How to Establish (and Increase) Your Breast Milk Supply
When my first daughter was born, I was excited about and committed to exclusively breastfeeding. My mom had breastfed both me and my sister, and my sister breastfed my nephew for well over a year. I didn’t bother to take any breastfeeding classes before the baby was born, because I figured my mom and sister would give me all the guidance I would need, and it would be a piece of cake. I was right about at least one of those things.
The first six weeks of my daughter’s life were a haze, marked by what seemed like never-ending nursing sessions. To me, it felt like I was breastfeeding 23 out of the 24 hours in a day. “She’s hungry again,” my mom would say, and I would cringe at the thought of putting the baby back on my sore and chapped nipples.
Tough as it was, I look back now and realize what was happening during those first few weeks – I was establishing my milk supply. Yes, the baby was hungry, and yes, newborns eat often. But perhaps even more importantly for breastfeeding mothers, this is the time when you’re training (or trying to train) your body to produce the right amount of milk to feed your baby.
Establishing your breast milk supply is incredibly important to do right from the moment your baby is born, as it will set the stage for the amount of milk you’re able to produce all throughout your breastfeeding journey. Below are some helpful tips to ensure you set yourself up for success:
- Birth: Within an hour of when your baby is born, put her on your breast to breastfeed. A nurse or lactation consultant at the hospital can help you with the baby’s latch if you’re having trouble. The first few nursing sessions at the hospital might be short, painful for you, and not seem like they’re working very well. Stay calm and persistent, and don’t hesitate to seek help from a lactation consultant early and often. It’s important to ensure that you are, in fact, producing milk, but also know that breastfeeding is a learned behavior for both you and the baby, and it will take time for you to get the hang of it.
- First 1-2 months: This is the most critical time for establishing your milk supply. Breastfeed your baby on demand for the first 6-8 weeks. This sounds easier in theory than it is in practice…basically, it means you feed the baby every time she seems hungry, never refuse her, and never try to “stretch” her to go longer between feedings. Normal for most babies is to breastfeed 8-12 times within a 24-hour period, and newborns are not very efficient eaters, so nursing sessions are often 30-45 minutes long. You do the math…that’s about 9 hours a day of breastfeeding. A cake-walk it is not, ladies. Be patient and try to keep in mind that this is all part of the “training” that your body needs to go through in order to produce enough milk for your baby.
- A few other tips during this critical time:
- No pacifiers. Newborns love to suck, and if you’re giving her a pacifier to suck on instead of your breast, she might not breastfeed as frequently as you need her to in order to get your milk supply established. The name of the game is to get your baby to suck on your nipples (and not on a pacifier or a bottle) as often as possible.
- No formula. Unless your healthcare professional or a lactation consultant has advised it, it’s also very important that you don’t supplement with formula during this time. Again, you want the baby to be at your breast 8-9 hours a day, and by supplementing, you’re cutting down on that time. The less demand there is on your body’s milk ducts, the less breast milk supply there will be.
- 3-4 months old: At this point, if you’ve been feeding on demand and your baby has a good latch, your milk supply should be fairly well established. Babies usually start eating more efficiently by this age, so you’re likely down to 6-8 feedings in a 24-hour period, lasting more like 30 minutes each (4 hours a day, yay!).
What if your baby isn’t a newborn and you need to increase your milk production? Is there a way to course correct and try to establish a stronger milk supply when your baby is a bit older?
Just like in the early days of breastfeeding, if you want to increase your milk supply, you simply need to breastfeed more – more frequently, and for longer periods of time at each nursing session. This isn’t always easy with older babies since they don’t need to eat as frequently or as long as newborns. To overcome this hurdle, try the following tips:
- No pacifiers, no formula. As mentioned earlier, pacifiers and supplementing with formula will decrease the amount of time you’re breastfeeding. As hard as it is, you’ll need to eliminate everything but nursing from your baby’s routine.
- Clear your schedule. Try taking a “nursing vacation” where you and baby do nothing but lay around and breastfeed all day long for 2-3 days.
- Water, water, water. You need to drink A LOT of water when you’re breastfeeding. The more water you drink, the more milk you’ll make. Most experts recommend drinking half an ounce of water per pound of your weight – so, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces of water.
- Consider pumping. If your baby simply isn’t spending enough time nursing, you may need to use a breast pump to help move things along. Pump shortly after your baby has eaten so you don’t interfere with her feedings. Also, keep pumping for a few minutes after you see the last drops of milk so you send a signal to your body that there’s a need for more milk.
- Supplement with supplements. There are a variety of galactagogues (a substance that increases milk supply) that can greatly help with milk production. If you like the convenience of a pill, you could try Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle, or Goat’s Rue. If you’d rather eat or drink something, there are cookie and drink mixes that you can incorporate into your diet. If one doesn’t work for you, try another – most women are able to find at least one galactagogue that gives them a noticeable boost in production.
Like many things in life, establishing (or increasing) your breast milk supply takes time and effort, but when your little one is happily guzzling as much milk as her little heart desires, it makes it all worth it.
Guest blog by Katie Stansberry, creator of Breastfeeding Bliss (https://www.breastfeedingbliss.com). After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, Katie wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. In this article, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience.