your body that you need more breast milk.

Learning how to express your breast milk by hand can prove useful. Many moms prefer using hand expression over using a breast pump since it's more natural and it doesn't cost anything. During the first few days of breastfeeding, hand expression may be more comfortable, and it may help to remove more breast milk than a breast pump. However, it's a skill so it could take some time to learn.

5. Use a Supplemental Nursing System

A supplemental nursing system can be used to encourage the baby to suck at your breasts even when there is no more breast milk. If your child gets frustrated because the flow of your milk has slowed down or stopped, he or she may refuse to keep sucking at the breast.

By using a supplemental nursing system with previously expressed breast milk or even a formula supplement, you may be able to get your child to suck longer at the breast. And, adding more stimulation at the breast is a natural way to increase the amount of breast milk that your body makes. 

6. Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes

You may not realize it, but some of the things you might be doing every day can affect your breast milk supply. Things that can interfere your supply of breast milk include smoking, taking the combination birth control pill, stress, and fatigue. You may be able to increase your supply of breast milk naturally by making a few changes to your daily routine.

7. Breastfeed Longer at Each Feeding

Your newborn should be breastfeeding for at least 10 minutes on each side. If he falls asleep, try to wake him up gently to continue nursing. The more time your baby spends at the breast, the more stimulation you're getting.

8. Don't Skip Feedings or Give Your Baby Formula 

Your body makes more breast milk when your baby nurses at the breast. If you skip feedings or give your little one formula instead of breastfeeding, you aren't telling your body that you want it to make more breast milk. Your supply will decline unless you pump in place of that feeding. And, even though pumping can help to build and maintain your milk supply, it's not the same as breastfeeding.

Your baby does much a better job than a breast pump, especially in the beginning when you're just building up your supply. 

9. Breastfeed From Both Breasts at Each Feeding

During the first few weeks, breastfeeding from both sides during each feeding will help to build up a stronger supply of breast milk. You just want to be sure to alternate the breast you start breastfeeding on each time you feed your baby since the first breast usually gets more stimulation.

If you always start on the same side, that breast may make more milk and become larger than that other one. After the first few weeks, when you feel comfortable with the amount of breast milk that you're producing, you can continue to breastfeed from both sides or breastfeed from just one side at each feeding.

10. Try to Keep Your Baby Awake During Feedings

During the first week of life, some newborns are drowsy and sleep a lot. If you have a sleepy baby, not only should you wake her up every three hours to breastfeed, but you also want to keep her awake and actively sucking while you're breastfeeding.

To keep a sleepy baby nursing, try rubbing her feet, changing her diaperburping her, or unwrapping her so she's not feeling so warm and cozy. By keeping your child awake and nursing, she'll be able to get enough nourishment while providing your body with the stimulation you need to create a healthy supply of breast milk. 

11. Spend Some Time in Direct Skin-to-Skin Contact

Originally a treatment for premature babies, skin-to-skin contact has many benefits for full-term newborns, too. Skin-to-skin, also called kangaroo care, is a way to hold a baby. The child, wearing only a diaper and a hat, is placed on the mother's bare chest and covered with a blanket. The direct skin-to-skin contact lowers a baby's stress, improves his breathing, and regulates his body temperature.

Skin-to-skin also encourages bonding, and it's great for breastfeeding. Studies show that kangaroo care can encourage a baby to breastfeed longer, and help a mother to make more breast milk.

12. Get Out Your Breast Pump

Another way to remove breast milk is with a breast pump. So, if you aren't comfortable with hand expression, take out that breast pump and use it after, or in-between, breastfeeding sessions. The more you empty your breasts of breast milk, the more milk you will make.

If you're going to be exclusively pumping for you child, you can add extra pumping sessions during the first few weeks, and continue to pump for a few more minutes after the flow of breast milk has stopped.

13. Hold Off on the Pacifier

Studies show that breastfed babies can use a pacifier. However, it's best to wait until after your milk supply is well established before starting to use one. If you give your newborn a pacifier during the early days of breastfeeding, she might not be nursing as much as she would without one. So, when your baby seems to want the pacifier, put her to the breast instead. The additional nursing will help to increase your breast milk production. You can then introduce the pacifier once you've built up your milk supply. 

Now, there are certainly some babies who can benefit from the use of a pacifier right from the beginning, and that's OK, too. Only you, your partner, and your baby's doctor will know what's right for your family.

14. Eat Well

While you can still make a full supply of breast milk for your baby on a poor diet, it's certainly a good idea to try to eat a little better while you're breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and making breast milk require a good amount of energy. So, to build and keep up a healthy milk supply, fuel your body with well-balanced meals and healthy snacks. You can even add some milk-boosting foods such as oatmeal, dark green veggies, and almonds to your daily diet to help you get those much-needed extra calories.

15. Drink Plenty of Fluids

Breast milk is made up of about 90 percent water, so don't forget to drink enough fluids every day. Drinking about 6 to 8 glasses of water or other healthy liquids such as milk, juice, or tea should be enough to keep you hydrated. If you're feeling thirsty, drink more. And if you're dizzy, or you have a headache or a dry mouth, those are signs you might not be drinking enough.

16. Try to Get Some Rest

Exhaustion and stress can have a negative effect your milk supply. While it may be difficult to find time to relax when you're a busy new mom, it's so important. Try to take a nap when the baby is sleeping, and know that it's OK to ask for help. When you're rested and not so stressed, your body can put that extra energy into making a healthy breast milk supply.

17. Avoid the Things That Can Decrease Your Milk Supply 

Many things can get in the way of the establishment of a healthy breast milk supply. Starting birth control pills during the first six weeks after your baby is born, especially a method that contains estrogen, can make it more difficult to make breast milk. Other factors such as consuming too much caffeinedrinking alcohol, or smoking can also interfere the amount of breast milk that you'll be able to make. So, be sure to tell your doctor that you're breastfeeding before starting any new medications especially birth control. And, try to stay away from the things that could have a negative impact on you, your baby, and your breast milk supply.

18. Believe in Yourself 

Most moms can build and maintain a healthy supply of breast milk for their babies, and the chances are that you can, too. As long as you're breastfeeding often and your baby is showing the signs of getting enough breast milk, you're doing just fine. Try not to let fear and insecurity undermine your confidence.

And don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask for some confirmation that things are going OK. Talking to your doctor, a lactation consultant, or other mothers in a breastfeeding support group may be all that you need to put your mind at ease and keep you going on the right track to establishing a healthy supply of breast milk and breastfeeding successfully.

Sources:

Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. ABM clinical protocol# 5: Peripartum breastfeeding management for the healthy mother and infant at term revision, June 2008.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Moore ER, Anderson GC, Bergman N. Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants (Review). Cochrane database of systematic Reviews. 2007;3:1-63.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

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