Proven Ways to Increase Milk Supply
Concerned about low milk supply? You are definitely not alone. Research shows that about 50% of nursing mums stop breastfeeding because they believe their milk supply is insufficient. But before you thr ow in the breastfeeding towel, read this! It turns out there are several actions you can take to increase your milk supply…and some strategies for increasing milk supply that are worth skipping.
What is low milk supply?
When you’re unable to produce enough breastmilk to meet your baby’s growth needs, that’s considered having low milk supply (insufficient breastmilk supply or hypogalactia). It’s important to note that while many new parents worry that they’re not making enough milk, it’s actually rare to have a physical or medical problem that hinders breastmilk production. That said, there are two different types of low milk supply issues:
Primary Versus Secondary Lactation Insufficiency
Not all low milk supply issues are the same. Here are two main differentials:
Primary milk insufficiency: This is when a parent is never able to produce a full milk supply. This issue is often marked by warning signs like a lack of breast growth during pregnancy or postpartum and no feelings of engorgement. Primary milk insufficiency is often related to hormonal issues, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, structural breast conditions, like insufficient glandular tissue (IGT), or the result of thoracic or breast surgery which severed critical nerves or ductwork.
Secondary milk insufficiency: Here, a dip in milk production occurs after first having an adequate supply of breastmilk.
The most common low-milk supply issues fall under the secondary milk insufficiency umbrella, which—good news—means it’s not only preventable, but treatable. Here are some common ways to get your breastmilk production back on track.
How to Increase Milk Supply With a Lactation Consultant
No matter if your diminished or low milk supply is due to your little one arriving early, illness, or another factor, there’s a good bet that spending some time with a qualified lactation consultant will help you get that liquid gold flowing. A lactation consultant is specially trained to help you increase or maintain your milk supply by guiding you to find the best breastfeeding positions, making sure your baby is latched properly, treating sore or cracked nipples, and more. You should also ask your lactation consultant to watch you pump. Sometimes simply adjusting your breast pump settings, refitting pump parts, or changing pumps can help fix your milk supply issues. (Learn tips to help you pump.)
How to Increase Milk Supply With These Pumping Tips
Once your lactation consultant assesses your pumping technique, you can further increase your milk supply by pumping for two minutes after your milk stops flowing, pumping both breasts at the same time, and making sure each pump session lasts for 15 to 20 minutes. Here, more ways to increase your milk supply with pumping:
Do this before you pump: Three to 5 minutes before you jump into pumping mode, take some deep breaths, and focus on your baby. You can look at a photo of your nugget or simply conjure an image in your head, along with other sensory details, like your baby’s smell and how they feel while nestled in your arms. This has shown to help with milk let down.
Pump at regular feeding intervals: Breastmilk is all about supply and demand, so if combo feeding your baby breastmilk and infant formula has lowered the demand, you can counter that with pumping at regular feeding intervals throughout the day. (Learn more about supplementing breastfeeding with formula.)
Double-up pumping: After you nurse your baby and put them down for sleep, pump any remaining milk. Next, drink a glass of water, wait 20 minutes, and pump again. Doing this each time you breastfeed or pump for 24 to 48 hours should boost your milk.
Power pump: In addition to pumping at your regularly scheduled times, power pumping involves pumping for 20 minutes every hour for 3 hours in a row—or you can alternate pumping and resting for 10 minutes intervals for an hour. Doing this for three to four consecutive days often yields a bump in your milk supply.
Massage while you pump: Massage and compress both of your breasts before you begin pumping—and then again during your pumping session. Pump both sides at once. When your milk flow slows to a few dribbles, stop pumping, remove the flanges, and massage your breasts for a minute or two. Finally, either hand express the remaining milk or go back to the breast pump, pumping one breast at a time. This is called hands-on pumping and it’s been shown to help increase milk supply.
PS: On average, a nursing parent will make 3 to 4 ounces of breastmilk every 3 hours. That means, don’t expect to pump 5 or more ounces in each bottle! That’s simply not realistic.
How to Increase Milk Supply with Kangaroo Care
Engaging in regular skin-to-skin care with your baby works to stimulate breastmilk production, according to the 2020 report in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing. In fact, pumping immediately after holding your baby skin-to-skin can be a “very effective way to increase your milk supply.” One of the reasons kangaroo care works to increase milk supply is that it decreases maternal stress levels. And stress is considered one of the leading causes of low breastmilk supply—especially in the first few weeks after delivery. Consider a skin-to-skin contact nap for about 20 minutes after feeds.
How to Increase Milk Supply With Sleep
According to a 2022 report in Frontiers in Nutrition, lack of sleep during the postpartum period can have an “unfavourable impact on lower milk volume.” Part of the reason? Sleep deprivation can cause a spike in certain hormones, like cortisol, which can dramatically reduce your breastmilk supply.
