When you are breastfeeding, one of your main concerns is making sure that you are producing enough breast milk. You want to make sure that your baby is getting enough, especially if breast milk is his or her primary or exclusive source of food.
Breast milk is the best food for your baby, as it provides essential nutrients and helps your baby build up antibodies to ward off many childhood illnesses.
But breastfeeding can be difficult, because it is hard to tell exactly how much breast milk you are producing and how much your baby is getting. Fortunately, there are ways to tell if your baby is getting enough breast milk. There are also ways to boost your breast milk supply if you feel that you are not making enough. Read on to learn more about how your body makes breast milk and some great tips on how to produce more breast milk.
What is The Average Breast Milk Production?
While you are pregnant and right after your baby is born, your breast milk production is controlled by your hormones. Once your milk supply comes in and your baby begins a feeding routine, the amount of breast milk your body makes is determined by how often and how much your baby eats. In most cases, as your body adjusts to feeding your baby, it will begin to produce the exact amount of milk that your baby needs.
It is difficult to give a number for the average breast milk production for women, as every woman is different. Typically and in an ideal situation, your body will produce the precise amount of breast milk that your baby needs. Your breast storage capacity is the amount of milk your breasts can hold when they are completely full. This amount varies from woman to woman and is based on the size of your breasts. When your breasts are full, your body makes milk more slowly. When your breasts have been drained, either by feeding your baby or through pumping, your body goes to work producing more milk.
The average mother who is breastfeeding only one child will produce anywhere from 24 to 48 ounces of milk per day. This number can vary greatly based on how much or little a particular child eats. There are also other factors that can make this number go up or down. If the baby is eating food in addition to breast milk, the mother will likely produce less. If the mother is feeding more than one baby, she will produce more.
1. Stay hydrated.
The exact number of fluid intake may vary per individual, but you should aim to have at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day.
2. Eat a well-balanced diet.
Breastfeeding moms need an extra ~500 calories per day. Choose nutritious food that give you energy, such as protein-rich foods like oatmeal, adding flaxseed meal or brewer’s yeast to smoothies or yogurt, eggs, and veggies. Added bonus—some moms report that these foods help boost their supplies!
3. Don’t forget your vitamins!
The AAP recommends Calcium, Vitamin D, Iron, Folic Acid as important vitamins and minerals for breastfeeding moms and discusses how the content of breastmilk changes based on diet.
4. Nurse often and follow your baby’s lead.
Nursing babies do not follow a schedule, they set it. So, try to go with the (milk) flow and follow your boss baby’s cues, especially when your baby is still a newborn. Lactation consultants often recommend feeding on demand, which means that every time your baby is hungry, you feed them. This certainly is not always possible, especially for moms who work outside the home. You do also have to take your mental health into consideration as well. But, if you re looking for a boost, feeding on demand may be the way to go.
5. Let baby feed fully on each side.
Milk production is a demand-supply system so the more often baby feeds, the more milk production occurs. When your breast is fully empty, it sends a message to your brain to produce more milk. Added bonus, when you baby completely empties a breast, they are sure to get all the foremilk and fatty hindmilk behind it, which is great for their development.
6. Bake lactation cookies.
Anecdotally, some women find that lactation cookies help—and even if they don’t, they are delicious cookies, so yay! You can bake some at home and modify the ingredients to your liking (ie. add more chocolate chip!) or buy pre-made cookies. I’ve tried a few recipes for lactation cookies and my favorite is the recipe from How Sweet Eats.
If you’d like to get ready-made cookies, you can find them at any store that carries baby products or right to your door with Amazon.
7. Brew lactation teas.
Do you like to drink? Tea, that is! If so, you may want to try out lactation teas. The jury is still out about whether or not teas and herbs actually do increase supply levels—research has had varying results. But if you enjoy them and it works for you, go for it.
8. Take Galactogogues supplements.
What if you want increased milk production but don’t want cookies or teas?
Galactogogues like Fenugreek, Blessed Thistle and Brewer’s Yeast are supplements that can help. These herbs can be taken separately or in a combo formulation. Fenugreek can have mixed results when taken by itself. For some women, it really helps, but for others it may not make a difference or even reduce supply.
Personally, I found the most effective result with the combination of fenugreek and blessed thistle as in Upspring’s Milkflow. That, along with brewer’s yeast capsules really worked for me.
I’d recommend you try out various options to see what works for you and your body.
And of course, before starting any supplements or if you have any questions, it’s always a good idea to discuss with your doctor.
9. Use a breast pump.
Very useful to empty breast if baby only feeding one side or to start a milk stash or to maintain milk supply for home or work.
