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For a lot of new (and even experienced) Mamas, breastfeeding and more specifically, breastmilk supply, can be something we stress about and question time and time again. There may be times when your supply has dropped a little (after eliminating all other possibilities) and you need to naturally increase your milk supply.
It’s okay, there are many things that can cause a dip in your milk supply and it doesn’t mean it’s the end of your breastfeeding relationship. Things such as starting back on contraception, returning to work, hormonal changes and stress can all impact on your supply. Most of the time our body will adjust to these situations, however, when it doesn’t, there are natural ways we can boost our supply back up.
I exclusively pumped for the first two months of my son’s life due to his stay in NICU. After that, I breastfed until he was 15 months old, I would have liked to have fed him longer but health issues meant that I lost my supply for good.
During the 15 months, I dropped and regained my supply more times than I can count (which isn’t normal for most women – I had other factors weighing in and it hasn’t happened with my second baby). So, I thought I’d share with you what worked for me when I needed to boost my supply. Here are my top natural ways to increase your milk supply (in no particular order).
1 – Drink More Water
The simplest, most basic and by far the fastest way to support your supply is to ensure you are well hydrated. On a normal day, we are told to drink 8 glasses of water (or 2 litres). When breastfeeding this needs to increase to account for the additional requirements your body has.
I always found the easiest way to keep track of my fluid intake was to carry a water bottle around with me – everywhere. I knew it held 700mls and therefore I knew how many times I had to empty it to ensure I was drinking enough water.
2 – Nurse, Nurse, Nurse. (Or Pump, Pump, Pump)
Breastfeeding is supply and demand. The more you nurse, the more you’ll make. There are several different ways you can go about this. If your baby is going through a time of cluster feeding (serveral feeds over short periods of time) it may be that your supply is fine and your babe just wants more milk or wants to be comforted.
However, if your supply has dropped, you can recreate this cluster feed scenario by offering your breast to your baby more frequently. Even if they nurse for just a few minutes each time, it is still removing milk from your breast and triggering the response to make more.
You can also piggy back off this and follow this quick nursing session with a pumping session afterwards. Keep in mind, the amount of milk you pump does not accurately reflect the amount of milk you are making or the amount of milk your baby is getting. Our breasts are designed by nature to have our babies remove milk effectively from us, not a machine. But they are still valuable little pieces of equipment.
You could also try nursing from one side for each feed and pumping from the other. Or pumping straight after a nursing session to attempt to remove more milk.
Talking to a Lactation Consultant will give you a more specific and personalised approach to nursing or pumping more.
3 – Skin To Skin With Your Baby
The hormone that triggers your let down reflex, Oxytocin, is known as the cuddle hormone and is produced when we have close skin to skin contact with our babies. It’s okay to just stop and spend time with your baby. The house chores can wait and your friends and family will understand. Spend a day in bed with your gorgeous little one, spend as much time skin to skin as you can.
Try to relax and just be with your baby. This will help stimulate the hormones that tell your body to produce more milk. During this time let your babe nurse as much as they would like and enjoy the cuddles.
4 – Check Your Food Intake
In the early days when my son was in NICU, I made a big mistake of not eating for a day. I was busy, stressed and running around all over the place and I simply skipped my meals. I paid for it big time. Almost overnight my supply dropped.
When breastfeeding we burn on average an additional 500 calories a day. That’s equivalent to a hard-core hour session at the gym. Every day.
You need to account for this in the food you eat. I used the ‘My Fitness Pal’ app to track my intake of food and to make sure I was consuming enough good calories – that is from food that has nutritional benefit.
For myself personally, I was aiming for around 2200 calories a day – however, this was based on my height, weight, age, fitness level and level of activity. Speak to your Midwife or healthcare provider to help determine the number of (good) calories a day you should be aiming for.
5 – Eat Foods That Increase Your Supply
There are certain foods, called galactagogues, that you can integrate into your daily meals that can help increase your supply. I can’t honestly say whether or not each one of these will single-handedly work however there is research to suggest they do so why not give it a go.
The first one (that I know helped me) is oats. Once I started eating oats for breakfast each morning I saw an increase in my supply and friends of mine claim this to be true too. Other’s that are popular include brewers yeast (often used in conjunction with oats in a lactation cookie recipe), flax seed (ground as the body cannot digest the whole ones) as well as a good array of vegetables.
