Breastmilk supply is possibly the most uncertain, concerning part of feeding our babies. We can’t see how much they are drinking, and what we don’t know can be worrisome. Many times, concerns about low breastmilk supply are simply a mother’s heightened concern or someone else’s unfounded worry. But sometimes, we really do need to increase breastmilk supply quickly in order to fix or avoid a problem.
Checking Your Supply
Before working to increase supply, it’s important to know for sure whether it is necessary. If you work to increase a normal breastmilk supply beyond what baby needs, you will risk engorgement and mastitis. This is a common problem early on when moms pump during engorgement and also nurse, teaching their bodies to make more than baby needs.
The best indicator of breastmilk supply is your baby. Is she relaxing and becoming contended as she nurses? Is she wetting at least 6 diapers each day by a week or more old? Is she pooping as expected? Later, is she growing well and gaining at a proper pace? A baby who isn’t getting what she needs at the breast will show it.
Be sure to keep an eye on your supply as you work to increase it, and try to avoid stimulating more production than you need, particularly if you have escalated to the use of stronger measures such as galactagogues.
Finally, remember that it’s okay and even necessary to reach out for help. In situations like these, having an expert on hand can be invaluable. La Leche League leaders, an IBCLC consultant, or your breastfeeding-friendly care provider are all excellent resources.
How to Increase Breastmilk Supply Quickly
There are many ways to increase breastmilk supply quickly, and you may only need one or a few of them, depending on your situation and needs.
Without adequate hydration, your body’s fluids – including milk – begin to lessen. And, unfortunately, it can be difficult to keep up with fluid and nutrient intake when nursing a new little one. Make a conscious effort to drink at least a gallon of clear liquids each day. If you’ve been dehydrated or under-hydrated, that boost of hydration could increase your breastmilk supply quickly. Add a nutrient dense lactation tea for an even better boost.
The baby’s latch helps regulate your supply. If you aren’t stimulating the breast thoroughly with a good latch, you could see supply issues. Make sure the baby’s lips are flanged and mouth wide open – the nipple and most of the areola should be in the baby’s mouth without either of their lips sucked in and over their gums.
A sure way to drop supply is to feed baby on a schedule rather on cue. No two babies are alike, and more frequent feedings are often the baby’s way of telling your breasts to make more milk for a growth spurt or other need. Ignoring feeding cues –like a tongue working, open mouth, head turning toward the breast, lips smacking – ignores a hungry baby who is trying to make more milk for himself. Scheduled feeding can lead to a sharp drop in supply, particularly if you are skipping feedings or spacing them out at night.
If you have been nursing less frequently and see a drop in supply, start by putting baby to the breast as soon as you suspect hunger or interest, as often as baby indicates.
Skin to Skin
Sometimes, baby will lose interest in the breast, especially when bottles have been the alternative during a period of low supply. That’s okay. Spending some time skin to skin can help baby regain interest, and it can also trigger your own prolactin and oxytocin hormones for milk production. Get in bed with your baby and spend some cuddle time together. With only a diaper on your baby, lay him on your naked chest and just relax there for a while.
Another way to increase your breastmilk supply quickly is to “super switch” while nursing. Shortly after a letdown, switch to the other side and trigger another letdown. Then go back to the first. This has the effect of pumping after a feeding, while letting baby get the milk she needs.
Pumping can help to stimulate supply, but remember that it is not as strong as baby’s latch and does not produce as much milk as baby can get with a good latch. Some women who have successfully breastfed multiple babies are never able to pump much milk at all! You can help encourage a let down while pumping by smelling something of baby's or looking at pictures or video of baby.
Try to be careful using bottle nipples as they can make baby’s latch get lazy. Be vigilant about baby's latch when at the breast. When supply is simply not coming up and the situation is dire, a SNS (supplemental nursing system) can deliver supplemental milk to baby while still on the breast.
Last but not least, you can take galacatogue (milk-producing) herbs and foods to help increase your breastmilk supply quickly. These can range from daily support teas like Nursing Nectar to more intensive supply support like Let There Be Milk. There are also prescription measures such as domperidone that a qualified lactation consultant may help you with if you reach that point. However, most supply issues can be quickly resolved with some self-care, rest, nutritive/galactagogue support, and a good latch.