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The first 11-12 weeks of breastfeeding were the hardest weeks I can remember. They’re also the most crucial. I was barely making any breast milk, couldn’t get my son to latch and I was continuously trying to figure out the big question: HOW TO BOOST YOUR BREAST MILK SUPPLY!
Turns out, we had more issues than just my breast milk supply being low which you can read all about here!
And in case you didn’t know, YES mama, you can actually increase your breast milk supply! It won’t necessarily be easy, but it’s doable!
However, this post is MUCH more than just boosting your breast milk supply.
We will discuss how to determine if you have a ‘low breast milk supply’ (which is pretty rare) & tips to combat lower supply during menstruation + how to generally increase your supply!
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional or lactation specialist. I’d highly suggest seeing a licensed professional if you feel like you need help.
Everyone will preach about how breastfeeding is best and how to latch, but there’s no talk about:
- What if my milk supply is low?
- How to tell if my supply is low?
- How is my milk supply established?
- My period is back, how can I keep up my supply?
How does your body make breast milk?
Before we even get into your breast milk supply, it’s important you understand the basic foundation of how breast milk is even made or established!
Within your breasts themselves are milk ducts that branch off into bundles of little sacs called alveoli . The alveoli are then stimulated by a hormone known as ‘prolactin’ to make breast milk!
Sometime around your 2nd trimester, your body will begin the production of what’s known as colostrum.
Colostrum is the “liquid gold” colored substance that you’ll notice being secreted from your breasts after birth. Sometimes, if you’ve had children before, you’ll notice your breasts may even begin leaking colostrum before baby’s birth.
If you begin leaking, try using a little breast milk shell to catch some of that awesome first milk for baby! You can totally throw it in the freezer and save it for the big day!
To learn more about colostrum and why it’s so amazing, check out this post here explaining the benefits of colostrum for your baby.
Typically a few days after birth, your breast milk will start to “come in”. This is the process in which the colostrum (which is highly concentrated) forms into a thinner, higher volume substance known as breast milk (which is also totally awesome and has lots of benefits for baby too).
As your baby begins to nurse frequently or you begin to use your breast pump to draw out the milk, the more stimulation it provides to your breasts sending the message that it needs to make more milk.
Pretty awesome, huh?
Monitoring your breast milk supply is easier to do when you pump because you’re able to measure the output of your milk. Whereas when baby is strictly nursing, you have to go off whether they’re gaining weight, how your breasts feel, etc…
If you’re struggling to understand how your body makes breast milk, I’d really suggest taking a Breastfeeding class. The one I took is called Milkology. It’s 100% online so you can watch it at your own pace.
It’s packed with everything you need to know about breastfeeding, breast milk and more! Plus, you can grab it for less than $20 with code: FITMOMMY10!
If you suspect you have a low milk supply (baby not gaining weight or excessively fussy at the breast) PLEASE seek help from a Licensed Professional Lactation Consultant!
If you live in or near San Diego, I highly recommend the San Diego Breastfeeding Center.
They provide services where they come to your home (which is great with a new baby!) or you can go to them.
Their services are very thorough & their lactation consultants are beyond experienced!
This is the lactation consultant services we used once we reached our breaking point with breastfeeding and I cannot say enough great things about them!
Our exam included a FULL evaluation of our son’s mouth to assess for lip/tongue ties or anything can that hinder a normal latch, evaluate the latching techniques and also weigh him before and after a feed to gauge supply and the efficiency of his eating.
Once you’ve confirmed you have signs of low milk supply, what can you actually do to increase it?
1.Supply & Demand Breastfeeding
When your breasts empty, your body sends signals to supply. So removing milk more frequently can help to stimulate this process.
This is generally why some babies will begin cluster feeding where they will nurse and be ready to nurse again 10 mins later.
Usually, cluster feeding is followed by a growth spurt or big milestone, but not always. If your baby is cluster feeding, let them.
To make sure you’re in the best position possible for breastfeeding, try using a breastfeeding pillow like my brest friend – it’s seriously my favorite.
After dealing with backaches from slouching to nurse, other pillows constantly slipping down or being too plush, the my brest friend pillow was just right providing the support we needed without slipping around while my son would be nursing.
If your baby falls asleep during nursing, try to tickle their feet or wiggle them to keep them awake to make sure the breast is fully emptied.
If you feel like your breast is still heavy with milk after nursing, you can pump or hand express to empty it out. I personally found doing a quick 5-10 minute pumping session with my Spectra S1 emptied my breasts perfectly if they still felt heavy after nursing.
Generally in the beginning stage – you’ll see recommendations to empty your breast every 2 hours (especially if you have a low supply).
