For nursing mothers, producing enough breast milk is often a top concern. While some women can easily pump bottle after bottle, up to 5% of mothers struggle with low milk supply. This can leave both mom and baby frustrated.
The good news is that using the right techniques can help boost your breast milk production.
This guide will walk through everything you need to understand your milk supply and take action to get more ounces at each pumping session. Read on to learn the secrets of breastfeeding success!
I. Understanding Your Milk Supply
Breast milk production works on a supply and demand system. The more milk that is removed from the breasts, whether by nursing or pumping, the more milk the body will produce in response. It’s a classic case of “use it or lose it”.
When a baby suckles at the breast, it sends signals to the brain to produce prolactin and oxytocin – the key hormones that initiate and maintain milk production. Prolactin tells the breasts to make more milk, while oxytocin stimulates letdown so milk can be released. These hormones work together to allow a steady flow of milk tailored to baby’s needs.
On average, most mothers can produce around 25-35 oz (750-1050 ml) of milk per day. However, every woman’s ability to make milk is different and depends on factors like:
- Genetics – some biological predispositions lead to lower supply
- Breast size – larger breasts can hold more milk
- Birth history – premature birth or c-section may delay milk coming in
- Medical conditions – thyroid issues, PCOS, etc.
|Time Period||Milk Production Per Day|
|Birth – 6 weeks||25 oz (750 ml)|
|2 – 3 months||35 oz (1050 ml)|
|6 – 8 months||30 oz (900 ml)|
The key is to fully drain the breasts on a regular basis to signal an increase in production as needed. This applies whether you are exclusively pumping or nursing.
II. Methods to Increase Milk Supply
There are several effective techniques you can use to boost milk supply. The key is consistency – you must stimulate and empty the breasts frequently so your body gets the signal to make more milk.
1. Nurse or pump more often
- Aim for 8-12 nursing or pumping sessions per 24 hours. This mimics a newborn’s frequent feeding in the first few months.
- Allow baby to nurse on demand whenever hungry rather than on a schedule.
- Pump after nursing to fully empty breasts.
- Add a nighttime pumping session – prolactin levels peak overnight.
2. Ensure proper latch and feeding position
- A shallow latch prevents the breast from being properly drained, signalling less milk needed.
- Get help from a lactation consultant to improve latch and positioning.
- Switch nursing positions – different holds empty different parts of the breast.
- Nurse on one side per feeding to empty that breast fully before switching sides.
3. Use breast compression and massage
- Breast compression – press gently on the breast to help express more milk as baby suckles.
- Massage – use hands to gently knead and stroke breasts before and during nursing/pumping.
- Hand expression after feeding gets out any residual milk.
4. Stay hydrated and eat a balanced diet
- Drink 3-4 liters of water daily – dehydration inhibits milk production.
- Consume at least 500 extra calories per day – making milk requires energy.
- Eat a balanced diet with protein, fruits/veggies and whole grains.
A lactation consultant can assess latch, feeding position, and pump settings to optimize milk removal.
Increasing milk supply requires removing more milk from the breasts consistently. This signals to the body to produce more ounces at each feeding to meet baby’s needs. Be patient and persistent – it can take 2 weeks or more to see a real boost in production. But with the right techniques, most mothers can make as much milk as needed to exclusively breastfeed their little one.
III. Foods and Herbs to Boost Milk Supply
In addition to nursing and pumping more frequently, certain foods and herbs have been shown to help increase breast milk production. Consuming lactogenic foods provides the nutrients and compounds needed for making milk.
Key lactogenic foods:
Oats – Contain beta-glucans that raise prolactin levels. Eat oatmeal, granola bars, etc.
Leafy greens – Rich in vitamin A, calcium, and antioxidants for milk production. Try spinach, kale, broccoli.
Eggs – An excellent source of protein and vitamins B12, A, D, E. Prepare any style.
Nuts and seeds – Packed with protein, healthy fats, and minerals like zinc, selenium. Add to yogurt, salads or just snack on.
Salmon – The omega-3 fatty acids support milk production. Can be grilled, baked or smoked.
Legumes – Lentils, beans, chickpeas are high in plant-based protein. Enjoy in soups, dips and veggie burgers.
Fruits – Bananas, berries, melons provide hydration, natural sugars, and antioxidants.
Lean meat – Beef, chicken, and pork supply iron, B vitamins and protein for milk making.
Whole grains – Brown rice, quinoa, barley, etc. offer complex carbs and fiber.
Dairy – Milk, cheese, yogurt contain protein, calcium, vitamins A, B12 and D.
Herbs and teas:
Certain herbs like fenugreek, fennel, moringa and blessed thistle have been used for centuries to increase breast milk supply. These can be consumed as teas, capsules or used to cook with.
Fenugreek – Can boost milk production by up to 103% due to phytoestrogens. Start with 2-3 capsules 3 times daily.
Fennel – Has estrogen-like compounds to stimulate milk ducts. Drink 2-3 cups of fennel tea per day.
Blessed thistle – Increases prolactin hormone levels. Take 3 capsules or make tea from leaves.
Moringa – Rich in nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B6, C. Add moringa powder to smoothies or water.
Lactation teas – Many herbal blends contain fenugreek, fennel, anise, etc. Follow instructions on the package.
