If you struggle to produce milk, here are 12 things you can do (as well as avoid) to help boost your milk production.
I’m currently breastfeeding my third child.
To look at her now that she’s three months old, you’d have no idea that she struggled with the whole nursing thing.
She looks just as fat and healthy as my other two children were at this age, but our breastfeeding road had a rocky, scary start.
My first two children never had trouble getting enough milk from me.
I produced so much milk for both of them that I had freezer-fuls of bagged, unused milk.
With my second child, I found Human Milk for Human Babies and I was able to donate 200 ounces or more that my son wasn’t able to drink.
So, when my third was born, I wasn’t intimidated by breastfeeding again and I didn’t worry about milk production.
My daughter was three weeks old before we discovered that her shallow latch wasn’t providing her with enough milk which, in turn, decreased my milk production considerably.
I had this tiny little newborn who wasn’t bulking up at all and I felt like I was failing at my one job: feeding her.
How was it that I had nursed two babies a total of four years prior to birthing this third, beautiful child, and I suddenly didn’t know how to nurse? It was so frustrating.
Thankfully, my daughter’s pediatricians and the lactation specialist had a lot of great suggestions to help me make sure my daughter started getting the milk she needed.
Within a week of making some changes, my tiny little girl had gained over half a pound and my breasts were suddenly the milk producing overachievers they’d always been in the past.
After two weeks, her weight was normal and I was able to go back to business as usual.
If you’re struggling to produce milk, first of all, it’s okay. You are not a failure.
Here’s the thing: a mother’s body was created to make milk.
However, that doesn’t mean that it comes easily and a lot of interfering factors can decrease a mom’s milk supply including things like improper latch, lip or tongue tie, not nursing in the first hour after birth, and giving a baby formula.
Thankfully, most of these things can be fixed.
There are some women who really can’t produce enough milk. If you are one of these women, don’t lose heart. You are not a failure if you have to use formula or donated milk.
So, without further ado, here are some things I’ve tried or heard of that can help increase milk production.
1. Check The Latch
If your supply is low, the first thing you need to do is check your baby’s latch.
My third child’s improper latch led to my low supply and ultimately weight loss on her part.
She had a shallow latch which meant she didn’t get enough milk (and was thus always hungry and always nursing), and since breast milk works on supply and demand, my supply decreased to what she was actually drinking.
As it turns out, all my kids had a poor latch, but the other two were a lot bigger at birth, so they were still able to get enough milk.
My little Kitty was so tiny she just couldn’t suck hard enough to get what she needed.
Since her latch was no different from her older siblings, I didn’t seek out help in the hospital.
I didn’t think I needed it.
When I realized the problem, I resorted to watching videos on proper latching and figuring out how to fix it myself.
Once it was fixed, she went from wetting a diaper every two or three hours to soaking through a diaper after only one hour.
So what does a proper latch look like?
It doesn’t usually hurt, though it may be tender for the first few days.
If you’re experiencing toe-curling pain, it’s probably incorrect.
To latch your baby correctly, wait for a fully open mouth, and insert the breast so that the nipple is pointed towards the roof of the baby’s mouth.
When they begin sucking, most of the areola (the dark portion of the breast) should be in their mouth and their lips should be flared outward.
You should also see and hear rhythmic swallowing.
None of my kids open their mouths very wide when latching, so with Kitty I learned to use the thumb and knuckles of the hand holding my breast to pry open her mouth as I stuck the nipple inside.
2. Skin To Skin
Put your baby naked up against your bare chest as you nurse and as you snuggle.
I borrowed one of my husband’s button down shirts for this and just left it opened, snuggling her up against my chest with a blanket over both of us.
You can also use something like a Moby Wrap or other soft, wrapping baby carrier so that you can walk around with the baby skin to skin for as much time as possible.
Being skin to skin will help both of you relax and will stimulate milk production on your part.
3. Pump And Supplement After Feedings
The hind milk (the last milk of a feeding) is the fattiest milk, so it’s important that a baby get that milk if they’re struggling with weight gain.
In order to increase my milk supply and to make sure my daughter got my fattiest milk, my doctors and lactation specialist had me feed from each side until it was empty, and then pump after the feeding and supplement with the milk I was able to pump – which was only one or two ounces.
It didn’t seem like that ounce or two I pumped after each feeding was doing much at first, but she quickly started gaining more than an ounce a day once I got into that routine.
4. Only Feed With Your Milk
Since breastmilk is produced by supply and demand, using formula will send the message to your body that the baby doesn’t need as much milk and will decrease your supply.
If you’re serious about breastfeeding, then don’t use formula or even donated milk.
