Are you worried your baby isn’t getting enough breastmilk? Do you feel less full between feedings? Or is your child more fussy before and after eating? There can be many causes for decreased milk supply, including a natural decrease, biological, situational and dietary.
To help my fellow mamas in their breastfeeding journey, I have compiled basic info on breastfeeding, and then we will get into increasing your milk supply.
Please note I am not a doctor or dietician. All info in this post have been gathered through research and personal experience.
Fed Is Best
Now I first want to say that no matter how you feed your child, making sure your child is fed and thriving is the ultimate goal. There is absolutely no shame in needing to supplement or switch to formula. Sure, there are definitely amazing benefits to breastfeeding (antibodies, nutrition perfectly created for your child, etc). But, I’ve learned first-hand that breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone or every baby. Provide what your baby needs: food. That is all.
My History With Breastfeeding
You may be asking “who is this woman giving me tips?”! Before I get into the specifics about breastfeeding and what you can try to build your supply, let me tell you a little about my breastfeeding (and pumping) journey.
As you read through, remember that every baby and every mom is different!
When my first son was born, we struggled. A lot. He wouldn’t latch correctly (with no tongue tie or any other known physical issues) which caused immense pain and eventually open sores and scabs.
After meeting with many lactation consultants for help for months, I eventually had to move to bottles and exclusively pump. I was heartbroken. This was supposed to be natural so how could it be so hard? Was something wrong with me?! No, there was nothing wrong with me. And whether it was the pump, biology or the ongoing stress at the time, I was only able to provide half of his milk, and we supplemented with formula.
I will say that I tried everything to grow my supply. I took supplements, drank special tea, pumped every 2 hours, power pumped in the middle of the night, drank tons of water, ate steel cut oats every morning, tried meditating (with little success), and anything and everything else I could find online and recommendations from my fellow moms.
But, he was fed and he was happy. That’s all that really matters.
How incredibly different this time around has been! My second son is coming up on 7-months-old and breastfeeding is still going strong (for the most part, more on that in a bit). Breastfeeding started out a little the same with bleeding cracks and scabs as my body got used to having a vacuum attached to it in the form of a hungry baby. But, after the pain subsided, I’ve had no issues with my son breastfeeding regularly.
As a side note, one of my sisters was able to completely fill her freezer with extra milk and another sister was able to have enough left over to freeze a bit as well. Unfortunately, that is not something I can do. I’ve tried electric pumping, manual pumping and manual expression (just, basically, milking myself with my hands), and I have little to nothing left after my son eats.
Although I haven’t had issues with my son drinking, my supply has recently dropped (it actually times out with my first born dropping his last nap…no more breaks for mama!), and his weight had decreased. We had some warning before that at his 6 month appointment when his weight was increasing but not as much as would be expected. However, the doctor said he wasn’t worried about it and to just try feeding him more often. That’s exactly what I did.
Then came the weigh in to make sure his weight was going up last week. I was shocked and horrified having thought he was looking chubbier. He had lost 6 ounces from his last weigh in a few weeks earlier. He’s a happy baby and doesn’t actually let me know when he’s hungry. Sure, he cries and gets upset (especially since he’s teething), but he rarely gives any indication that he wants to eat or is still hungry after feeding.
So, I’m back to trying to increase my supply. Out of desperation, I am trying to get him to take a bottle of formula, but he has always refused bottles and binkies. But, I will keep at it just to make sure his weight goes up for the next weigh in. In addition to trying a new supplement, increasing my water intake and ensuring I’m completely empty on both sides after each feeding, I will be taking him in to weigh him before and after a feeding to see just how much he is getting from me.
This part of my breastfeeding journey isn’t over. I’m hoping to get my supply back up and my son relying only on me for nutrition until solids become an actual factor in his caloric intake (usually around a year old). I’ll keep updating this post on my progress at the bottom of this post!
Now back to the info you came here for!
There are two types of breastmilk you will read about: foremilk and hindmilk. Foremilk is the first, watery milk your child drinks. Hindmilk is the thicker, nutrient-rich milk that follows foremilk. It’s always good practice to start feeding on the last side your child fed on to completely drain you and get all the hindmilk.
