Breastfeeding is often touted as the easiest, most natural way to raise a baby. It seems logical: all sorts of species breastfeed their mammals, and it’s how humans were raised long before there were any sorts of bottles, pumps, formulas, or other supplementation. But what can be done when breastfeeding DOESN’T feel natural? When moms find themselves grappling with low supply, clogged ducts, and latch issues? Fortunately, there a ton of ways to increase breastmilk supply to make the process of feeding your baby as easy as possible.
There are many reasons a mom might run into trouble when it comes to breast milk production: she may have a condition like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) that makes it hard to nurse, she may have a premature baby or twins, or she may simply just be a very busy person. As a result, it's very important to have a plan in place to increase your breast milk supply if you find yourself running low. Here are some tips to help.
Hydrate A Lot
First things first! Your body simply doesn’t operate up to its full potential without water, and milk supply is bound to suffer for dehydrated moms. Carry water with you at all times and be sure to drink plenty to replace the fluid you lose when you breastfeed. Avoid salty foods and sodas, which tend to dehydrate the body.
Exercising helps battle postpartum depression by releasing serotonin in the brain, which elevates mood and can help moms have greater patience to stay on-track with breastfeeding. There are conflicting studies about serotonin’s direct influence on the process of milk production, but many moms report that their breastmilk supply decreases when they are feeling depressed. As with anything after having a baby, start back slowly, in moderation, and stop if you experience excess pain or swelling.
Make sure your Diet is Healthy
This means eating plenty of milk- and iron-rich foods, including meat, fish, eggs, and broccoli. The fat in your diet can help stimulate the release of prolactin, the hormone responsible for making breastmilk, so make sure to include lots of healthy fats. If you don’t eat beef or pork, there are lots of natural sources of healthy fat such as avocado.
It can be challenging to juggle healthy meal-planning and cooking with a new baby, so you may want to look into local meal delivery services to take some stress off during this time. You’ll also want to have your iron levels checked, to make sure that those levels aren’t dipping with fluctuating hormones related to childbirth. Feeling dizzy or lightheaded is a common symptom of anemia, so keep an eye on that and make sure to eat plenty of spinach, red meat and beets.
Pumping directly after breastfeeding your baby tells your body that a greater supply of milk is needed, and this is a great way to boost milk production or get it jumpstarted if baby isn’t getting enough initially. Store any pumped milk in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for up to six months before feeding it to the baby using a bottle or oral syringe. Good pumps can be bought from reliable brands such as Lansinoh or Medela, or rented (with disposable flanges and other attachments so they’re totally sterile) at almost any hospital with a birthing center.
Nurse Often, and on Both Sides
Nursing your baby as often as she or he is hungry tells your body that more milk is needed. Try feeding from both breasts during each feeding, waiting until sucking slows down on one breast before switching to the other. This increases manual stimulation that is key for breastmilk production. There are even chemicals present in baby’s spit that cause mom’s body to produce more hormones that help with the development of breastmilk. Cool, huh?
Try Switching Positions while Feeding
If baby isn’t latching properly, he or she will not be able to properly drain the breast of milk. A breastfeeding pillow can help raise the baby up to the proper height, and save mom’s shoulder’s in the process. There are many different nursing positions to try: you want to experiment with them until your baby feels securely latched on. Most moms and babies prefer laying baby across the chest, tummy-to-tummy, but some prefer other position such as the under-the-arm “football hold” or laying down on the side with feet pointed the same way.
Long-touted as the breastfeeding miracle food, many moms notice a dramatic increase in their breastmilk production on days when they have oatmeal for breakfast or as a snack. Doctors aren’t exactly sure why this happens, but it’s believed to be related to the cholesterol-reducing properties of oat bran.
Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle and Alfalfa are known to boost breastmilk production when taken in high doses. Many natural food stores also carry teas specifically made with these herbs to help increase breastmilk production.
Many OBGYNs and pediatricians will prescribe moms struggling with breastfeeding a hormonal prolactin-booster such as Reglan or Domperidone. Moms should be very cautious about taking Reglan, as it is known to increase the risk of depression. Domperidone is difficult to obtain in the United States, as it can only be ordered through compounding pharmacies with a special prescription.
Some moms simply can’t produce enough milk for their babies due to previous breast surgeries or conditions such as Insufficient Glandular Tissue. A suitable supplement can usually be found with the help of your baby’s pediatrician, with hypoallergenic formulas available for babies with intolerances to certain foods.
Hire a Lactation Consultant
Lactation consultants are well-trained, experienced experts in the art of increasing milk production. If you’re struggling with breastfeeding, they can help you get to the bottom of the issue and support your journey.
Breastfeeding is widely considered one of the healthiest things you can do for your baby. It provides the baby with the perfect balance of nutrition, carries antibodies from the mother, and can also have a positive impact on the mother after birth. While breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to everyone, it’s worth putting in the effort to learn and practice if you and your baby are up for it.
Have you had difficulty with breastmilk production? How did you deal with it?