6 – See a Lactation Consultant
There are a few different factors that could be affecting both your supply and your babe’s ability to latch. A Lactation Consultant will be able to help you to determine if your little one’s latch isn’t quite right as well as diagnose possible concerns such as tongue or lip tie and provide valuable guidance and a plan of action.
The best option is to see a Lactation Consultant sooner rather than later as it will be easier to help increase your supply in the early days.
You can also call the Australian Breastfeeding Helpline (for Aussie Mama’s) 0n 1800 686 268 or call your Midwife. She will be able to help guide you in the right direction and can provide both help with latching and emotional support for you too.
7 – Relax
Stress can wreak major havoc on our milk supply, which is kind of mean of Mother Nature in a way because as soon as we think our milk supply is dropping we start to stress! Self care is so important and our milk supply reminds us that our body biologically needs us to take care of ourselves first, so we can then take care of our babies.
Take some time to snuggle with your babe, forget about the housework, say no to guests and just take a deep breath. Get hubby to make you a relaxing cup of tea and cook dinner. You need to focus on you and your babe, everything else can just wait.
8 – Feed on Demand and Don’t Restrict Feeds
Forget any nursing schedule your overpriced ‘how to be a good mum’ guidebooks have told you about – keeping a nursing schedule is a sure fire way to limit or decrease your supply (unless you’re incredibly lucky to have a baby that nurses perfectly and a large supply in the first place).
My lactation consultant scolded me so much when I started talking schedules with her – I had no idea!! If you’re finding your supply dropping, nurse as much as you can and as much as bub will take. Your little one won’t overfeed – they will simply refuse. The more you can stimulate your ‘let down’ reflex, the more your body will realise it needs to make more milk and your supply will increase.
I’ve also seen strict feeding recommendations of only nursing for 20 minutes at a time, only feeding for 20 minutes on one side, only feeding for 10 minutes on each side and other variations of this. Not only is this stressful but it could lead to your baby not draining each breast properly, not receiving the incredibly nutritious hindmilk and could lead to mastitis – which can be a painful and serious medical condition. Each baby is different and will feed at their own pace. Follow your baby’s cue’s, they will let you know when they are wanting to feed more or when they are done.
9 – Eliminate Substitutes Such As Pacifiers, Dummies, Water
It may seem quite absurd to give a newborn baby water (and it is) however I have had a medical ‘professional’ recommend that I give my newborn baby a bottle of water before every feed so she isn’t dehydrated. I cannot stress how inappropriate (and dangerous) this is. Not only does breastmilk provide everything a newborn baby needs nutritionally and provides full hydration, but giving water can lead to serious conditions such as hypernatremia.
There are also times when women feel like their baby is using them as a pacifier and they feel that this means their baby may not be getting enough milk, or they feel like they should use a pacifier or dummy to help soothe babe instead. If your baby is wanting to nurse, there’s a reason. Whether it’s for comfort, for hunger or because they are cluster feeding helping you build your supply before a growth spurt, it’s important that we let them do so.
10 – Stop Supplementing Feeds with Formula
I know what it’s like when you’re not producing the same levels of milk as you previously were and you want to just give your baby formula because you’re worried they’re not getting enough from you. This comes under the banner of ‘supply and demand’. If you are replacing feeds with formula you aren’t letting your body know that it needs to produce more milk.
Before adding formula in as a supplement speak to a Lactation Consultant or your Midwife to help determine if you need to be supplementing (with donor breastmilk or formula) and how to do so while still being able to maintain your breastfeeding relationship, or if they can assist in increasing your milk supply.
11 – Power Pumping
During the first few months when I wasn’t able to breastfeed my son or have much skin to skin contact, I used this method to increase my supply.
Pump for 20 minutes.
Rest for 10 minutes.
Pump for 10 minutes.
Rest for 10 minutes.
Pump for 10 minutes.
This means you’ll have pumped for 40 minutes out of an hour. If you have a double pump then this works brilliantly and you can spend the whole time double pumping. If you have a one-sided pump then you should divide your time between each side to ensure both sides have the same amount of pump time.
It also helps to keep a blanket or clothes that smell like your baby close by, or even photos or video (if you can’t physically have them near you) as this can help stimulate your let down reflex too.
Your breastfeeding relationship with your baby is one that changes over time, and sometimes it can be that your supply may have dipped a little for some reasons. Keep these natural ways to increase your milk supply in mind so you know that you can boost your supply whenever you need in order to meet the needs of your little babe. And as always, if you are concerned, please speak to your Midwife or healthcare provider for personalised and specific help.