How to Increase Your Breast Milk Supply

If you’ve just started out breastfeeding, you may be wondering how to tell if your baby is or isn’t getting enough breast milk, what can cause low breast milk supply and how to produce more breast milk. Read on for the answers to all these questions and more.

Is Your Baby Getting Enough Breast Milk?

This is a common concern for breastfeeding mums. After all, your breasts don’t have a full/empty gauge, so how do you know how much is coming out? Luckily, there’s usually no need to worry about this: Breastfed babies usually take as much milk as they need at each feed, and under normal conditions your breasts will automatically produce less or more breast milk in response to that demand. This is why it isn’t important to know the precise quantity of breast milk taken at each feed – as long as your little one is getting all the nourishment that he or she needs. So how can you tell if that’s happening? If you’re ever in doubt, ask your midwife or health visitor, but here are some of the signs that your baby is probably getting enough breast milk:

  • Your baby seems to be breastfeeding properly. If a few rapid sucks after latching on soon change to long, rhythmic ones (with occasional pauses) and you can hear swallowing, your baby is probably drinking his or her fill. Other signs include if your baby’s cheeks are rounded during feeds, rather than hollow.

  • Your baby is contended and relaxed during feeds. It’s a good sign if your little one is calm and settled while feeding and comes off the breast when he or she has had enough. Keep in mind that a little fussiness during or after feeding isn’t always anything to worry about either – you might just need to burp your baby a bit more frequently.

  • Your baby is gaining weight. This is one of the most reliable signs of successful feeding: If your baby is gaining weight steadily, it’s unlikely that you have low milk supply. Keep in mind that your baby will likely lose a little weight within a few days of birth (usually no more than about 8 to 10 percent of his or her birth weight), but this should be regained within a couple of weeks. Learn how your health visitor and doctor use growth charts to track your little one’s growth.

  • Your baby is going through nappies. What goes in must come out, so the number of nappies your baby gets through is a good indicator of whether he or she is getting enough milk. Expect to change around six or more wet nappies a day from the fifth day onwards. In the first six weeks or so your little one might do around four poos a day on average, but the number of bowel movements usually decreases after this. To learn more, read our ultimate guide to baby poo.

  • Your baby is breastfeeding often. In the first few weeks newborn babies may feed 8 to 12 times a day or more, with feeds getting longer and farther apart as time goes by. Demand may increase during growth spurts, when you may experience what’s known as cluster feeding. When this happens, your milk supply usually increases to cope with the extra demand.

  • Your breasts feel soft after feeds. Your breasts may feel firmer and fuller before a feed, but softer afterwards. Your nipples will likely look about the same (not white, pinched or flattened).

Causes of Low Breast Milk Supply

If your newborn isn’t getting enough nutrition – especially if you’re also suffering from sore nipples – there’s a good chance it’s because your baby is having difficulty latching onto your breast correctly as opposed to you being unable to produce enough breast milk.

If your baby finds it difficult to attach to your breast, try some different breastfeeding positions and ask your midwife, health visitor or a lactation consultant for advice.

A good latch typically looks like this:

  • Your baby’s mouth is wide open, and he or she has a large mouthful of breast

  • Your baby’s chin is touching your breast

  • The lower lip is rolled down (you may not be able to see this)

  • Your baby’s nose isn’t squashed against your breast

  • More of the dark skin of your areola is showing above your baby’s top lip than below the bottom lip.

Nevertheless, there are other factors that may sometimes result in a low breast milk supply, including:

  • Waiting too long before starting breastfeeding. Ideally, it's best to start breastfeeding within a couple of hours after giving birth

  • Not breastfeeding often enough (remember, experts recommend breastfeeding about 8 to 12 times a day in the first few weeks after birth)

  • Taking certain medicines, including some painkillers and nasal decongestants

  • Having had breast surgery

  • Certain health conditions, such as obesity, high blood pressure or insulin-dependent diabetes

  • Stress, depression or anxiety

  • Smoking and drinking alcohol.

How to Increase Your Breast Milk Production

Most mums breast milk supply increases to match demand, but if you still feel you need to produce more breast milk, here are nine ideas you can try to boost your breast milk supply:

1. Start breastfeeding as soon as you can. Ideally, it’s best to start breastfeeding within an hour or two of the birth of your baby. However, sometimes this may not be possible (for example if you’re recovering from a caesarean section or if your baby is born prematurely and needs special care for a while). In this case, if you’re feeling up to it, ask your midwife or lactation consultant to show you how to stimulate breast milk production after delivery by hand-expressing milk at regular intervals.

2. Breastfeed as often and for as long as your baby wants. Your breasts produce more milk in response to an increase in demand, so learning to recognise and respond to your baby’s feeding cues – like putting fingers in the mouth and ‘rooting’ for your breast – can help you maintain a good breast milk supply.

