Most women are faced with the peril of low milk supply at some point during their breastfeeding journey, whether at the beginning, middle or end. Wanting to breastfeed but feeling unable to sufficiently nourish your child can be utterly devastating.
I was surprised at how aggressively my milk came in, days after my son was born. I was engorged to the point of discomfort, but it was a welcomed relief knowing that there was no concern with my milk production. When my son was a few months old I became quite ill with the flu and I was unable to keep any food or water down. I quickly became dehydrated and under nourished, and subsequently my supply vanished. My heart ached as he suckled with grunts of increasing frustration. I understand first hand how panic-stricken a mother can feel over low breast milk production, like her body is failing her. Luckily I was able to rebuild my supply before I needed to supplement, and I'm now eager to share some tips with other mamas.
Naturally Increasing Breast Milk Supply
Water First and foremost, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. As a goal I suggest trying to consume 3 liters of water daily, that’s 500mls between each breastfeeding session for a mother breastfeeding six times a day.
Hydrating vegetables and fruits Avoid an overly processed diet containing high amounts of refined sodium.
Oatmeal (soaked/fermented preferred) One of the most popular galactogogues.
Offering breast for baby to suckle As much as possible. Even if you feel your supply is low and baby gets fussy at the breast, having them there really helps to stimulate your supply.
Babywearing / Skin to skin When my son had a cold and wouldn't let me put him down, I wore him all day/ every day and my supply skyrocketed.
Co-sleep Even if co-sleeping isn’t something that is suitable for your family on a regular basis, co-sleeping for a period allows for more contact with your baby, which boosts supply. It also offers the baby more opportunity to suckle during the night to further stimulate milk production.
Pumping in addition to breastfeeding Pumping to increase supply is most effective when it is used in addition to regular breastfeeding to remove more milk according to the demand and supply principle of lactation. Hospital grade pumps are most effective at increasing production.
Herbs Fenugreek to increase milk supply, fennel to improve the milk ejection reflex, blessed thistle, any "mothers milk" herbal tea. Herbs can be very beneficial, but they are also very powerful and can cause different reactions in different people. My son had a terrible reaction to fenugreek. He became extremely fussy and nearly inconsolable. These herbs are usually quite helpful for the vast majority of women, but always be mindful of any possible contraindications (both prescribed medications & nutritional supplementation) before starting any herbal remedies.
Things To Consider
Using any of the above methods can be quite helpful in increasing a temporarily low supply, but it’s also important to get to the root of the problem and understand why your supply might be low.
Stress Mentally, physically and emotionally, stress can have the biggest impact on decreasing supply. Unfortunately having low supply brings stress, and stress then lowers supply, so it's cyclical.
Not being well rested Seen as a stress by the body. Take naps during the day if/when possible.
A very low or no carbohydrate diet Mothers often report a decreased supply when following a very low or no carbohydrate diet. Those avoiding grains should be cautious that a grain free diet doesn’t equate to a carbohydrate free diet when breastfeeding. Other energy providing carbohydrates like root vegetables and winter squash should still be consumed. These foods contain starch that breaks down into glucose, which gets converted into galactose, and then into lactose (the sugar found in breast milk).
Peppermint & parsley No need to go crazy about a little parsley on a salad, but guzzling peppermint tea or putting handfuls of parsley in green drinks can decrease milk supply. Prior to pregnancy, peppermint tea was my tea flavor of choice and I drank a lot of it. Interestingly, I grew a strong aversion to it during pregnancy that has stuck with me through breastfeeding. Our bodies cues are amazing when we listen! I’m very curious to see if I’ll enjoy it again once my son is weaned.
Thyroid Untreated low thyroid levels can result in significantly decreased breast milk supply. Unfortunately most of the main symptoms of hypothyroidism also coincide with common things that many new mothers experience anyways: fatigue, depression, inability to lose weight, dry skin, constipation, hair loss, intolerance to cold temperatures. So it’s best to have your thyroid levels tested by a physician. If treatment is needed, opt for natural thyroid glandular, over synthetic.
Decongestants / Antihistamines These are designed to dry you up, and can lower your milk supply quite quickly.
Excess coffee / Alcohol These beverages contribute to dehydration when consumed in excess.
Pumping instead of breastfeeding Using a pump to extract milk more often than breastfeeding with baby can lead to lowered supply. Pumps are generally less effective than babies at emptying breasts (lessening supply and demand) and the hormones, prolactin (milk production) and oxytocin (milk release), response more strongly when feeding baby. Most mothers who return to work will notice a decrease in supply, even when the frequency of pumping sessions match the previous regularity of breastfeeding baby.
Menstruation / Pregnancy / Birth Control Women can experience a decrease in their supply directly prior to menstruation. Many women also notice lower milk production when becoming pregnant. Remember! You ovulate before you menstruate, so you’re able to become pregnant even if your period hasn’t returned since giving birth. Birth control that contains estrogen has been linked to low milk supply.
Intravenous (IV) fluids, Birth Weight & Breastfeeding
A newborn baby's weight is one of the main markers used to determine how successfully they are breastfeeding. If a baby loses more weight than “allowed” and they are slow to regain, the mother is generally told that her supply is insufficient. New mothers are often pressured to supplement their newborns with formula in these situations. Hearing this would surely dent a mother’s confidence and would likely affect the entire breastfeeding relationship with her baby significantly.
However, if a woman receives IV fluids during labor, or prior to a caesarean section, her baby is likely to be born retaining more fluid. This might falsely inflate a baby’s initial birth weight and the subsequent loss. The relationship between IV fluids during labour and newborn weight loss is rarely factored in, and lack of breast milk is often seen as the culprit for poor weight gain.
Unfortunately falsely telling a mother that she has low milk production is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
She begins to supplement with formula = less baby to breast nursing = mother’s supply decreases = her supply becomes low, even if it wasn’t before = now supplementing really is necessary.
Of course there are times when supplementing may be advised, but the strength of Pitocin and epidurals used during birth, and the length of time these interventions were administered for should also be strongly considered.