What Can Transmit To Your Breastmilk?
Alcohol, caffeine (it’s recommended to only have one cup of a caffeinated beverage a day), some drugs (talk to your doctor about any medications you take), high-mercury-content in some fish (mercury is harmful to your child), and cow milk proteins (though this won’t cause issues with most babies). This is NOT a comprehensive list! FYI beans will NOT give you baby gas, lol. If you question whether or not you should ingest something, contact your OBGYN or doctor.
There are some great products out there to help you with breastfeeding. Some of the products I use are outline in my post about feeding your baby here. But it doesn’t cover items like breastfeeding bras and clothes (since every body and every mom is different). If you are trying to find inexpensive or free options for clothing, make sure to check thrift stores and your local Buy Nothing group (if applicable).
Water intake is key to making sure you produce enough milk and keep yourself healthy. Most sources recommend at least 64 ounces of water a day. A good way to make sure you are drinking enough water is to look at your urine. If it’s a dark yellow, up your water intake.
What I do is take a Nalgene bottle and a permanent marker and write on the bottle the times of day to complete a certain amount of ounces (with morning and afternoon/evening on either side of the ounces listed – a lot can only hold 32 ounces so you would refill at least once). The water bottle goes everywhere I go!
When it comes to diet, your body will create the milk your child needs regardless of what you eat (for the most part). However, you need to make sure you replenish your own body with the nutrients your body is giving away.
I’ve read that if you are exclusively breastfeeding, you are losing about 300 calories a day. That isn’t to say that you should focus entirely on your calorie intake or increase your calories. It’s better to focus on the right kinds of food to eat. Here is a list of foods that are suggested for nutritional value:
I’ve noticed that if I don’t get enough protein in my food my milk supply suffers a bit. Whether this is merely a calorie issue or something else, I’m not sure. Here are some foods to focus on:
- Lean meat (chicken, fish, turkey)
- Peanut Butter (maybe with little to no sugar added)
- Nuts (like almonds)
We all need carbohydrates (carbs), but be careful not to overdo it with too many carbs. Most simple sugars (found in sweets mostly) and some white foods (like rice and bread) don’t contain much nutrition and are sometimes referred to as “empty calories.” It’s better to focus on any carbs that offer other benefits:
- Brown rice
- Quinao (a carb high in protein!)
- Whole grain bread (if it has flaxseeds you also get Omega-3s!)
- Whole grain pasta
- Fruit (like bananas and oranges)
- Vegetables (like sweet potatoes rather than white/russet potatoes)
- Greek yogurt (also a good protein)
Omega-3 (fatty acids)
These are great to help support your baby’s brain development. If you worry about your intake, there are lots of supplements (see below) out there.
- Eggs (omega-3 enriched; also a good protein)
- Chia seeds (try these in smoothies!)
- Flaxseeds (I use ground in smoothies and cookies)
- Grass fed beef (ground, steaks)
- Fish (look for low-mercury sources)
This is a B vitamin complex that we all know was great during pregnancy (supports cell production in your body), but is also good when breastfeeding.
- Green leafy vegetables (like spinach and kale)
- Enriched grains, cereals and breads
When you breastfeed, you lose some of your bone mass (though it will come back later). It’s good to make sure you get enough calcium to help your bones while you are feeding your child.
- Milk (also a good protein!)
- Salmon (look for low-mercury sources)
- Almonds (also a good protein!)
- Yogurt (also a good protein!)
Iron is good for your blood. It is especially good right after birth to replenish your blood supply. It’s generally less of a worry after recovery, but some moms do struggle with getting enough in their food diet and may become deficient.
- Beans (like black or kidney)
- Green leafy vegetables (like spinach and kale; also gives you Folic Acid!)
- Steel cut oatmeal
Foods to Avoid
Other than the item that could be transmitted through your milk (listed above), go easy on your usage of these herbs that are thought to reduce milk supply: peppermint, sage and parsley.
Personally, I still take a good prenatal vitamin to support my diet (which, let’s be honest, momming is hard and making sure you are eating well can become less of a priority sometimes).
