Baby Breastfeeding

Boosting your Milk Supply when Breastfeeding

Few things can make you feel as stressed and as powerless as learning that your attempts to breastfeed are not resulting in your baby gaining sufficient weight. However, it is a relatively common experience which affects many mothers.

Sadly, five percent or so will suffer from low milk supply as a result of anatomic breast variations or medical illness(1), but for most other mothers, in all likelihood, things will improve.

When struggling to breastfeed, some women will undoubtedly feel so dispirited that they may move to the bottle or early weaning as a result, but there are things that can be done to encourage milk supply so that breastfeeding can be continued with confidence.

Is your body ready?

Sometimes, despite pregnancy and childbirth, a woman’s body might not be ready to breastfeed. If, towards the end of your pregnancy, you have not developed larger and more sensitive breasts with noticeably darker and more visible veins around the nipples, this could be a sign that your body is not readying itself to supply milk.

Conditions that may affect your ability to produce enough milk supply include, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)(2), hyperthyroidism and diabetes.

Another possible cause is a rare condition called mammary hypoplasia, in which the breast lacks sufficient milk-producing glandular tissue (3). If you have any concerns in this regard, you should speak with your midwife and GP during pregnancy.

How to tell if you have low milk supply

The surest way to recognise if you have low milk supply is to weigh your baby. Although it is normal for newborns to lose some weight in the first few days of life, by the third day, your colostrum supply should be replaced by your long-term milk supply and your baby should soon begin to put on weight.

Other possible signs of low milk supply include your baby having dry and insufficiently wet nappies, dark urine, a dry mouth, jaundice and lethargy.

Tips to increase milk supply

If you do not have any medical condition or underlying issue that is impairing your milk supply, the following tips may help you increase your milk supply:

Begin breastfeeding as soon as possible

The sooner you begin breastfeeding, the sooner your milk will flow. Unfortunately, it may not always be possible to begin breastfeeding early – i.e. if you have a preterm baby or have had a C-section – in this case ask your midwife for information about stimulating milk flow and expressing milk.

Ensure plenty of tactile time with your baby

The closer your baby is to you the more you will respond to his sight and smell by increasing your milk supply. Skin-to-skin contact is the best way to promote the release of hormones, prolactyn and oxytocin, that will stimulate your milk supply.

Breastfeed often

The greater the demand for breastmilk, the greater the supply. As such, if your baby feeds often and for as long as he wants, your body will respond by producing more milk. Whenever possible, you should not skip feeds. If you need to be away from your baby, you should use a breast pump at regular intervals to maintain your milk supply.

Learn about the latch-on

Talk to your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor about how to encourage the correct latching-on technique as this will help your baby get the fullest supply of milk possible. The latching on technique is possibly the most important part of successful breastfeeding and once your baby is latched on correctly, this will almost certainly boost your milk supply.

Alternate breasts

When your baby’s feeding begins to slow or stops altogether during a feed, switch him to the other breast. If he cannot take all the milk in your breasts in one go, you can always express what is left to ensure that your supply does not ease off – it will also help to prevent the possibility of mastitis.

Don’t be a dummy

If you introduce a dummy too soon this could create “nipple confusion” and ultimately affect your milk supply. Your newborn’s sucking reflex is likely to be strong and they may want to suck for comfort as well as for milk, so, particularly at first, breastfeeding can feel like a constant activity and the lure of a dummy can be irresistible. But, using any substitute for sucking purposes may well mean that your baby begins to struggle when put to the breast.

Consider your diet

Eating a healthy balanced diet with adequate calories will help you to achieve enough milk supply. Base your diet on the following foods:

  • Wholegrains: especially oats, cornmeal and barley as these are thought to be lactogenic(4) (stimulating of the milk supply).
  • Nuts and seeds: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and almonds are all reputed to have lactogenic properties.(4)
  • Vegetables: fresh vegetables are good for everyone, but asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, potatoes and lettuce are all believed to have lactogenic properties.(4)
  • Fruit: again, fresh fruit is an essential part of a healthy balanced diet but apricots, cherries, nectarines and peaches are reputed to be especially good at promoting milk supply.
  • Stay hydrated: if you are dehydrated, your milk will dry up. Consume enough liquids including plenty of water.

When things do not progress

Sadly, sometimes, breastfeeding is just not right for you or your baby and you may choose to finish breastfeeding. Before you decide to switch to the bottle, it’s almost always a good idea to speak to your midwife, health visitor, GP or a breastfeeding counsellor to see if they can provide any tips or advice to help you make sure your breast milk supply is high and that you and your baby feel suitably comfortable.

2 Vanky E et al. Breastfeeding in polycystic ovary syndrome. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2008;87(5):531-535
3 Neifert MR et al. Lactation failure due to insufficient glandular development of the breast. Pediatrics. 1985;76(5):823-828.

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.