Boosting Low Breast Milk Supply

by Pregnancy.org Staff

nursing baby staring into mom's eyesIn a breastfeeding relationship mom's body responds to baby's "make-me-milk!" signals. The synchronized dance between nursing partners can break down sometimes, causing a supply issue. For instance, if you don't empty your breasts often enough, this could be the main cause of a poor breast milk supply. The situation can be compounded by:

  1. Poor latch or position
  2. Delayed start breastfeeding
  3. Not nursing or pumping often enough
  4. Nerve or duct damage
  5. Lack of information or support

Identifying and targeting your problem areas can help you bring your supply back up to baby's demand.

Is Your Baby Getting Enough Milk?

A newborn can't look you in the eye and say, "Thank you for the great meal mom. I'm full and content! Now I can use the nutrients you gave me to grow big and strong." However, these are the signs that show your tiny tot's getting enough milk:

  • Your baby nurses frequently, averaging at least 8-12 feedings a day
  • You can hear the baby swallow while breastfeeding
  • The baby has 6-8 very wet cloth diapers or 5-6 wet disposable diapers and 2-5 bowel movements per day (after the baby is three days old). To feel what a wet diaper is like, pour three tablespoons of water into a clean diaper
  • Your baby is gaining at least 4-7 ounces per week after the fourth day of life
  • Your baby's alert and active and is growing

Almost every mom gets concerned that her supply might not be enough, but the opposite is true. The softness of your breasts, your baby's behavior, the frequency of nursing, let-down sensations or the amount you pump don't tell if you're making enough milk for your baby. These "indicators" might convince you that your milk supply is low when it really isn't. If your baby is gaining weight on breast milk alone, then you don't have a problem with your milk supply.

Boosting Your Milk Supply

Your milk supply works on a simple principle: The more milk your baby drinks, the more milk you will make. These three tips can help you and your baby become an effective team.

1. Your pain and baby's lack of swallows indicate a problem and the first suspect is latch or position. A lactation consultant can help you and your wee one get positioned and latched properly so all your milk gets from breast to babe efficiently and pain-free.

2. Many women find success with a "nurse-in." Take your baby to bed with you; nurse and cuddle all day long! Have your partner bring you food, drinks, snacks and allow you to relax so you can bond with your baby. The extra nursing not to mention the skin-to-skin contact tells your body to make more milk.

3. Use a high quality pump after each feeding (or as often as possible). This helps empty your breasts completely, sending the signal out for more milk production.

Our advice: Stay hydrated! Keep a beverage near the area you breastfeed and drink while your baby does! Even a warm cup of tea will help you relax, which makes for more pleasant and effective nursing sessions.

Galactogogues

Despite your best efforts, sometimes your supply still needs a boost. For thousands of years mothers have used herbs like Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle, Goats Rue and Marshmallow Root to help bring a milk supply to fruition. While little-to-no medical research proves the herbs' success, they're world renowned by many cultures as safe and very effective choices. These herbs can be found in capsule, tea and tincture (liquid) form and are widely available at most "health food" stores.

Your doctor can prescribe certain medications to help with lactation. Metaclopamide, domperidone, and the antipsychotics, sulpiride and chlorpromazine work by blocking dopamine receptors. That results in higher prolactin levels and can increase milk supply. A galactagogue is most effective when combined with more frequent nursing sessions.

Some foods are touted to have a positive effect on supply such as oatmeal, papaya and even hops in beer. [Editor's note: Research indicates babies nurse less after a mom drinks alcohol.]

When Supplementing is Necessary

If you've given it your all and your supply still doesn't meet your baby's demand, it might be necessary to supplement. The golden rule is: breast first! Always empty your breasts before offering more nutrition. Even the tiniest amount of breast milk has a huge variety of health benefits.

An SNS (supplemental nursing system) allows your baby to nurse at your breast. The SNS helps your breasts to become the "milk factory" you desire, while your baby gets formula in the meantime. If you decide on bottle-feeding, most companies offer more breast-like designs that encourage baby to keep a strong latch and avoid nipple confusion.

The most important thing to understand is this: You are not a failure. A healthy breastfeeding relationship is more than just nutrition! It's about bonding, love and trust. Supplementing is just another way to enjoy time with your baby.

As one low-supply Pregnancy.org member reminds us, "I realized it doesn't require a full supply to be a full-time breastfeeding Mom. It's not just about the milk. It's about the relationship between me and my son."

Copyright © Pregnancy.org.