Are you concerned you won’t make enough milk for your baby? You’re not alone. This is one of the most common worries moms have about breastfeeding.
It’s tough to trust your body to make enough milk, but your body is SO smart. It just grew your baby from a few tiny cells, and it was designed to continue feeding your baby after delivery as well. If you protect your milk supply from the start, it’s very likely that you will make enough milk for your baby.
Here are 5 research-based tips to help you establish and maintain a great milk supply.
1. Feed your baby frequently and on demand:
The more milk you and your baby demand from your body, the more your body will supply. The absolute best thing you can do to promote and protect your milk supply is nurse, hand express or pump frequently (at least 8-12 times per 24 hours during the newborn period).
It’s important to establish a good milk supply within the first 6-8 weeks of your baby’s life and even the first few days can be critically important. Feeding on demand means you’re responding to your baby’s hunger cues, rather than sticking to a set routine based around an arbitrary schedule someone else suggested or a clock.
Your baby will eat more some days and less others and that’s perfectly normal. In fact, two days will probably never look exactly the same! But, on average, your newborn baby will eat between 8-12 times in 24 hours. That’s at least every 2-3 hours throughout the day and through the night.
2. Practice skin-to-skin:
When in doubt, skin-to-skin is always a good idea! Skin-to-skin is placing your naked baby on your naked chest. It’s encouraged for at least the first hour after your baby is born because of the amazing health benefits (that’s a topic for another blog post). But it’s not just for the first hour of life. Skin-to-skin is a tool you can continue to use as your baby gets older too!
It’s a great way to calm a fussy baby and also promotes breastfeeding by encouraging baby-led latching, feeding on demand and places your baby in the optimal location for eating.
If you’re struggling with latch, skin-to-skin is the perfect reset. Snuggle with your baby, take a deep breath, and get help from a lactation consultant if you need a little extra assistance.
3. Check the latch:
Having a good latch is super important so that you’re comfortable during feeds and so that your baby is removing plenty of milk. If the latch is not quite right and your baby is not removing milk efficiently, then your body will start to make less milk.
Your body is SO smart and will make the right amount of milk based on how much your baby is removing. But this can backfire if your baby is not able to remove enough milk due to a poor latch.
If you’re ever in doubt about your baby’s latch or experiencing pain with breastfeeding, seek help from a lactation consultant as soon as possible to thoroughly assess your baby’s latch and growth.
4. Fully drain your breasts and offer both sides:
Empty breasts make more milk! At each feeding, you’ll want to offer both breasts and fully drain one breast before offering the next. When your baby begins to slow down feeding, you can do gentle breast compressions to ensure your breast is fully drained.
If you started on the right side for one feeding and then switched to the left, for the next feeding you would start with the left and switch to the right. You’ll want to start the next feeding with the breast that was least drained in the previous feeding. This is usually the second breast that you offered. If your baby only ate from one side, begin the next feeding on the opposite side and fully drain that breast before switching.
It’s okay if your baby refuses the second breast. Your job is simply to offer both breasts at each feeding and your baby can decide if he/she wants more milk.
Your baby is more efficient at fully draining your breasts than a pump so delaying pumping during the newborn period as long as possible can help set you up for success! But remember this is true when your baby has a good latch. If latch is not quite right, then hand expressing or pumping could be necessary in the meantime to protect your milk supply until you’re able to get help and get back on track.
5. Say no to infant formula and artificial nipples, when possible:
Offering formula can impact your milk supply more than you would think, especially in the first few days of your baby’s life. There are situations where formula is medically necessary and the best option for a baby. But in other situations, there could be alternative options like offering hand expressed colostrum or breastmilk from a spoon, syringe or small cup.
If you plan to breastfeed long-term, have an open conversation about your options with your baby’s pediatrician, lactation consultant or trusted healthcare provider before offering formula. If formula truly is the best option, you can give an age-appropriate amount in a syringe, spoon or small cup, rather than a larger amount from a bottle. Remember to protect your milk supply by hand expressing or pumping anytime your baby is receiving formula or expressed milk.
It’s best to wait to offer bottles until breastfeeding is well-established, usually when your baby is about 4 weeks old. Offering bottles earlier could complicate your baby’s latch and ability to nurse well at the breast.
What about nipple shields? Like bottles, nipple shields can complicate your baby’s latch and affect your milk supply. They can be used as a short-term tool but shouldn’t be a long-term solution. It’s important to work with a lactation consultant if you’re using a nipple shield to fix the root cause of the problem, which in many cases is a poor latch.
What about all the other things you’ve heard will increase milk supply?
Chances are it’s probably a myth, a scam for your money, or simply not going to make a huge difference.
There are lots of products, herbs, teas, and supplements out there that promise to increase milk supply and just like all supplements in the United States, they are not regulated. This means they have not been proven safe or effective at doing the things they claim to do. In fact, many supplements can even be harmful, some do not contain the ingredients they claim to contain, and others contain additional things like toxins that can cause health problems. So please approach nutrition supplements with caution, especially while pregnant or breastfeeding.
When it comes to hydration, simply drinking to thirst is sufficient. Pounding the liquids is not going to increase your milk supply. It’s important to stay hydrated, but you don’t want to overdo it with the fluids.
You may have heard oats increase your milk supply. Now, is it going to hurt to have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast? Certainly not. If you want to eat more oats than usual, then go for it! Oats are a healthy food and do not pose any risk to you or your baby. BUT, is that bowl of oatmeal going to drastically increase your milk supply? Not likely.
Instead, focus your time and energy on the things that DO make a drastic difference like feeding your baby frequently and on demand, doing skin-to-skin as much as possible, assuring a good latch, fully draining your breasts and offering both sides, and avoiding infant formula and artificial nipples, when possible, especially in the early days.
Want more? Check out our research-based online breastfeeding course for expectant and new parents. We offer practical tips and solutions for your breastfeeding journey so you can feed your baby with confidence and meet your goals!
You’ve got this, mama!