Lactation smoothies – Blend lactogenic foods like oats, flax, brewer’s yeast and fruits into a smoothie.
Having lactation cookies, energy bites and teas makes it easy to incorporate milk-boosting foods and herbs into your daily diet.
IV. Pumping Tips and Routines
Using a breast pump effectively is key for moms who need to increase their milk supply. Pumping acts as extra stimulation to signal more production. Here are some pumping tips:
1. Pump after or between feedings
- Pump right after nursing to get any residual milk.
- Add a pumping session halfway between feedings.
- This tells the body to make more at each session.
2. Try power pumping
- Pump for 10-15 minutes, rest 10 minutes, repeat 1-2 times per day.
- Mimics cluster feeding of a newborn.
- Do this for 1-2 weeks to see a boost in supply.
3. Use a hospital-grade pump
- Hospital pumps are stronger and more efficient at removing milk.
- Rent one if your supply is very low.
- Allows double pumping to cut pumping time.
4. Make sure flanges fit correctly
- Wrong size flanges prevent full emptying of breasts.
- Consult a lactation consultant to get properly fitted.
- Improves pumping output.
5. Pump for 5 minutes after flow stops
- Keeps breasts well-drained.
- Signals to make more for next session.
|Time of Day||Pumping Routine|
|Morning||Nurse, then pump|
|Afternoon||Nurse, pump, power pump|
|Overnight||Add pumping session|
Having a consistent daily pumping schedule along with nursing helps ensure breasts stay empty and production increases.
Incorporating more pumping sessions and using the right techniques trains your body to produce more milk. Be patient – it can take 2 weeks for supply to increase. But with power pumping, proper flange fit, and emptying the breasts fully at each session, you can get the ounces you need to reach your breastfeeding goals.
V. Seek Professional Lactation Support
If you are struggling with low milk supply, one of the most effective things you can do is seek expert guidance from lactation professionals. They can help identify any issues and create a customized plan to optimize your milk production.
Consult with lactation consultants
Lactation consultants (LCs) are specialists trained to support nursing mothers. Here’s how they can help:
- Assess milk transfer and infant growth patterns.
- Evaluate latch, positioning, and pump settings.
- Provide hands-on assistance to improve latch and feeding.
- Recommend techniques to boost supply based on your unique situation.
- Develop a detailed pumping and feeding schedule.
- Prescribe medications or herbal supplements if appropriate.
- Provide emotional support and encouragement.
Schedule a lactation consultation early on if you suspect low supply. Seeing a LC within the first 2 weeks is ideal to correct any issues before supply is established.
Attend breastfeeding classes
Many hospitals, clinics and support groups offer breastfeeding education classes. These cover topics like:
- Proper latching and positioning.
- Using breast compression and massage.
- Incorporating skin-to-skin contact.
- Balancing nursing and pumping.
- Troubleshooting low supply.
- Returning to work while pumping.
Taking a class allows you to learn techniques and ask questions in a supportive group environment.
Join support groups
Breastfeeding support groups provide community, advice and reassurance from fellow nursing moms. Options include:
- La Leche League – Offers mother-to-mother support both online and in person.
- Local community groups – Check hospitals, clinics, community centers, etc.
- Online forums – Connect with moms on sites like Facebook and Reddit.
Sharing experiences and tips with other breastfeeding mothers can help you stay motivated and discover solutions.
VI. Nurture Yourself
Making plenty of breast milk requires taking good care of your body and mind. Prioritize the following self-care practices:
Get enough rest and sleep
- Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Split into a longer stretch plus naps if needed.
- Rest during the day when possible – making milk burns calories.
- Sleep is when prolactin levels peak – key for milk production.
- Avoid exhausting yourself – you need energy to nurse and pump frequently.
- Chronic stress inhibits milk supply by lowering prolactin and oxytocin.
- Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing.
- Take breaks from baby to recharge – go for a walk, read, meet a friend.
- Get a partner or family member to assist with household chores.
- Consider supplements like magnesium, lemon balm, or chamomile.
Ask for help and support
- Don’t try to do everything yourself – making milk is demanding.
- Accept help from your partner, family and friends.
- Hire a postpartum doula, night nurse or sitter if affordable.
- Outsource chores like cooking meals and cleaning.
- Connect with other moms for empathy and advice.
Caring for a newborn is tiring under the best circumstances. When also trying to increase milk supply, taking care of your physical and emotional health is essential. Prioritizing rest, lowering stress, and getting support prevents burnout so you can achieve your breastfeeding goals.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways
- Boosting breast milk supply requires fully draining breasts by nursing or pumping at least 8 times in 24 hours.
- Proper latch, more frequent feeding, breast massage and compression get the body to produce more ounces per session.
- Eating lactogenic foods like oats, salmon, and fenugreek provides nutrients that support milk production.
- Effective pumping routines and techniques help increase supply for exclusive pumpers.
- Seeking professional lactation support and mother-to-mother communities provides help.
- Making milk requires nurturing yourself through rest, stress relief, and getting assistance from loved ones.
With patience and persistence, most mothers can make plenty of breast milk for their babies. Follow these tips to understand your body’s milk production and take action to get the ounces you need.