If you worry about your ability to get the nutrition you need in your diet, there are supplements out there to help support your breastfeeding journey. I’ve only linked to products I actually use (I’m picky about my supplements):
Please consult your doctor for the right dosage on any supplement.
Growing Your Milk Supply
There are a lot of methods out there to try to increase your milk supply. It can be very confusing to try to find a method that works for you. As I’ve said before, one method may work for one mama and not for another. So try one or two first to see if they help you. Below I’ll outline all the methods I’ve tried personally and helpful information on why your milk supply may be decreasing.
Now there are some not so fun realities of breastfeeding that just can’t be controlled (sometimes). Every woman is born with a certain number of milk ducts which in many ways will control the amount of milk she can produce. Unfortunately, no amount of supplemenrs or water intake can change your body’s capacity.
Breastfeeding is also controlled by two major hormones: oxytocin and prolactin. Prolactin triggers your body to make milk and oxytocin aids in your let-down (release of milk).
Oxytocin is also the hormone released after birth to help you bond with your baby! It’s sometimes called the “love hormone” because it makes you feel warm and happy (even sleepy). So as you breastfeed, your body will be flooded with this “love hormone”!
However, in some moms, too much oxytocin can cause a stress response in your system (see the next section on stress). It’s nearly impossible to tell if you are stressed from having a baby or because of hormones…
For an in depth look at the physiological affects of breastfeeding, see this article.
Stress and Sleep
It seems cruel that our body’s response to stress is to decrease our milk supply as our body goes into fight-or-flight mode (survival mode). Plus, having our milk supply lower is ALSO stressful. It’s a vicious cycle!
Self care is a must for breastfeeding mamas, whether that’s just taking a few moments for yourself to read a book, making sure you eat the right foods or even get a manicure. There are lots of YouTube videos on meditation that you can do in 5-10 minutes if you can find a quiet moment. I’ve always wanted to try Tai Chi (it’s like meditation in motion), though I hear it has amazing benefits for lowering stress.
I want to laugh when I say that lack of sleep can also affect your milk supply, though this may be more a cause of the stress of being so tired than anything else. Especially in the early days of being a mom, sleep deprivation is completely normal. So if you have someone that can help during the day or in the night (especially if you exclusively pump or have a milk stash), let them! Just careful not to skip too many feedings to keep your supply up. But, ask for help. Try to get some sleep and take naps when you can (though I was never able to with either of my kids).
Ensure that your child has a proper latch on the nipple. Other than the initial pain from starting breastfeeding, nursing should not hurt. There are physiological issues (like a tongue tie) that can contribute to a bad latch, but is not terribly common. If your child has a poor latch, you’re breasts won’t be emptied of milk because not all of milk ducts are being suckled from.
If nursing continues to hurt or your nipple is flattened after a feeding (indicating a shallow latch), visit a local lactation consultant for help (some insurances may cover a visit or two).
This article from the Mayo Clinic shows some good positions to try when breastfeeding. I’ve found that different positions can provide different amounts of milk! No joke! Currently, I start on one breast with my son in the “cradle” (the most typical position) or until I am apparently empty, and then lay him down and lay next to him (“side-lying”) to get more milk from the same side.
For breastfed babies, try the following to grow your supply using your pump (or manual expression with your hands):
- After each feeding, use your pump to remove any remaining milk in your breasts until you are completely empty. Then, keep pumping to simulate your child still suckling to tell your breasts to create more milk (first try 5-10 minutes after and up the time if you don’t see a change in a day or two).
- As your child gets older, he or she will feed less often. So pump between feedings. This may mean a little less milk for your child in the short term (a day or two), but it will tell your breasts that your child is feeding more often and to create more milk. I had a hard time with this one with both my kids, knowing that my lowered supply was already meaning he wasn’t getting enough milk. But still do it! A little less food now for more later is worth it!
- If you child is no longer feeding in the middle of the night, pump right before you go to bed after a feeding and/or pump in the middle of the night. Adding feeding times tells your breasts you need more milk! You produce more prolactin at night as well, which helps with milk production!