If you have an oversupply, this likely won’t apply to you.
2. Perfect the Latch!
Is your baby coming on/off the breast? Or are you stopping the nursing session early?
During those beginning weeks, it’s crucial to allow baby to eat a full meal (they will almost always unlatch on their own once they’re finished).
In the beginning, a nursing session may take 40-60mins, but as they get older and become more efficient little drinkers, you may find it only takes 20-30mins.
If you think it could be due to your actual nipples or maybe it’s just too painful, try using a nipple shield!
Nipple shields can be a little tricky to figure out during the beginning and honestly when I had tried to use them, I actually used a small piece of scotch tape to tape it onto my breast and prevent them from moving.
Unfortunately, they didn’t work out for us, but I have plenty of mama friend’s who swear using a nipple shield saved their breastfeeding journey!
Lastly, seeing a Lactation Consultant can greatly help with any ongoing latching issues.
3. Stay Hydrated!
Being dehydrated and not eating enough throughout the day can potentially cause a dip in supply (especially during the initial newborn stages when your supply building is crucial).
Please note that drinking extra water or eating extra foods won’t necessarily make up extra milk.
However, it can help keep your body hydrated enough to function as a milk making machine!
4. Rest & Relax.
Added stress can hinder milk supply. If you’re constantly stressing over your supply you could be doing more harm then good. Continue nursing & nurse/pump more often if you need to.
Ask your spouse or family member/friend to bring you some meals or maybe take care of some of the extra chores around the house so you’re not too overwhelmed.
Making milk feels like a job, a hard job at times, but having a solid support system is crucial to a successful breastfeeding journey.
5. Make sure you have a GREAT breast pump.
I’m not going to lie to you, I’m 100% biased to Spectra Breast Pumps (particularly the S1) because I have one and it works AMAZING!
When I was hospitalized, the pump in the hospital barely got anything out despite using the recommended settings.
I had my husband go home and bring my Spectra Pump that same day and boom – all of a sudden I was getting colostrum to send down to my baby in the NICU.
Everyone’s experience will likely be different, but I highly recommend doing some research on various brands. You want something as close to “hospital grade” as possible.
In fact, I wrote a post just for exclusively pumping moms ( & how to choose the best breast pump)!
Also, a CLOSED circuit pump is a little more ideal as it prevents anything nasty fluid and dirt from circulating back into your pump.
Most insurances will provide a pump for you but the brand/type you’d have to call your insurance company for that info.
Don’t forget about breast pump supplies!
You will want to make sure you’re using the correct supplies with/for your breast pump! This includes using the correct sized flanges too! It has been shown that by using the WRONG size flange can potentially lead to decreased output.
Every pump will be different in regards to supplies.
For a really good page on pump parts & when to replace, check out Legendairy Milk’s Instagram page! They post a TON about this topic often!
Lastly, be sure to read your breast pump’s instructions prior to use for the most accurate information!
6. Consider a galactagogue (supplementation).
I would consider this as a last effort to boost your supply such as Rolled Oats or Legendairy Milk Supplements.
However, I wouldn’t personally use any of these without consulting with a Lactation Consultant first.
I ended up taking Legendairy Milk Pump Princess in combination with Sunflower Lecithin which has made a world of a difference, but I only did so with the help of my LC.
Sometimes, supplements can hinder supply if they’re not taken correctly or if your body isn’t responding well to the ingredients hence the importance of a Lactation Consultant.
Did your dreaded period return already?
You’ve probably heard, most breastfeeding mamas can go up to 1yr+ without a menstrual cycle! I, sadly, was not one of those mamas.
If you’re not either, I can gladly share some of my personal advice that worked for me to make that ‘supply dip’ not sting as much.
Why does your period cause your breast milk to ‘decrease’?
Well, to put it simply, when your period returns, it causes a big shakeup in the hormonal department.
In turn, it can temporary decrease your body’s breast milk supply.
It’s also been thought that a decreased level of calcium can have some kind of effect in the decrease during this time as well.
How can I prevent my milk from decreasing during my period?
Unfortunately, there’s no 100% way to prevent this from happening. If you’re like me, you can try to implement some extra things to try and keep things as normal as possible:
- Taking a calcium/magnesium supplement (to find out more, you can read about it here).
- Pump more often/more frequently.
- Try increasing your iron via rich leafy greens or via supplementation. (Great article to read on here).
- Try using a galactagogue, like the one mentioned above by Legendairy Milk (they often run promos, and by using my link you can save at least 10%).
In addition to all these tips above, I put together some of the top pages and resources I used (and still use) while learning how to maneuver through my breastfeeding journey!
Read more breastfeeding articles here: