The amount of breast milk a person has for nursing their baby varies. Some people produce more than enough, and others produce less than needed.
Particularly in light of the recent baby formula shortage, families need to know that there are multiple steps that a mother can take to increase her breast milk supply. This can mean that a baby no longer needs supplemental formula to meet its nutritional needs.
Actions You Can Take to Produce More Breast Milk
The amount of breast milk you produce isn’t something you simply have to accept. There are safe and effective actions that encourage your body to produce more milk. They include:
- Nursing frequently. If possible, you should nurse your baby every 2 hours during the day and every 3 to 4 hours at night (at least 8 to 16 times per 24 hours).
- Pumping as needed. After daytime breastfeeding, or if your baby refuses to nurse at times, use a breast pump to drain your breasts and stimulate milk production. (It’s best to rest after nighttime nursing.) You may get more milk if you pump for 5 minutes, rest for 5, and pump for an additional 10 minutes.
- Gently massage your breasts before feedings and while your baby nurses. That action signals the body to increase milk release and production.
- Nursing for 15 minutes or more at each breast each feeding. In some cases, a baby may need to nurse from only one breast per feeding to increase the amount of fat they consume. But most babies should nurse from both breasts at each feeding. If your baby falls asleep after one breast, wake them and offer the other. You can also switch your baby from one breast to the other multiple times during a feeding. That approach, in particular, has proven to increase breast milk supply.
- Relaxing before and during feeding. Reducing your stress level can improve the flow of breast milk, and complete draining of your breasts helps increase milk production.
- Practicing “kangaroo care.” Allow 20 minutes for skin-to-skin contact with your baby after feedings whenever possible. That contact has been shown to increase milk production.
- Ensuring that your baby is positioned and latched correctly. Particularly when you’re tired or busy, it’s easy to hurry through a feeding without ever getting your baby into the ideal position or fully latched. Taking the time to enable proper attachment helps ensure that your baby fully drains your breasts, and that state signals your body to increase your milk supply.
- Using gentle breast compression during feeding. Compressing your breasts while your baby nurses help them fully drain the breast, which is vital to maximizing breast milk production.
How to Know If Your Baby Is Getting Enough Breast Milk
There are several signs to look for to determine if you’re producing enough milk to meet your baby’s nutritional needs, such as:
- They nurse every 2 to 3 hours (or 8 to 16 times in 24 hours).
- They regain their birth weight within 10 to 14 days after birth and subsequently gain 4 to 8 ounces per week.
- They have at least one bowel movement and 5 or 6 wet diapers per day.
- You can hear them swallowing milk or feel it by gently touching their throat.
- Your breasts soften after nursing.
Contact your doctor if you don’t see these signs or have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding difficulties are common and nothing you should feel uncomfortable bringing up with your physician.
Factors That Can Decrease Milk Production
You can also increase milk production by addressing issues that are limiting production. For instance, giving your baby a bottle after nursing can cause them to nurse less vigorously. The fact that they take the bottle doesn’t necessarily mean they’re hungry. They may just have the urge to suck, which can be caused by several things, including being bored, tired, etc.
Be careful when using nipple shields and pacifiers. Both can affect nursing and impact breast milk production.
Smoking can cause decreased milk production and inhibit the letdown reflex. You can address this by quitting smoking. If you don’t, you should smoke after nursing rather than before. You also should never smoke in the same room as your baby.
Taking birth control pills too soon after giving birth can adversely affect your milk supply. You should wait at least six weeks before taking birth control, and even then, take only the mini-pill.
Exhaustion — which is common for new mothers — also inhibits milk production. Try to get as much sleep and rest as possible, eat a balanced diet, and stay hydrated. Your doctor may also recommend taking an iron supplement if they determine that you’re anemic.
And finally, you shouldn’t start your baby on solid foods before six months. Reducing the amount of breastfeeding you do will reduce your breast milk supply.
Good Nutrition is Essential
Proper nutrition for a breastfeeding mother includes taking in an extra 450 to 500 calories per day. Hydration is also important to a nursing mother. While it isn’t technically food, drinking 12 tall glasses of water, or about 50% more than typically recommended for an adult, is a good goal.
Turn to Baptist Health for Help with Breastfeeding Challenges
If you have questions about breastfeeding, your breast milk supply, or anything about your baby’s health or your own, we’re here for you. We recommend contacting a Baptist Health Lactation Specialist to help guide you through your breastfeeding journey.