And don’t keep yourself up so that you can wake your baby to eat! After your little one reaches their birth weight—and they’re growing steadily—letting them sleep for longer periods during the night won’t thwart your breastfeeding efforts. Your growing baby will simply drink up more breastmilk during their waking hours—and your milk supply will adjust to the new routine. If you do wake during the night because of full breasts—not a hungry baby—pump for comfort to help your body adjust to the new feeding schedule.
How to Increase Milk Supply With Food and Drink
There are a lot of foods and herbs out there that are purported to help increase milk supply. These are called galactogogues. But just because a certain herb or food has milk halo around it, doesn’t mean it actually works.
Here’s what you really need to eat and drink to improve your milk supply:
Drink lots of water. Whenever you’re thirsty, drink up! Whenever you are nursing, drink up! Dark urine? Dry mouth? Drink more water! Breastfeeding parents should aim to drink at least 8 cups of water a day. (Roughly 88% of your breastmilk is water!)
Up your calories. Your body requires about 450 to 500 extra calories each day in order to produce breastmilk for your baby. To clock the right number of calories, reach for nutrient-dense snacks, like whole fruit, peanut butter on whole grain bread, or plain Greek yogurt.
Don’t focus on one food. The truth is, there’s no scientific evidence that proves any one food increases lactation. Instead, maintain a healthy, balanced, and nutritious diet heavy on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein, which includes fish.
Do lactation cookies work?
Lactation cookies generally contain ingredients that are believed to enhance breastmilk production, such as fenugreek, brewer’s yeast, and blessed thistle extract. But don’t count on these special lactation cookies to magically improve your breastmilk supply. A 2023 randomised controlled trial in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found zero evidence that cookies containing oatmeal, brewer’s yeast, flax seeds, and fenugreek increased milk production. Plus, many commercially available lactation cookies were found to be high in calories and sugar, without offering any major nutritional benefit.
Do supplements increase milk supply?
Most of these so-called milk-promoting supplements have not been scientifically evaluated for safety or efficacy, which is why currently, over-the-counter herbs and supplements are not recommended to increase milk supply. There’s simply not enough evidence to support the claim that any supplement increases lactation, including those containing…
Prescription Drugs for Increasing Milk Supply
Due to the limited evidence that milk‐boosting medications (like domperidone and metoclopramide) work, researchers behind a 2020 review out of the Cochrane Library concluded that they were “very uncertain about the supporting evidence” of these meds. That said medical authorities note that prescription lactation medications may be helpful under certain conditions, like when a parent is looking to reestablish milk after weaning or hoping to lactate for an adopted infant.
- Office of the Surgeon General: The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, Barriers to Breastfeeding in the United States
- S. Department of Agriculture: Galactogogues and breastfeeding : Focus on new natural solutions for hypogalactia
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP): Low Milk Supply
- University of Florida Health: Chronic Low Milk Supply: A Search for Solutions
- La Leche League International (LLLI): Breastfeeding with Hypoplasia: Insufficient Glandular Tissue
- Understand Lactation and Lactation Failure: Fight the curse of insufficient breast milk. Scholars Journal of Applied Medical Sciences. 2015
- Nationwide Children’s: Underproduction of Breast Milk: How to Increase Your Supply
- Cleveland Clinic: Lactation Consultant
- Cincinnati Children’s: Breast Milk Supply, How to Increase
- UTSouthwestern Medical Center: 4 factors that can decrease breast milk supply – and how to replenish it
- Stanford Medicine: Maximizing Milk Production with Hands-On Pumping
- The Effects of Kangaroo Care Applied by Turkish Mothers who Have Premature Babies and Cannot Breastfeed on Their Stress Levels and Amount of Milk Production. Journal of Pediatric Nursing. January 2020
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): Providing Breast Milk for Premature and Ill Newborns
- University Hospitals: Educating Breastfeeding Mothers on How to Boost Milk Supply
- Sleep duration of lactating mothers and its relationship with feeding pattern, milk macronutrients and related serum factors: A combined longitudinal cohort and cross-sectional study. Frontiers in Nutrition. August 2022
- Nemours Children’s Health, KidsHealth: Breastfeeding FAQs: Supply and Demand
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): Breastfeeding Challenges
- University of California San Francisco Health: Nutrition Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers
- Northwestern Medicine: What to Eat While Breastfeeding
- ACOG: Breastfeeding Your Baby
- Cleveland Clinic: Are There Breastfeeding Superfoods That Help Increase Milk Production?
- Effectiveness of lactation cookies on human milk production rates: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. May 2023
- ABM Clinical Protocol #9: Use of Galactogogues in Initiating or Augmenting the Rate of Maternal Milk Secretion (First Revision January 2011). Breastfeeding Medicine. February 2011
- Oral galactagogues (natural therapies or drugs) for increasing breast milk production in mothers of non-hospitalised term infants. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. May 2020
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.