If you must use formula due to serious weight loss or similar issues, then pump as many times as the baby feeds.
There are cases in which a mother is simply incapable of producing the milk she needs, but they’re rare.
In most cases, a mom isn’t producing the right amount of milk because something has disrupted her supply before it was firmly established.
Pump, pump, pump. Pump as often as you can stand.
The more milk you make, the more you will produce.
6. Avoid Synthetic Nipples
On another note, until your baby has really established a latch and a good breastfeeding routine, stay away from synthetic nipples, i.e. pacifiers and bottles.
If you need your breastfed baby to be able to take a bottle, introduce it somewhere between 2 and 4 weeks after birth.
If you introduce it too early, it can cause nipple confusion and they may refuse the breast.
If you wait too long, the baby may never take a bottle. Honestly, they may never take the bottle anyway, as I learned with my first.
7. Feed On Demand
Forget the schedules and feed whenever your baby is hungry.
You and your baby aren’t machines and you won’t necessarily follow the feeding clock that most pediatricians expect.
No seriously, RELAX.
You have to relax when you’re trying to produce milk. Your body just won’t produce enough if you’re stressed.
Also, your baby will sense your stress and become fussy and less able to nurse.
Just relax. You can do this.
Relaxing doesn’t just apply to nursing, but pumping as well.
In fact, I think it applies more to pumping because pumping is less efficient than your baby’s suck.
When I worked away from home with a new baby, I set everything aside while I pumped.
During those 10-20 minutes I looked at pictures or videos of my baby, browsed Facebook, or watched a show on my Netflix app.
I did not use that time to get work done as it actually took longer that way to get a good amount of milk and made me less productive in my job.
I also made a point not to watch my progress until at least ten minutes had passed.
When I constantly watched how many ounces I was producing, I produced much less than if I didn’t even think about it and focused on something else.
9. Wear A Comfortable Bra
Wear a comfortable, non-restrictive bra.
Try to stay away from tight bras with underwire and padding, choosing instead something that is still supportive, but also soft, supple, and has some stretchier cups.
My favorite nursing tank is made by Bravado. It is gentle and supportive to newly lactating breasts.
I also have a very comfortable baby wearing/nursing tank called a Soothe Shirt made by Lalabu. For the first three months or so, your baby fits comfortably inside, snuggled right up to your breasts, and afterwards it can still be worn as a soft and comfortable (yet supportive) nursing tank.
10. Try Products That Help Lactation
According to amrita.net, some essential oils that can help bring milk and increase your supply are clary sage, fennel, and basil.
You can also make or buy some lactation cookies, the ingredients of which are supposed to bolster your supply.
11. Supplemental Nursing System
A supplemental nursing system (SNS) is great for moms who are trying to bolster supply, or simply establish a good breast feeding relationship despite low production.
It basically consists of a reservoir for formula or donated milk connected to a tube that is attached to the breast and nipple.
As the baby suckles at the breast, they’re not only getting whatever milk mama has, but some formula or pumped milk as well.
The sucking will help stimulate milk production while the baby gets any calories that mama’s milk isn’t currently providing from the supplementation system.
For moms who don’t produce enough milk, this is a great way to continue the nursing bond anyway.
I’ve never had to use this, but my midwife did give me one when I was pregnant with my second.
She was giving out prizes for a game at our labor classes and told me, “You never know if you might need this.”
12. Lactation Specialist
Work with a lactation specialist.
They are not only a wealth of information on the subject, but they’re also a nice cheerleader to have in your corner when you just need some encouragement.
Sometimes just talking with them is all you need to regroup and feel like you’re capable again.
They may show you new and revolutionary tips, or they may tell you things you already know but need to hear again.
My lactation nurse was such a reassurance to me.
After we figured out that I was on the right track, she kindly told me that I could call her anytime and that if I wanted to come to the hospital with my little girl for a weight check, I was welcome to do so whenever I felt the need.
Talking with her lifted a huge weight from my shoulders and made me feel like I could keep moving forward despite the struggle.
If you want to be able to produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed, chances are good that your body is capable of doing so.
Before you breastfeed, it really seems like it will just magically happen perfectly.
Nine times out of ten, that’s not the case.
It takes hard work and a very dedicated mom (and dad) for breast feeding to be successful.
From frequency, to correct latch, to learning how to pump, breast feeding isn’t for the faint of heart.
But it is possible.
And let me tell you, once you establish that relationship, it is actually pretty easy.
More than that, and more than the myriads of health benefits it offers to your and your little one, it is an emotionally rewarding and bonding experience like no other.