Increasing Milk Supply
LLL Leader volunteers are often asked, “How do I increase my milk supply?” It’s important to first check for signs that your baby is getting enough milk. If you have not done so, read through here.
Milk production begins during pregnancy and is established in the days and weeks following birth. It is important to remember that lactation works on the principle of supply and demand. The more your baby nurses, the more milk your body produces. If baby is unable to nurse directly, feeds will need to be replaced by pumping or hand expression. If feeds are skipped, milk production slows down.
Steps for increasing milk supply
The following steps for increasing milk supply are tried-and-true and backed by scientific research.
Step 1: Skin-to-Skin Contact
Skin-to-skin contact stimulates the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” in both you and your baby. It relaxes you and encourages milk to flow. This is as simple as cuddling your undressed baby upright on your chest. Just make sure that your baby’s airway is clear.
Stay skin-to-skin for as much of the day as you desire – the more the better.
Step 2: Nurse Often
While skin-to-skin, breastfeed often and whenever your baby is willing. Don’t wait for your baby to cry or fuss before offering the breast. Crying is a late hunger cue and can often make it harder to latch effectively.
Many breastfeeding guidelines suggest nursing 8-12 times per 24 hours. That said, if you are trying to increase your supply, it is better to nurse at least 10-12 times per 24 hours including through the night.
Be sure to check your baby’s latch often to ensure that it is deep and effective. Find more info on position and latching here.
If baby is unable to nurse at the breast, you will need to pump to replace those missed feeds and maintain your milk supply.
Step 3: Breast Compressions
Removing as much milk as possible at each feeding signals your breasts to make more milk. Breast compressions can help keep your baby actively nursing for longer periods of time so they get more milk out of the breast during a feeding.
When you notice that your baby is sucking, but not swallowing, you can help the milk flow by gently squeezing your breast.
First, place your fingers under your breast with your thumb on top, behind the areola, similar to squeezing a tube of toothpaste. Press gently until you notice your baby begin to swallow. Release the pressure after baby slows down. You can repeat as necessary.
Keep baby feeding through compressions and swapping sides whenever your baby seems restless.
Breast compressions can also be done while pumping. This method is often called “hands on pumping.” Find more resources on that below.
If your baby needs a supplement of expressed milk, donor milk, or formula, you might want to consider using a device called an at-breast supplementer or nursing supplementer. Using something like this can give your baby that extra milk while they are nursing.
Supplementers can help parents have an at-breast or at-chest relationship with their baby whether or not they are able to produce milk. Commercial supplementers may be called by their brand names, but they work on the same principle: by delivering the supplement through a small tubing that attaches to your breast. There are also many low cost, do-it-yourself options that are just as effective.
Read a mother’s story about the long term use of a supplementer here.
Other things to consider
If you are looking to increase your milk supply, some of the following tips might be helpful to you.
- Avoid pacifiers and bottles when possible. Your baby finding comfort at the breast stimulates your supply.
- Some parents have found success after taking a “nursing vacation.” A nursing vacation looks like a weekend in bed with your baby with as much skin-to-skin time and nursing as possible. You can relax together without distractions and reconnect. This easy access to nursing can help encourage your baby to nurse more often and stimulate more milk production as a result.
- Triple check that your baby is latched effectively. A shallow latch caused by bad positioning or a tongue tie will lead to less milk being removed and a lower supply over time. For more information on tongue ties and how they impact nursing, read here.
I stopped nursing early on. Can I start nursing again?
LLL Leader volunteers often hear from families who tried to breastfeed initially but stopped for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, breastfeeding seemed too hard or painful, and formula was seen as an easier option. Other times, there may have been a medical emergency that led to unintentional weaning. Or perhaps you are adopting a child after birthing and nursing your own children prior. For all these situations, relactation may be attempted.
Relactation requires time, patience, determination, and a cooperative baby! Whether you stopped breastfeeding due to a medical procedure, separation from baby, or just bad advice, many families find they can rebuild a milk supply very successfully.
Sometimes, relactation produces enough breastmilk to meet all of baby’s needs. Other times, supplementation may still be needed. The following strategies can be helpful for relactation and induced lactation to stimulate milk production:
- Putting baby to breast to suck at each feeding and for comfort between feedings as often as possible.
- Using hand expression or a breast pump.
- Using a nursing supplementer to provide expressed milk at the breast while baby sucks at the breast.
- Taking herbs/medication that increase milk supply. If you do use herbs or medications to increase your supply, be sure to consult a lactation-focused health care professional about your specific medical history as well as your breastfeeding goals.
Read more about relactation and induced lactation here.
BREASTFEEDING IS MORE THAN MILK.
The physical act of breastfeeding is more than the quantity of milk that is supplied, as you will find when you hold your baby in your arms. It is warmth, nutrition, and love all rolled into one. Understanding and appreciating the signs of knowing when your baby is getting enough to eat is one of the most important things you can learn. If you have any concerns regarding your baby, they should be addressed with your health care provider.
If your baby is showing signs of not getting enough milk, please do not hesitate to seek help from an LLL USA Leader or lactation professional and also your baby’s health care provider. Remember, you are the expert on your baby. If something doesn’t seem right, trust your intuition and reach out for help.
Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?, LLL USA
Increasing Milk Supply, LLLI
Maximizing Milk Production, Stanford Medicine
To Pump More Milk, Use Hands On Pumping, Nancy Morbacher, IBCLC
Perceived Insufficient Milk, KellyMom
Increasing Low Milk Supply, KellyMom
Breastfeeding: More than Milk, LLL USA blog
Not only about milk (At-breast supplementer), LLL USA blog
Breastfeeding With A Lactation Aid, LLL USA blog
What Breastfeeding Taught Me about being a Mother (Low Milk Supply), LLL USA blog
IS YOUR CONCERN OR QUESTION NOT COVERED HERE?
Please contact a local LLL Leader with your specific questions.
Medical questions and legal questions should be directed to appropriate health care and legal professionals.
Page updated May 2022
Portions partially adapted from LLLI materials.