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One of the most frustrating challenges a breastfeeding mother can experience is low breast milk supply. You’re trying to do your best by your baby, and you’re already sort of flying “blind” — after all, you can’t exactly tell how much milk your breasts are making (unless, of course, you’re pumping). So you may wonder, Am I even making enough milk? If you determine you do have a low supply, you obviously want to know how to increase milk supply. And fast.
Well, we’re here to tell you (a) what you’re experiencing is totally normal and (b) it doesn’t make you any less of a mama. In fact, a lot of women need help boosting their breast milk supply from time to time. But it’s definitely something you want to address to ensure your little one is getting all the liquid gold they need. So, here’s the scoop on breast milk supply.
What causes low milk supply?
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, low supply affects 10 to 15 percent of breastfeeding mothers. Most times, not breastfeeding often enough or not completely draining each breast creates these stalls in supply.
Underlying medical issues may also be to blame for low milk supply. An estimated 1 to 5 percent of women are actually physically unable to produce enough milk to feed their babies due to medical issues like hormonal disorders, mammary hypoplasia, or breast trauma. In these situations, a lactation consultant or doctor will advise you on the best feeding method to nourish your little one. Other issues with mom’s health that could affect milk supply include anemia, hypothyroidism, hormonal problems like PCOS, or medications Mom is taking.
It’s also worth noting that smoking — in addition to transferring harmful chemicals to the baby — has the potential to affect milk supply. Not only can this habit reduce supply, but it can also change the actual composition of the milk.
How can you tell if you aren’t producing enough breast milk?
If your milk has come in, you’re breastfeeding frequently (around every two hours), and your baby has a good latch, you’re on the right track. However, there are clues you can look for that may indicate you aren’t producing enough breast milk. They include:
- Baby’s Weight: On average, babies who are getting enough milk gain between four to seven ounces per week. Granted, sometimes baby weight gain ebbs but, in general, your little one should be going up in weight.
- The Diaper Sitch: Sorry for the extra work, Mama, but you should be changing at least six pee-pee diapers per day (in the early months) and at least three to four diapers with large, mustard-colored stools. That’ll drop to once a day or even once every other day (for poop) around two to three months.
- Lethargy: Trust your gut, Mama… if your baby seems especially sluggish and you feel like something is off, talk to your lactation consultant or doctor.
How do you increase your milk supply?
If you determine you do have low supply, you want to know everything there is to know about increasing it, right? To speed up milk production and increase overall supply, try:
- Draining each breast completely. Milk production is driven by supply and demand, so you want to signal to your body that your breasts are empty (or as close as possible to it) and need more milk.
- Feeding on demand. While you may be tempted to create a rigid feeding schedule to regain a sense of normalcy, low supply may necessitate feeding every two to three hours — or even more frequently — in the first few months.
- Waking baby during feedings. If your little one falls asleep at the breast, they may not be draining it. If this sounds familiar, switch breasts throughout the feeding to try to keep baby awake and ensure they’re getting adequate milk out.
- Avoiding formula. When you’re worried you aren’t feeding your baby enough, you’ll do whatever it takes to nourish them — including breaking out the formula to supplement. However, this could have the opposite effect. The less breastmilk baby gets, the less your body will likely produce it. The exception, of course, is if your doctor recommended supplementing this way.
- Pumping. Doing this in between feedings can help stimulate more milk production. Many women swear by “power pumping,” in particular, which involves pumping on and off for about an hour a day. This mimics cluster feeding.
- Massaging your breasts. Gentle pressure applied while nursing or pumping can help maximize the amount of milk expressed during a nursing or pumping session.
- Taking care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup, Mama! Literally and figuratively. A rested, well-hydrated mother who gets enough sleep is much more likely to be a breast-milk-making machine.
What foods help produce breast milk?
You may have heard that certain foods can help boost breast milk supply, and that’s true! There are even some drinks that might help get your milk flowing. To that end, add the following to your grocery list:
- Oatmeal or oat milk
- Brewer’s yeast (whip up lactation cookies with it!)
- Lean meat and poultry
- Fennel seeds
- Barley or barley malt
- Whole grains
- Dark green veggies
- Blessed thistle
- Cumin seeds
- Green leafy vegetables
- Bitter gourd
- Salmon (We know we talked about how fish have mercury in them, which can harm your baby, but salmon is a low-mercury water-lover. It is also known to improve milk composition as well.)
- Holy Basil
- Sesame seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dill seeds
- Curry leaves
- Sweet potatoes leave
- Poppy seeds
- Brown rice
What foods can reduce milk supply?
Just as important as knowing which foods boost your milk supply is knowing the ones that may hurt it. The last thing you want to do is consume something unknowingly that throws a wrench in your whole breastfeeding journey. Here are some foods to stay clear of so that your little one can get the most out of their feedings.
- Cabbage leaves
How long does it take to increase milk supply?
Pretty much every breastfeeding or pumping mom who’s dealt with low supply wants to know, “How long does it take to increase milk supply?” But because every woman’s postpartum experience is different, there’s no hard-and-fast rule here. To even attempt to give a timeline, we’d have to know the reason your supply was low to start with. The most important thing is that you pay attention to your baby’s cues, your body’s signals, and the advice of your lactation consultant or doctor.