If you’re worried about low milk supply, you aren’t alone – recent studies show that the number one reason women say they give up breastfeeding is because they don’t think they have enough milk. Pinky McKay, IBCLC lactation expert, shares her top tips to help you increase your milk supply without a whole lot of stress.
Watch your baby, not the clock
Breast milk production is based on supply and demand: the more milk your baby drinks, the more milk your breasts will be signalled to make. Babies regulate the volume and composition of your milk by their sucking and by how often they feed. As your baby sucks at your breast, he stimulates milk production.
Trying to impose a strict feeding schedule, rather than watching your baby’s cues, is not only likely to result in unnecessary crying, but may be a risk to your milk supply and your baby’s health – especially in the early days as you are establishing your milk supply and your baby is learning to feed effectively.
Check your baby’s latch
To boost your milk supply, your baby needs to be well attached and nursing efficiently. If feeding is painful or your nipples look squashed or misshapen after feeds, it can be helpful to get an expert such as your midwife, baby health nurse or a lactation consultant to check your baby’s latch. If your baby isn’t attached properly and sucking effectively it can create a downward spiral – he doesn’t drain your breasts properly, so your body doesn’t get the message to produce more milk, he gets less and so a vicious cycle begins – he gets tired with the effort (try draining a swimming pool by sucking the water out with a straw!), so he becomes less interested in breastfeeding.
For effective strategies to naturally boost your milk supply, download our FREE ebook 'Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally' by Pinky McKay, IBCLC Lactation Consultant.
Try breast compressions
As your baby slows his sucking, encourage him to drain the breast (and stimulate more milk) by compressing your breast so that milk flow is increased and encourages your baby to keep sucking. It is a bit like stimulating another ‘let down’. To do this place one hand around your breast, with your thumb on top and fingers below, or your thumb on one side and fingers on the other, high up on your breast (not near the nipple), and compress your breast. This action (press, compress, release) will help squeeze and drain more milk from the breast. As the milk flow increases, you will notice your baby swallowing more deeply.
Watch Pinky demonstrate how to do breast compressions in this video.
You can also try ‘switch feeding’: let your baby suck on one breast until he slows his swallowing, then switch sides, so that you end up switching several times during a feed.
Skin to skin
Snuggling your baby against your bare skin is one of the most effective things you can do to boost your milk production hormones. Also, by stripping your baby to his nappy only and holding him against your own bare skin as you feed, you will be encouraging him to stay awake and feed more effectively. If it’s a bit cold, pop a soft blanket over you both. This is lovely to do regardless of your milk supply as it helps with bonding and your baby’s development.
Do I need to express?
When trying to increase their milk supply, many mums are advised to adopt a regime of feeding and expressing. Although this is sound advice when we consider the physiology of lactation (that an empty breast makes milk more quickly), this method often leads to feeding, settling and expressing, then finding it’s time to start all over again and this can be very stressful.
A baby who sucks effectively will empty your breasts far more efficiently than any pump. So if your baby isn’t sucking effectively, or you are worried about needing to give your baby a top-up, check out our blog for these effective expressing techniques.
Medications to make milk
If your milk is slow to come in perhaps after a long labour, a difficult birth or a caesarean, or if you have a low milk supply for some other reason, you can ask your doctor whether prescription medication is appropriate to help boost your supply if other measures such as feeding more frequently and/or expressing aren’t working well enough.
You will still need to apply all the other measures though – remember the law of supply and demand: the more milk you remove, the more your body will make.
We hope these tips have been helpful. If you have concerns about how your baby is feeding, his health or your own health, please consult an appropriate health professional – either your doctor, maternal and child health nurse or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. It is easier to fix things quickly when you have small concerns than when you have more serious issues, however it’s never too late to get help.
Pinky McKay is one of Australia's most recognised and respected breastfeeding experts. She's an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and best-selling baby care author and the creator of Boobie Foods.