How to Increase Breast Milk Supply Naturally

The first 4-16 weeks are crucial to establishing your breast milk supply. Many women worry about a low supply. Interestingly enough, only a small percentage of women actually have a medical issue that causes them not to be able to produce enough milk. Low supply is usually caused by factors that are resolvable and with the right information and support can be remedied.

If you are worried about your supply or just trying to establish your breastfeeding journey there are things you can do to increase your breast milk supply naturally and it’s not herbs and supplements.

Stock image of a newborn breastfeeding.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

1. Nipple stimulation and Milk removal

Stock image of women breastfeeding young baby while looking at her phone.

If you think you have a low supply still continue to breastfeed and pump. Don’t give up too quickly. The number one thing that will increase your supply is the nipple being stimulated and the milk being removed often.

In this Babylist article an IBCLC explains that during the first 4 months it is the frequency of milk removal that effects milk production. After 4 months it’s not frequency, but volume of milk being removed at feeding or pumping that effects breastmilk supply. She states that about 8 milk removals a day is necessary to maintain supply for the average person, but some may need 12.

A baby nursing is more effective at nipple stimulation and milk removal than a pump. This is why when some women pump and don’t get much milk they think they have a low supply.

Not all babies are more effective than the pump though. Some have trouble latching. If this is the case continue to pump just as much as the baby would nurse and get their latch evaluated. Pumping the remaining amount of milk out of the breast after a nursing session is a good idea as well if you are trying to increase your breast milk supply.

2. Get baby’s latch evaluated

Stock image of baby nursing.

Some babies have trouble latching either due to tongue tie, ineffective positioning while breastfeeding, or other factors. A lactation consultant can help with both of these. A poor latch means the baby will not be able to remove enough milk and this will effect your breast milk supply. This is more common than one would think.

Breastfeeding though natural, does not always come naturally and easily. My first baby was unable to latch due to a tongue tie. We had to feed him colostrum from a dropper and he received some formula in the hospital. The lactation consultants in the hospital tried to help me find a position that worked, but he still couldn’t latch. The nurse told me it was okay not to breastfeed, but I wasn’t ready to give up.

Luckily they brought me a pump and that got my supply going. He got his tongue tie revised the day we left the hospital and the IBLCLC tried to show me some helpful positions. He seemed to be able to latch there, but I wasn’t able to retain the information very well in my post c-section haze and due to covid it was our only visit.

At home, I continued to pump and bottle feed. He had 1-2 bottles of formula a day at first, then my supply increased and I had enough pumped milk to only give breast milk. I continued to try to the nurse him using a nipple shield (make sure you get the right size). After about 6 weeks he was weaned off the shield and nursing all the time. I then nursed him for 2 years.

It is possible breastfeed successfully if you seek help and don’t give up too quickly. My second had a tongue tie as well, but he latched right away. Maybe it was because I was a pro at breastfeeding positioning by then, but who knows. It is true what they say that all babies are different.

3. Skin to skin

April 2020 doing skin to skin with my first baby boy while my little girl cat, who has since passed, relaxes close to us as she often did.

Skin to skin contact helps to calm babies, find their mother’s breasts, smell the milk, and make it more likely they will seek out their mother’s breasts. Basically. skin to skin works to increase your breastmilk supply naturally by promoting a higher demand, which then results in a greater supply.

Skin to skin also promotes positive feelings for the mother by releasing oxytocin which is also released during breastfeeding. Here The International Breastfeeding Journal reports the results of a trial where skin to skin was found to reduce the time it took to resolve severe latching problems.

4. Drink Lots of Water!

Stock image of woman drinking water.

Your breast milk is made of 90% water, so if you are not staying hydrated that can effect your supply. Staying well hydrated is important to the overall health of everyone, but it is especially important to breastfeeding moms. Breastfeeding actually requires you to drink almost twice as much as you would if you weren’t breastfeeding.

I like to have a large insulated tumbler with a straw filled with ice water at all times. I find it much easier to consume plenty of water when I have a straw because I don’t have to lift the glass to my mouth which can be difficult while holding a baby.

5. Eat Healthy

Stock image of a delicious and healthy meal perfect for a breastfeeding mom.

Eating healthy doesn’t mean just eating food said to increase your breastmilk supply. It means eating a healthy balanced diet of whole foods and making sure you are getting enough calories.

A breastfeeding mother needs more calories than they would if they were not breastfeeding. This means at least 2500 calories a day, but you need to speak to your doctor about your specific needs. Parents says this is about 300-400 extra calories a day.

Eating lots of fruits and veggies is important as well as whole grains and omega 3 like salmon and flaxseed. Anything that will keep you happy, healthy, and full will do.

Speaking from experience you will be hungrier than normal so make sure that you are not eating too many calories, but instead chose 3 large, but healthy meals a day and healthy snacks in-between that still keep you in the calorie range recommended for you by your doctor.

6. Sleep

Stock image of woman sleeping.

I know it sounds cliché to say “sleep when the baby sleeps”. Lately I have been seeing a trend on social media poking fun at this saying. For example, a mom is vacuuming and she see the baby sleeping so she lays down and sleeps right there on the floor with the vacuum running or something along those lines. Basically saying that this piece of advice is a joke.

But it is no secret that sleep is restorative and important to the overall health of everyone, but especially important to new and breastfeeding moms.

I am not the best at following this advice. I know it’s tough to see the house a mess and it’s especially hard to do this when we have other children. It really is important to try to get sleep when you can, whenever you can, especially in those early days and weeks when you are establishing breastfeeding.

Ask your partner to take over as many household tasks as possible, or simply let a lot of it go for the time being. Ask for help from family and friends if you can. If they don’t offer, just ask. Maybe they forgot how hard it is or they simply don’t know,

7. Reduce Stress

Stock image of a woman doing a de-stressing activity such as reading.

When we are stressed our bodies release adrenaline. The adrenaline can inhibit oxytocin which causes your let down or the body’s response that causes your milk to flow.

I know some of you might be wondering how do I reduce stress? You do whatever is necessary and possible for you. It might mean lowering expectations in other areas of your life such as housework. It may mean engaging in stress reducing activities such as meditation, prayer, yoga and light exercise.

Other stress reducing activities could be reading books, talking with friends, or even watching a movie or show alone or with your partner. It is different for everyone, but just make sure you find some way to take a break and reduce stress.

8. Herbs and Supplements

Stock image of supplements

The herbs and supplements to increase breast milk supply that are seen all over social media and online are not the magical answer that they are usually marketed as. That does not mean that they do not have value though.

Galactagogues are herbs or foods thought to increase your breastmilk supply, though there is no evidenced based research to prove their effectiveness. The most popular herb for increasing breastmilk supply in the U.S. is fenugreek. Other herbs commonly used to increase breastmilk supply are nettle, blessed thistle and ginger.

Many of these herbs can be found in lactation teas, cookies and smoothies. Food like oatmeal, brewers yeast, and leafy greens are said to increase breast milk supply as well.

Check with your doctor before taking any herbs or supplements. Try everything above first or in conjunction with the herbs and supplements. They are not going to help much if you forgo everything else.

My favorite breastfeeding shot from our family photos September 2020.

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