Most importantly, I want to stress that the main point is to feed our babies. It is crucial to be sensitive to the fact that every woman is unique, as is her situation. Some women have insufficient glandular tissue, chronic issues like PCOS, milk production issues, or other factors making breastfeeding very difficult or not possible.
Mamas, whatever your way of feeding, be proud of the fact that you are doing the best you can and that you are feeding your child. That is what is important. As a pediatrician and fellow mom, I support you.
The Amount of Milk a Baby Needs
The main concern with breast milk production is that your baby is getting what he or she needs. You may feel frustrated, as with breastfeeding it can be difficult to tell just how much your baby is eating. He or she may be feeding frequently, but there is no way to measure his or her intake the way you can if using bottles.
There are a few ways to know that your baby is getting the amount of breast milk he or she needs. One of the easiest ways to know is by looking at wet and soiled diapers. If your baby is 5 to 6 wet diapers per day and 3 to 4 soiled diapers a day a week after birth, he or she is likely getting the right amount of breast milk. You can also make sure your baby is getting enough breast milk by measuring his or her weight. If your baby is getting enough to eat, he or she should be gaining around 6 ounces a week. However, if you are going to use this method, you should make sure that you have a high-quality scale, like this one.
On average, babies between the ages of 1 and 6 months will need around 25 ounces of breast milk per day if exclusively breastfed. All babies are different though, and a “normal” amount is anywhere between 19 and 30 ounces. This number may vary from time to time if your baby is eating more or less. For example, during a growth spurt your baby may eat more and during teething your baby may eat less. At the age of 6 months, your baby may begin to take in less breast milk as he or she begins to eat more solid foods. The amount of breast milk your baby needs at this point will depend on how many calories he or she is getting from other foods. As most baby foods are very low in calories, breast milk should still remain your baby’s primary food until the age of 1. After 1 year, breast milk intake will gradually decrease until your baby is completely weaned.
If your baby is feeding frequently but not making enough wet and soiled diapers or is not gaining weight adequately, then it is possible that your breast milk supply may be low.
How Breast Milk is Made
The breasts are made up of fatty tissue and milk glands. During your pregnancy, the glandular tissue begins to grow, making your breasts much fuller, as your body prepares to feed your baby. The milk ducts are where the milk comes through and during pregnancy, they grow in number. As these tubes move toward the chest, they end in a ductule, which contains a cluster of alveoli. These alevoli clusters together into lobes. There are 15 to 20 lobes on each breast and each lobe contains a milk duct.
As your body produces the hormone prolactin, it signals the alveoli to begin the process of making milk. This is done by gathering sugars, proteins and fat from your blood and making it into breast milk.
When your baby is first born, your body produces a substance called colostrum. Colostrum is high in protein and is the perfect nutrition for your baby’s first few days of life. Your breasts will begin producing milk and your milk will come in somewhere between 48 and 96 hours after your baby is born.
During the early stages of breastfeeding, your breasts may feel engorged and painful between feedings. This is because they are full and your baby needs to eat. Feeding your baby frequently will relieve you. Over time, your breasts will adjust to make the exact right amount of milk for your baby.
When your breasts are emptied, either through pumping or breastfeeding, the alveoli are signaled to start the process of making more milk. The cycle continues with your breasts becoming full again as more milk is made.
Causes of Low Milk Supply
When you first begin breastfeeding, your body is adjusting to how much breast milk your baby needs. At times, your breasts may feel full and tight or even leak as your body is producing more milk than your baby can consume. Over time, this will even out. You may think that you’re not producing enough milk because your breasts no longer feel as full, when in actuality your body is just leveling out and producing the perfect amount. The only true way to know if your supply is low is by making sure your baby is producing the accurate number of dirty diapers and is gaining weight at an appropriate rate.
If your milk supply is low, there are a number of factors that could be causing you to not produce enough milk. When your breasts are emptied, either from a feeding or from pumping, your body is signaled that it is time to make more milk. If you are not feeding often enough or expressing often enough when you are not with your baby, your body may not be producing enough milk. Sometimes mothers do not feed their baby often enough due to nipple pain. In other cases, babies may not be eating enough when they are nursing because they are not sucking enough or they have an incorrect latch. If your supply is low due to not feeding your baby often enough, you can simply rectify this issue by feeding your baby more often.
Your hormonal balance can also diminish your milk supply. If you are on a medication that contains estrogen, such as birth control pills or any birth control that affects your hormones, your supply may be low. Certain hormonal and endocrine problems, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, thyroid issues, diabetes or hypertension can also cause a decreased milk supply.
Another reason for a low milk supply are issues with your glandular tissue. For various reasons, some women do not have enough ducts in their breasts. As this is where milk is made, it can lead to a diminished supply.