3. Make sure your baby’s latching on properly. It’s important for your baby to latch on correctly and to swallow while feeding. If you're unsure about this, your midwife, health visitor or lactation consultant will be able to help you confirm that your baby has latched on and is swallowing properly.

4. Feed from both breasts. Remember to offer both breasts. As soon as your baby slows down or stops feeding from one breast, offer her the other. Alternate which breast you start with. Don’t forget, you can use a breast pump or hand technique to express any extra milk left in the second breast. This can also help prevent painful mastitis.

5. Don’t skip feeds. Try not to leave long gaps between feeds. If you’re expressing breast milk for your baby so you can go back to work, or for any other reason, try to pump at regular intervals without missing any sessions, as this can affect your milk supply.

6. Give your baby lots of cuddles. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby can make your body release hormones that stimulate breast milk production. Keeping your baby close will also help you notice straight away if he or she is hungry, making it easier to feed ‘on demand’.

7. Use a breast pump. Expressing milk is a great way to stimulate the production of more breast milk. You can also save some time and increase milk supply when pumping by using a double breast pump to express from both breasts at the same time. Expressing and storing your breast milk can also come in handy if you need to return to work, or if you’d like your partner or someone else to help with some bottle feeds, for example.

8. Wait before introducing a dummy. It’s a good idea to wait three to four weeks after your baby’s birth before giving your baby a dummy, so that your milk supply is well established.

9. Talk to your doctor about any health issues or medicines you’re taking. Some health conditions – such as high blood pressure or diabetes in some cases – can affect your breast milk production. Your doctor will be able to diagnose any issues and recommend treatments that may be available. Some medicines can also lower milk supply, but your doctor may be able to offer an alternative that’s more suitable for a breastfeeding mum.

What Foods Can You Eat to Increase Breast Milk Supply?

Keeping to a healthy diet is always beneficial, but especially so when breastfeeding. Some foods in particular are thought to help increase your breast milk supply. These are known as ‘lactogenic’ foods. Eating healthy amounts of the following food types – as part of a balanced diet – could help keep the milk flowing:

  • Grains. Oats, cornmeal, barley and other grains are lactogenic, so consider starting the day with a filling bowl of porridge or some other oat-based breakfast cereal.

  • Nuts and seeds. Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and almonds (to name just a few) are also thought to help increase milk supply. You can add some nuts and seeds to your muesli, eat a small handful of nuts as an afternoon snack or spread some peanut butter on a slice of yummy seeded bread.

  • Vegetables. Veggies are always an essential part of a healthy balanced diet, but mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, potatoes and lettuce – in particular – are believed to be good lactogenic foods that can help increase your milk supply.

  • Fruit. Peaches, nectarines, apricots and cherries not only taste great, they may also help you produce more breast milk.

  • Plenty of liquids. Dehydration can affect your milk supply, so drink enough liquids – at least six to eight glasses of water a day – to stay hydrated. It’s also a great idea to have a glass of water or low-fat milk ready and close at hand when you settle down to breastfeed.

Does Fenugreek Boost Breast Milk Supply?

Some people take fenugreek when breastfeeding – usually in capsule form – as a herbal remedy in the hope of increasing breast milk production. Experts have found no firm evidence that this remedy works, although some mums say they noticed an improvement in their breast milk supply after taking fenugreek. To stay on the safe side, it’s always a good idea to check with your health visitor or doctor before trying any home remedies to boost your breast milk supply.

Where to Get Help

Even with all the steps mentioned above, you still might run into issues trying to breastfeed your little one. Sometimes getting the hang of breastfeeding just takes a little time and practice. Reach out to your midwife, health visitor or a lactation consultant for some personalised advice if you’re ever unsure whether your milk supply is low or if you’re producing enough milk for your baby, or for help with any other aspect of breastfeeding.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • Foods that are thought to help boost breast milk production (as part of a balanced diet) include:

    • Oats
    • Nuts
    • Seeds
    • Broccoli
    • Asparagus
    • Potatoes
    • Lettuce
    • Mushrooms
    • Peaches
    • Apricots
    • Nectarines
    • Cherries.
  • Once you’ve established a breastfeeding routine, expressing a little milk after each feed can help to increase your breast milk supply. If you want to go back to breastfeeding after combining breast milk and formula, then pumping about eight times a day (including once at night) is ideal.

  • Drinking more than you need doesn’t necessarily increase breast milk production, but dehydration can certainly decrease it. So, to stay hydrated, drink six to eight glasses of water, low-fat milk or other sugar-free drinks a day.

The Bottom Line

Even if you suspect your breast milk supply is on the low side and you’re worried about how you’re going to feed your little one, there are steps you can take to increase your breast milk production. Try them out and speak to your midwife, health visitor or lactation consultant. Together, you can make sure your baby is getting the nourishment he or she needs.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.