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How To Increase Low Milk Supply in Breastfeeding Mothers

Updated on September 7, 2014

Breastfeeding is simple but it's not always easy. Supply can be a big battle for many women

A common though very wrong assumption is that all women produce a plenitude of milk for as long as they wish to breastfeed their child. This is even true for some lucky Moms. However many women are shocked when they find out how hard producing enough milk can end up being. I've heard other Moms (including myself) who refer to it as liquid gold because every single drop matters. My milk dried up completely after 6 months with my first. I managed to go a little longer with my second though it again dried up this time at 8 months. In both instances as my supply decreased my babies began to reject me because they knew there wasn't much there anymore. So at the end I'd pump hoping to build back up my dwindling supply. This sad picture is on my son's 8 month birthday after pumping. One side produced basically a drop while the other side was totally dry. That's the day I gave up. I'm now breastfeeding my third child and having learned from my mistakes and after much research we have passed the 8 month mark and are still going strong.

Determining the Cause of Low Milk Supply can help lead to the solution

Common Reasons for Milk Supply Issues

A Mother's body produces as much milk as it believes her baby is going to need. The more the baby feeds (or the mother pumps), the more milk will be produced. If her breasts aren't completely emptied of milk at each feeding that signals that there's "extra" milk and her body will start to produce less. So this could be the cause of supply issues and simply making sure to leave baby at each breast until it's empty could help increase the quantity of production. Similarly if a Mother is supplementing with formula either for convenience or because she believes her supply to be low, her body will produce less. So it can be a downward spiral of needing to use more formula the more it is given.

Dehydration can also affect supply. Making sure to drink half of your weight in ounces every day will help ensure your body can produce milk. For example if you weigh 120 pounds than you should be having 60 ounces which equals 7.5 cups per day.

Not eating enough calories or exercising too much could also be the culprit. Exercise is fine while breastfeeding however you need to make sure that then eat extra calories to maintain supply. Dieting is not recommended while breastfeeding and counting calories isn't suggested. Rather eating when hungry and eating snacks often is considered a safer approach to keeping a healthy milk supply. That being said many women are anxious to get back in shape after having a baby and don't want to wait until they wean their child. In this case make sure to add an extra 500 calories to any diet plan because that's approximately how many calories are burned each day while solely breastfeeding. You should never consume less than 1,500 calories per day at a minimum and probably should be eating more. Consult with your doctor to find the right balance for you.

Birth control pills can also disaffect milk supply. Doctors prescribe progestin only pills called mini-pills to breastfeeding Moms because they're thought to have little or no effect on milk supply. However they still can have a negative impact for some women. If you're on the pill you might want to consider trying going off and using an alternate form of birth control to see if that helps.

Sometimes you may feel like there's a supply issues because baby suddenly is wanting to eat more often and doesn't seem full. It's quite possible that this is just a growth spurt. A couple days can be kind of rough but once your body realizes the baby's needs have increased it will adjust accordingly. Even though baby may wake up hungry often you should try to avoid supplementing with formula because it's necessary to adjust to baby's growing demands.


Introducing Solids

The time when you decide to start introducing solids into your baby's diet is a time when you may see a big supply decrease. This will be accentuated if this corresponds with when baby starts sleeping through the night. It's important during these transitional times to make sure to implement the change slowly because a sharp decrease can make your body produce less than it actually needs. Pumping when baby used to feed can be a good idea at first and then you can gradually decrease once you know your supply is remaining strong enough to support those times you do still want to breastfeed.

Hospital Grade Pump

A hospital grade pump can help establish as well as build up supply. They have a lot more power than the standard grade home pumps so they can build up supply in a way a home pump cannot. These are expensive pumps that can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. It can be possible to rent one from your hospital and some local WIC's lend them for free to lower income women.

Spectra Baby USA S2 Double/Single Breast Pump, 3.3 Pound
Spectra Baby USA S2 Double/Single Breast Pump, 3.3 Pound

This is a great option for a hospital grade pump because not only does it work great but it's one of the more affordable options.

 

Natural Herbal Remedies VS Prescription Medications

Herbal or prescription substances that increase milk supply are called galactogogues. It's recommended to always try natural remedies first before asking your doctor for a prescription. There are two reasons for this. The first is simply that many studies have not shown that the prescriptions medications even work. While studies have shown that there's no negative impact on the baby if you take these drugs- they do pass into the breast milk. It's always best to avoid things that pass if at all possible just in case. The second reason is there are quite a few side effects that can occur from the taking of these medications. The most common prescription for milk production is Reglan or Metoclopramide. Common side effects include: drowsiness and fatigue, restlessness, and diarrhea. Less common however more concerning side effects are: the inability to sleep, headaches, confusion, dizziness, mental depression, feelings of anxiety and agitation. Since postpartum woman are already prone to depression this can be a serious complication. Due to these effects it's suggested that this drug only be used for the short term.

Fenugreek Seed

Fenugreek seed is the most common herbal remedy for low milk supply. It's a great solution because most Mother's see an increase to their supply within the first 24-72 hours of starting to take it. However in some Mom's it can take up to two weeks and it has no affect for others. It's important to take at least 3,500mg per day because studies have shown that less than that per day has no effect on milk supply. One strange way to know if you're getting enough is if your urine and sweat start to smell like maple syrup. (True Story)

Mother's Milk Tea

Mother's milk tea includes 5 herbs that are galactagogues: fenugreek as described above as well as fennel, anise, coriander, and blessed thistle. It's a caffeine free tea and can be soothing so it's nice to have a cup before bedtime as you unwind. Just one bag a day really helps. It has a sort of sweet yet spicy taste with a distinct licorice flavor due to the anise.

Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother’s Milk Tea, 16 Tea Bags (Pack of 6)
Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother’s Milk Tea, 16 Tea Bags (Pack of 6)

This is Non-GMO verified, 100% organic made with the highest quality pharmacopoeial grade herbs.

 

You can scale this recipe to make more or less to suit your needs.

Cook Time

Prep Time:

Total Time:

Serves:

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dried nettle leaf
  • 1/2 cup dried red raspberry leaf
  • 1/4 cup dried alfalfa leaf
  • 1/4 cup dried dandelion leaf
  • 1/4 cup fennel seed
  • 1/4 cup dried blessed thistle

Instructions

  1. Combine the herbs.
  2. Use about 1 tablespoon of herbs per cup of boiling water. Steep for 15 minutes. A french press works well or use a mesh tea ball for loose tea leaves.
  3. Enjoy!
  4. Store in a sealed container in a dark place such as a pantry.
5 stars from 1 rating of Homemade Mother's Milk Tea

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© 2014 Melissa Miotke

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    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 3 years ago

      I don't need the tips any longer, all my babies now have children of their own! But I certainly wish they had been around with my first baby. I eventually found that I needed to drink a LOT more water than i was doing. My daughter has found the same. Drink the water! Very useful lens.

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 3 years ago from Keller, Texas

      My daughter experienced the milk supply issue with the birth of her first child, but with the help of a lactation specialist and some common sense from her mother, she is still happily breast feeding her baby at 8 months! Such an important subject and you covered it very well!