Some breast surgeries can lead to a low milk supply. You may have had a breast reduction or enhancement surgery, both of which can cause lower milk supply, particularly breast reduction surgery. Even nipple piercings can affect your milk supply.
Other medications can also make your supply low. Medications for decongestion, such as pseudoephedrine, work by drying up mucus and can also dry up breast milk. If you have a cold you may not be able to take certain medications while you are breastfeeding. Herbs like sage, parsley and peppermint can also reduce your milk supply, but only when taken in large amounts.
Dehydration and poor nutrition can also have an effect on your milk supply. If your body is not getting the hydration and nutrients it needs, then it cannot sufficiently produce breast milk. In the early days with a baby, you may feel like you have little time to eat or have a glass of water, but it is very important for your milk supply.
Another cause of low milk supply may have to do with your baby rather than your body. Some babies have a condition known as tongue tie. With this issue, your baby has a small piece of skin holding her or her tongue to the bottom of the mouth. Since babies use their tongues to move milk out of the nipple, this may cause your baby to not get enough milk and your body in turn to not produce enough milk. This condition can be fixed with a simple procedure. Other issues such as a cleft palate may also cause your baby to have trouble feeding.
If you are not feeding your baby during the night, your milk supply may diminish. One goal of many parents is to get their baby to sleep during the night, but while your baby is exclusively breastfed, he or she should be eating every few hours, including during the night. You need to empty your breast every few hours in order to keep your milk supply up. Additionally, the hormone prolactin, which lets your breasts know when to make milk is found at higher levels during the night. You may need to begin feeding your baby a couple of times a night to get your milk supply back up.
Some medications you were given during labor, such as Demerol or medicine found in the epidural, can cause your baby to have trouble latching on to your breast, which can in turn cause your body to make less milk. Even though this medicine is only given during labor, it can affect your baby for up to a month after birth. If your baby has jaundice, he may sleep more and not nurse as often, which can decrease your milk supply. You may need to pump to keep your supply up until your baby is nursing regularly again.
If you start giving your baby supplementary formula, then you will not be feeding as often and your supply will diminish. You may be supplementing with formula due to lower supply, but this can start a cycle in which you rely more and more on formula until you are no longer breastfeeding. If you are worried that your baby is not getting enough from exclusive breastfeeding, then you need to speak with a lactation consultant to make the best decisions. A lactation consultant can give you tips for supplementing with formula that will allow you to return to exclusive breastfeeding once your milk supply is back up.
How to Produce More Breast Milk
If you are experiencing a shortage of breast milk, you are likely looking for how to increase milk supply. There are several methods that have been shown to work.
If you want to know how to increase breast milk supply fast, one of the easiest ways is to breastfeed more. This is the easiest and most natural way to create more milk. If breastfeeding more is not an option, you may want to pump or manually express milk. The more often you empty your breasts, the more often they will produce milk, and more milk will be made.
Other natural ways to increase your milk supply include making sure your baby is feeding from both sides at every feeding, avoiding bottles and pacifiers when possible and only giving the baby breast milk.
These methods may not work for everyone. If you have one of the issues listed above that is not rectified by increased feeding or pumping, you may need to look to other methods to increase your milk supply.
Drinking plenty of water is essential for breast milk production. You should be drinking 8 cups of water per day to keep your body hydrated and to keep your milk in supply.
Naturally, eating a health diet is important to increase your milk supply. You should be getting plenty of protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. There are also certain foods that can help increase your supply. Food like oatmeal, fennel, spinach and carrots have been shown to increase your milk supply. These foods are also all part of a healthy diet.
There are also certain supplements to increase milk supply. Some supplements are made exclusively for breastfeeding mothers, such as teas (I recommend the Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother’s Milk Tea) and pills that contain supplements curated for increasing milk supply. You may also choose to take supplements such as thistle, fenugreek, fennel, raspberry leaf and marshmallow root. Some mothers have had great success with these supplements. It is important to always speak with your doctor or lactation consultant before beginning to take any sort of supplement.
If you are having trouble producing breast milk, your doctor may give you a prescription for medications that can help you to produce more milk. Many of these medications are given if your prolactin levels are low. Your prescription will help your prolactin levels to increase and your milk supply to increase.
Low breast milk supply can be concerning, as you want to make sure your baby is getting the nutrition that he or she needs. As long as your baby is gaining weight and soiling diapers, you are likely making enough milk. However, if you are concerned, then you may want to try some of these methods listed above or consider seeing your doctor or lactation consultant to decide the best and safest ways you can increase your milk supply. Breastfeeding your baby is an important part of your baby’s first months of life and with a little work and adjustment, you should be able to make the right amount of milk for your baby to grow and thrive.