What Affects Milk Production and How to Manage It
Your body is designed to make breast milk. Right after your baby is born, you’ll only be making a small amount of colostrum (a little more than an ounce). Then, in the first week after delivery as your breast milk begins to change from colostrum to transitional milk, you’ll see a big increase in your supply. By the fifth day, many women are making over 16 ounces (500 mls) of breast milk in a 24-hour period. From there, breast milk production continues to go up slowly as your baby grows and needs more.
Will You Make Enough Breast Milk?
Many women worry about their milk supply and making enough breast milk, but it’s usually an unnecessary concern. Almost all women can create a healthy supply of breast milk for their baby. When a mother does have a low milk supply, it’s more likely due to a poor latch or not breastfeeding enough than a true low milk supply issue.
- To build a strong supply of breast milk for your baby you should:
- Make sure your baby is latching on to your breast correctly
- Breastfeed at least every two to three hours around the clock
- Keep your little one awake and sucking at the breast
- Breastfeed for at least 10 minutes on each side
How to Tell If Your Milk Supply Is Low
If your baby is latching on correctly and you’re breastfeeding every two to three hours, you should be able to make enough breast milk. But, if you have some concerns, look for these signs that will alert you to a low breast milk supply:1
- Your baby is breastfeeding for more than 45 minutes at each feeding.
- Your child still seems hungry after he breastfeeds.
- You don’t hear your child swallowing as he’s nursing.
- Your breasts don’t feel full before each feeding.
- Your breasts don’t feel softer and less full after breastfeeding.
- Your baby is not having at least six wet diapers a day after the fifth day.
- Your little one isn’t gaining weight.
If you believe your breast milk supply is low and you notice any of these signs, call your doctor and your baby’s doctor. If there is an issue, the faster you and the doctors can identify it, the faster you can fix it and get breastfeeding back on track.
What Can Affect Your Breast Milk Supply?
There are so many things that can affect your breast milk supply. Stress, exhaustion, your period, a new pregnancy, birth control pills, caffeine, smoking, drinking alcohol, and health problems can all cause a drop in the amount of breast milk that you’re making.2 So, if you notice a decrease in your milk supply, take a look at what’s going on in your life to see if you can identify a recent change that might be contributing to it.
Pacifiers, Formula, and Supplemental Feedings
Anything that takes away from breastfeeding can also have a negative effect on your breast milk supply. If you give your baby formula in the hospital because you’re worried he’s not getting enough breast milk, or you let the hospital staff give him a bottle in the nursery so you can sleep at night, it could make it that much harder to get breastfeeding off to a good start. It’s the same for the pacifier. In the first four to six weeks of breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid both the pacifier and the bottle altogether.2 Instead, put your child to the breast whenever he shows signs of hunger. Once breastfeeding is going well, and you establish your milk supply, the use of a pacifier or the occasional bottle should no longer be an issue.
Does Your Diet Affect Your Milk Supply?
Breastfeeding moms can make a healthy amount of breast milk regardless of their diet. Even women with unhealthy diets can still produce enough milk. However, breastfeeding does use up a good deal of energy. So, if you eat well and take in about 500 extra calories each day, you can give your body what it needs to replace the nutrients and energy that it’s losing as it makes breast milk. And, since breast milk is made up of mostly water, you want to stay hydrated. By drinking six to eight glasses of water or other healthy beverages each day, you’ll be sure to get what you need.3
On top of a well-balanced diet, certain foods are believed to increase breast milk production. To support lactation, you can add some oatmeal, dark green vegetables, almonds, and chickpeas to your daily meal plans.4
How to Naturally Increase Breast Milk
The easiest and most efficient way to naturally increase your breast milk supply is to breastfeed more often. You can also try using a breast pump or a hand expression technique to remove more breast milk after or in between feedings. The additional stimulation and emptying of the breast can help to boost your milk supply. If you have a sleepy baby, you can use switch nursing and breast compression to keep your little one breastfeeding longer. And, if you’re baby needs a supplement, a nursing supplementer device is a great product that allows you to give your child the extra nutrition he needs while he’s breastfeeding and stimulating your body to make more breast milk.2
For centuries, different cultures have offered herbs to breastfeeding mothers to help them make more breast milk. Women still use many of these herbs today. They are often combined to create a special breastfeeding formula.4 Some of the herbs that are used to support lactation are:
You can buy commercially prepared breastfeeding herbs and nursing teas at the supermarket, pharmacy, or vitamin shop. These types of herbs are usually safe when used in moderation. However, herbs purchased from unknown sources or used in excess could be dangerous. For this reason, it’s always best to talk to your doctor before you take any of these products or any other type of supplement.
