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If you're a breastfeeding mama, you may have wondered about natural ways to increase milk supply at some point in your breastfeeding or breast-milk pumping journey. It's natural—though it can be worrying—for your supply to dip at certain junctures, like a return to work, or dropping a night feed, or starting solids. You may start to ask yourself, 'Am I making enough milk?' or 'What can I do to increase my milk supply while breastfeeding?'
Luckily, there are quite a few ways to help maintain and boost milk production through food and nutrition and best nursing practices.
Here are eight natural ways to increase your milk supply.
1. Stay hydrated
The exact amount of fluid intake may vary per individual, but you should aim to have at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day. It might seem counter-intuitive, but you actually don't need to drink extra water in order to boost milk supply. According to the National Academy of Medicine, just making sure you're adequately hydrated by drinking to your thirst every day should be fine.
2. Eat a nutrient-dense diet
Breastfeeding moms need to eat about an extra 500 calories per day—which is more than in the third trimester of pregnancy. Choose nutrient-dense foods that give you energy, such as protein-rich options like oatmeal, adding flaxseed meal or brewer's yeast to smoothies or yogurt, eggs, lean meats, and beans and legumes. Look for foods with B vitamins and vitamin C (like salmon, leafy greens and strawberries), which can help increase breast milk supply.
3. Nurse often and follow your baby's lead
Breastfed babies do not follow a strict schedule—they set it. So try to go with the (milk) flow and follow your baby's cues, especially when your baby is still a newborn. Lactation consultants often recommend feeding on demand, which means that every time your baby is hungry, you'll feed them.
This certainly is not always possible, especially for moms who work outside the home. You do also have to take your mental health into consideration as well. But if you're looking for a boost, feeding on demand may be the way to go.
4. Let baby feed fully on each side
Milk production is a demand-supply system so the more often baby feeds, the more milk production occurs. When your breast is "empty", it sends a message to your brain to produce more milk—meaning it's probably never truly empty.
Aim to let baby feed for an average of 15 to 20 minutes per side so that they are sure to get all the foremilk and fatty hindmilk that comes after, which is ideal for their growth and development.
5. Bake lactation cookies
Anecdotally, some mamas find that lactation cookies or lactation brownies help. You can bake some at home and modify the ingredients to your liking (ie. add more chocolate chips!) or buy pre-made cookies. I've tried a few recipes for lactation cookies and my favorite is the recipe from How Sweet Eats.
If you'd like to get ready-made cookies, you can likely find them at most stores that carry baby products or get them delivered right to your door.
6. Brew lactation teas
Do you like to drink? Tea, that is! If so, you may want to try out lactation teas. The jury is still out about whether or not lactation teas and herbs actually do increase supply levels—research has had varying results. But if you enjoy them and it works for you, go for it.
7. Take lactation supplements
What if you want to increase your breast milk supply but don't want cookies or teas?
Galactagogues are herbal compounds that are known to increase milk production, like fenugreek, blessed thistle and brewer's yeast are supplements that can help. These herbs can be taken separately or in a combo formulation. Fenugreek can have mixed results when taken by itself. For some women, it really helps, but for others, it may not make a difference or it may even reduce supply.
Personally, I found the most effective results with the combination of fenugreek and blessed thistle as in Upspring's Milkflow. That along with brewer's yeast capsules really worked for me.
I'd recommend you try out various options to see what lactation supplements work for you and your body. And of course, before starting any supplements or if you have any questions, it's always a good idea to discuss with your doctor.
8. Use a breast pump
It can be very useful to use a breast pump to empty your breast if your baby has only fed on one side, to start a milk stash or to maintain milk supply for home or work. To boost pumping output, try using a warm compress on your breast before pumping, or try using a Haakaa or other breast milk collector on your opposite breast while feeding or pumping to collect any overflow.
The bottom line
Most importantly, I want to stress that the main point is to feed our babies. It is crucial to be sensitive to the fact that every woman is unique, as is her situation. Some women have insufficient glandular tissue, chronic issues like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid dysfunction, milk production issues or other factors making breastfeeding very difficult or not possible.
Mamas, whatever your way of feeding, be proud of the fact that you are doing the best you can and that you are feeding your child. That is what is important. As a pediatrician and fellow mom, I support you.
Originally posted on The Mindful Mom. A version of this post was first published on August 2, 2018. It has been updated.