If you exclusively pump, here are some things to try (though exclusively breastfeeding moms can benefit from these, too!):
- Power Pump: I always laughed a bit at this name! All you do is set aside an hour a day (mine was in the middle of the night). Pump for 20 minutes (then take 10 minutes off), pump for 10 minutes (then take 10 minutes off) and pump for 10 more minutes. This is supposed to help replicate cluster feeding (when your baby just wants to eat and eat), and tells your breasts that your baby wants more milk.
- Pump for longer times throughout the day or more frequently (depending on your schedule).
- Play around with your pump to find the right suction. It’s ok for your nipples to be a tad sore if you change the setting, but if the pain persists you are likely at too strong of a suction setting.
- Make sure you have the right sized phalanges for your nipples. If the suction on your pump isn’t getting the right positioning, you may be losing out on some milk!
- If in doubt of your pump’s effectiveness, try another brand! Contact your doctor to see if there are any organizations you can borrow a pump from to try before you buy. I had success with my Medela pump (which I got free through insurance!), but I know many moms who moved to other brands and were able to pump much more milk.
As I’ve said before, your child will feed less frequently as he or she gets older. If you find your supply decreasing too much, encourage your child to feed more often. Any suckling on your nipples will communicate to your breast that your baby needs more food.
Foods, Supplements and Teas
While there are very few reputable studies on the use of supplements, foods and teas to grow your milk supply, some mamas swear by a lot of these (I’ve only linked the products I have actually researched and used). Try one or two at a time if want to determine what works for you:
- Brewer’s Yeast (capsules or powder)
- Blessed Thistle
- Stinging Nettle
- Milk Thistle
- Goat’s Rue
- Anise Seed
- Red Raspberry Leaf
- Dandelion Leaf
- Steel cut oats (not quick oats!) are also thought to increase milk supply. I ate this every morning with my first born with fig bits for sweetness and added ground flaxseed.
Breastfeeding teas are also available that contain variable combos of the supplements above. I’ve tried Mother’s Milk and Pink Stork teas. Both had pleasant tastes, but I found Pink Stork to be more enjoyable.
Liquid suspension (tincture) is another form of supplements that absorbs faster and much better than pills. These tinctures generally contain 2 or more of the above supplements. I take this one. All you do is take it 1-3 times a day with 8 ounces of water.
There are actual medications on the market you can get a prescription for to increase your milk supply. However, I would never try them because they cause a chemical change in your brain to stimulate your milk supply – the side effects usually result in horrible depression (no thank you, I struggle with that on my own without medication!). If you are still willing to try it, consult your OBGYN or doctor.
My Baby’s Progress
As I said before, my son’s weight was down 6 ounces from his weigh in a month previous! I’m told to try for about 1/2 an ounce weight gain a day. Below are my progress reports as I take my son in for weekly weigh ins:
- Week 1: down 6 ounces from weigh in a month prior!
- Week 2: Up 8.9 ounces! All I changed was making sure I feed at least every 2 hours, actually monitor that I drink at least 64 ounces of water a day, and took a tincture 3 times a day (contains Fenugreek seed, Blessed Thistle, Anise Seed, Fennel Seed, Tumeric Root, and Red Raspberry Leaf)
- Week 3 (6 days later): Up 1.8 ounces. Not wonderful compared to last week, but I was between feedings (he was too distracted to eat at the office and with my toddler on a rampage).
- Week 4: Up 8 ounces!
I’ll say it again: fed is best. So long as your child gets the food he or she needs, that is all that truly matters. Yes, a lot of us really want to be able to provide all the nutrition our child needs. And maybe some of the methods I’ve outlined will help you and you can have a happy and successful breastfeeding journey.
But, if you try everything you can to exclusively breastfeed (or exclusively pump), and your supply just isn’t increasing, get your baby what he or she needs. I sobbed the first time my son took a bottle of formula. Like ugly cried. Looking back now I know it was the right decision, and my desire to provide what he needed all on my own (while admirable) was making it hard to be the mom my child needed me to be.
You are doing everything you can for your child, breastfeed or not. You are a good mom.Enjoy this post? Please pin it!