9 Ways to Help Boost and Maintain Your Breast Milk Supply
Patience is the Key to Starting Out Strong
Your body is built to breastfeed, and starting at birth, will flood with hormones to help you begin breastfeeding. That doesn't mean it always comes naturally! It may take some time for you and baby to figure each other out. You may struggle with latching, milk production, or other common breastfeeding challenges, but with patience, you and baby will discover your unique bond and build a strong foundation for successful breastfeeding.
Use All of Your Resources
If you give birth in a hospital, a lactation consultant is often on the team to help with any questions you have or challenges you're encountering. Take advantage of this resource and learn as much as you can! Even before baby is born, there are opportunities for education with breastfeeding classes you can take online or locally with other new or expecting parents. And of course, always reach out to your doctor or a certified lactation consultant for extra support in your early days of breastfeeding and beyond. Educating yourself can help you more confidently begin your breastfeeding journey.
Breastfeed as Much as You Can
Your milk supply works on a supply and demand basis, so it will adjust based on how much you're breastfeeding and/or pumping. That means the more you do it, the more milk you'll produce.1 Most breastfeeding babies will eat about 8-12 times a day.2 When baby breastfeeds, your body will kick into action. Baby will start with short, quick sucking to induce letdown, causing muscles in your breasts to contract and get the milk flowing. Once the milk is flowing, baby will switch to slower, more relaxed feeding. Having this frequent breast stimulation is one of the best ways to maintain a good milk supply.3
Pump Between Feedings
Sometimes life gets in the way of being able to breastfeed whenever you want, and you don't have that regular breast stimulation to tell your body to continue producing milk. Pumping throughout the day at times where you would normally breastfeed is a good guideline to keeping your breast milk supply up. You can also pump after a feeding to make sure your breasts are emptied, so your body knows to refill with more milk and it comes back more evenly.
Another popular technique is "power pumping." This is when you pump several times in a short period to induce more milk production.4 Here's an example of power hour schedule:
- Pump for 20 minutes
- Rest for 10 minutes
- Pump for 10 minutes
- Rest for 10 minutes
- Pump for 10 minutes
Perfect Your Technique
Making sure your breastfeeding position is effective and making sure baby has a proper latch is important for milk flow. There are lots of positions where you can breastfeed, just make sure you and baby are both comfortable. Using pillows or cushions for extra back and arm support can also be helpful. Make sure baby's head is straight, it's harder to swallow if their neck is turned or twisted. Bring baby to the breast and allow them to latch themself.
Watch and feel how baby is latching. They should take in a large mouthful of breast, not just the nipple. The nipple should reach all the way to the back to their mouth to the soft palate.5 If baby isn't properly latched it can affect your milk flow and they might not be getting enough milk. If this continues, your milk supply may decrease because you aren't giving baby full feeds and emptying your breasts.
Lots of Snuggling
Skin-to-skin contact is a wonderful way to bond with baby. It can also signal your body to lactate more and encourage baby to breastfeed.6 Studies have shown that immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth can lead to earlier initiation of feeding and successful breastfeeding.7 Practicing skin-to-skin contact with baby causes your body to release oxytocin, essential hormone for breastfeeding that induces letdown and can give feelings of calmness and closeness with baby.8
Stay Healthy and Hydrated
Eating nutrient-rich foods and drinking lots of water is essential for a good breast milk supply. Breastfeeding takes a lot of energy and calories (an extra 300-400 calories a day, in fact), so it's important to make sure you're keeping up.9 If you're exclusively breastfeeding, baby is getting ALL their nutrition from you, so having a well-rounded diet rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals will help you and baby feel your best.
Breast milk is made up of 87% water, so it's important to make sure you stay hydrated to keep up with your milk output.10 Check out our blog on the importance of hydration while breastfeeding for more info plus tips and tricks to help you stay hydrated.
Natural Milk Boosters
Eating and drinking galactagogues (substances thought to increase breast milk supply) is also a good way to support breastfeeding. There are a lot of natural galactagogues out there, the most popular being fenugreek. Some other favorite natural galactagogues that are available right at the grocery store are oats, garlic, almonds, and coconut water. Check out our blog on galactagogues for an in-depth look at what they are, how they work, and a whole list of options!