Medications to Increase Breast Milk Supply
In certain situations, medications can be prescribed to help a woman create or build her supply of breast milk. A medication protocol can be useful for mothers who wish to breastfeed an adopted baby since certain medications can get the production of breast milk started even when there hasn’t been a pregnancy. Prescription drugs may also help mothers who are having trouble building a milk supply for a preemie or those who wish to start breastfeeding again after they’ve stopped for a while.2
Can Beer and Wine Help Increase Milk Supply?
Beer is made with hops and barley. These two substances are believed to increase prolactin, the hormone that’s responsible for milk production. And, wine is said to help a mother relax, which can be good for the let-down reflex. So, technically, these alcoholic beverages can help with breastfeeding. However, the dangers of drinking alcohol when you’re breastfeeding outweigh the benefits that the alcohol may provide.5
Alcohol does pass into breast milk, and it could affect your baby. While an occasional drink of alcohol probably won’t cause any problems, the more you drink, the more dangerous it is. If you’re looking to increase your breast milk supply, there are safer ways to go about it.
Breast Milk Supply and Growth Spurts
When breastfed babies go through a growth spurt, they begin to show signs of not getting enough breast milk. They breastfeed more often, spend more time at the breast, and they don’t seem satisfied between feedings. But, it’s not exactly a low breast milk supply.
What’s happening is that the baby is growing and needs more breast milk. So, although it’s exhausting, just keep breastfeeding. The constant feedings during a growth spurt tell your body to increase your breast milk production. Then, within a few days, you’ll be making more breast milk and your baby will once again be satisfied. Even though it may be a rough few days, it’s a normal stage of breastfeeding and growth. It’s not an issue with your milk supply.6
What If You Have Too Much Breast Milk?
While some women struggle to make enough breast milk, others struggle with an overabundant milk supply. Having too much milk might sound like a blessing instead of a problem, but for women who have a superabundant supply, it’s not always easy. Too much breast milk can lead to painful breast issues, such as breast engorgement and plugged milk ducts.7 It could also mean a fast flow of breast milk and a strong let-down reflex, which can cause breastfeeding problems for the baby. The children of mothers with an overabundant supply may gag and choke while they’re breastfeeding. They tend to take in a lot of air, so they may be gassy, fussy, and have colic-like symptoms. They may also gain weight very quickly.
How to Dry Up Breast Milk Supply
If you choose not to breastfeed, or if you’re ready to wean, you’re going to want to stop making breast milk. If you’re weaning, it’s best to try to wean gradually. Gradual weaning allows your body to adjust to the decline in your milk supply slowly. When your supply goes down slowly, you are less likely to experience the pain of engorgement that can happen when you wean quickly.8
If you want to dry up right from the start, keep in mind that your body will stop making breast milk if you don’t breastfeed your baby. But, it won’t happen right away. It can take a few weeks, and in the meantime, you may experience pain and breast engorgement. To try to ease the discomfort, you can wear a supportive bra and place cold compresses on your breasts. If you need to pump to relieve pressure, only pump enough to feel better. Pumping too often or pumping a lot of breast milk out of your breasts can stimulate the production of even more breast milk.