The postpartum period can be challenging for a lot of parents, and it's natural to feel more stress than usual, but experiencing chronic stress has been shown to have negative effects on breastfeeding in a few ways. Stress doesn't necessarily decrease breast milk production directly, but it certainly affects our behavior and the hormones we produce. It can decrease oxytocin, which induces lactation, and increase cortisol, the stress hormone. One study found that high levels of cortisol in a mother caused a decrease in the amount of fat and energy density in breast milk.11
It's easier said than done, but the less you stress, the better your milk supply will be. Trying some relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or exercising can be helpful, and breastfeeding itself can be extremely relaxing and a welcome break from other anxieties. Feeling like you have to do everything yourself with this new responsibility is also scary! Don't be afraid to ask for help from your partner, friends, and family. If you experience ongoing or severe feelings of anxiety and depression, talk to your doctor about other options to help cope with some of those feelings.
Many parents struggle with low breast milk supply. It's perfectly normal, and there are a lot of ways you can work to address it. You can start right here by trying some of these techniques, but if you continue to experience low supply or just want to talk about it, reach out to your doctor or a certified lactation consultant for extra help. And remember, breastfeeding isn't the only option to feed your baby. Supplementing with formula or exclusive formula feeding is great too, all you need is for baby to be fed!
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. WIC Breastfeeding Support. "Low Milk Supply." https://wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov/low-milk-supply Accessed 27 September 2023.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. "How Much and How Often to Breastfeed." Last reviewed 11 April 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/breastfeeding/how-much-and-how-often.html Accessed 28 September 2023.
- Healthline. "How to Increase Breast Milk Production." Last reviewed 7 May 2018. https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/how-to-increase-breast-milk#seek-help Accessed 27 September 2023.
- Healthline. "Can Power Pumping Increase Your Milk Supply?" Last reviewed 18 November 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/breastfeeding/power-pumping#how-to-power-pump Accessed 27 September 2023.
- NHS. "Breastfeeding: Positioning and Attachment." Last reviewed 16 December 2022. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/breastfeeding-and-bottle-feeding/breastfeeding/positioning-and-attachment/ Accessed 27 September 2023.
- Ann‐Marie Widström, Kajsa Brimdyr, Kristin Svensson, Karin Cadwell, and Eva Nissen. "Skin‐to‐skin contact the first hour after birth, underlying implications and clinical practice." 13 March 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6949952/ Accessed 22 September 2023.
- Rasha Mohamed Essa, Nemat Ismail Abdel Aziz Ismail. Journal of Nursing and Education Practice. "Effect of early maternal/newborn skin-to-skin contact after birth on the duration of third stage of labor and initiation of breastfeeding." 2 February 2015. https://www.sciedu.ca/journal/index.php/jnep/article/view/5698 Accessed 28 September 2023.
- Michael H. Walter, Harald Abele, Claudia F. Plappert. "The Role of Oxytocin and the Effect of Stress During Childbirth: Neurobiological Basics and Implications for Mother and Child." 27 October 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8578887/ Accessed 27 September 2023.
- Mayo Clinic. "Breastfeeding Nutrition: Tips for Moms." 27 April 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breastfeeding-nutrition/art-20046912 Accessed 28 September 2023.
- Camilia R. Martin, Pei-Ra Ling, and George L. Blackburn. "Review of Infant Feeding: Key Features of Breast Milk and Infant Formula." 11 May 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4882692/ Accessed 5 October 2023.
- Anna Ziomkiewicz, Magdalena Babiszewska, Anna Apanasewicz, Magdalena Piosek, Patrycja Wychowaniec, Agnieszka Cierniak, Olga Barbarska, Marek Szołtysik, Dariusz Danel, Szymon Wichary. "Psychosocial stress and cortisol stress reactivity predict breast milk composition." 2 June 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-90980-3 Accessed 5 October 2023.