Breastfeeding may be the most natural thing in the world but it’s something which causes a huge amount of worry for women the world over.
Being responsible for feeding your child is a huge pressure and it’s completely normal for women to worry that perhaps they’re not giving their child as much milk as they actually need. However, the fact is that it’s very rare to have insufficient milk supply. Women’s bodies know to produce milk after delivering a baby and they’re very good at doing so! Provided your baby is putting on weight and weigh ins show satisfactory progress, and they’re filing their nappy on a regular basis, they’re very likely to be getting the amount of milk they need.
However, in some cases, insufficient milk supply, or low milk supply, can be an issue. This can be due to a range of different reasons, such as:
The good news is that it’s possible to stimulate your milk flow naturally and therefore give your baby the nourishment they need. It may take a little time to stimulate the flow, depending upon what is causing the low production and how low it is in the first place. However, you can normally expect that within days rather than weeks, you’ll see an improvement.
It goes without saying that if you’re worried at all, you should speak to your doctor, health visitor, or midwife for support and reassurance. Breastfeeding may be the most natural thing but it’s also one of the most requested areas in terms of help and support. Always reach out if you need to do so.
How to Stimulate Breast Milk Flow
Let’s explore some of the natural ways you can stimulate breast milk flow.
Focus on Breastfeeding More Frequently
Breastmilk is a ‘use it or lose it’ kind of deal. So, it goes without saying that the more you breastfeed, the more milk you’ll have. Let your baby be the one to decide when feeding time is over and relax into the process.
Breastfeeding is dictated by something called the ‘let down reflex’. This is a muscle reaction that causes the breast muscles to tense and contract. This allows the milk to be pushed through the milk ducts and ultimately down to the nipple for the baby to feed. This reflex needs to be used regularly in order to keep it strong. So, the more you breastfeed your baby, the more milk you’ll have available for your baby. That doesn’t mean you should overfeed, but between 8 times to perhaps 12 times per day of feeding keeps milk supply flowing and should help to boost production if you were feeding less than that and finding that your supply was low.
Use Both Breasts For Feeding
It may help to switch breasts whilst you’re feeding to help stimulate flow overall. It’s likely that you have a side which feels more comfortable for feeding or perhaps a side which your baby simply prefers but if you are able to, using both breasts is an effective way to boost flow.
To do this you would feed from your preferred side until your baby seems to stop feeding or slow right down. Then, you can switch sides and encourage your baby to feed from the other side. This could help to boost your milk production and also gives you a way to feed more comfortably too. If you’re pumping milk, you can also work to pump from both breasts in this case, therefore boosting your milk production effectively.
Check That Your Baby is Latching on Correctly
It could simply be that your baby isn’t latching on that well and as a result your flow is reducing because your body assumes you’re not feeding as much. Remember, with less breastfeeding, you’ll produce less milk and vice versa. When your baby isn’t latching on properly or correctly, they’re not getting as much milk as they could or should.
If you’re concerned this might be the case, and you’ll probably have a few clues from your baby’s weight and nappies too, talk to your midwife, doctor, or health visitor and ask for them to watch and assess your baby’s latching on during breastfeeding. They will be able to tell you immediately whether your baby is effectively feeding or whether there are latching on problems which need to be fixed. If this is the case, this can be done with help and shouldn’t be something to cause you too much anxiety.
Pump When You’re Not Feeding
It may be useful for you to pump between feeds as a way to boost breast milk flow. The basic idea behind this is that the more you breastfeed, the more milk you will produce and pumping basically mimics the idea of feeding.
You can try pumping if your baby has finished feeding and you still have milk, if your baby feeds from a bottle that particular time, either breast or formula milk, or if your baby doesn’t feed that particular time for whatever reason. This ensures that you’re not missing out on the pattern and frequency of feeding and that you’re getting the most out of your feeds milk-wise. This should simulate flow and give you more from that point onwards.
Try Breast Stimulation
We’ve already mentioned that the more you breastfeed or pump, the more milk your breasts will produce. Another way to trick your body into thinking that you need more milk is to use breast stimulation after you’ve finished feeding or pumping.
Pumping after a feed is a way of doing this but you can do this by hand if you prefer. The key is to be gentle and to slowly stimulate the breast duct into assuming that more milk is required. This should, over time, increase your general flow.
Try Compression of the Breasts
Breast compression can be used when pumping or breastfeeding and basically helps to push more milk out of the breast. To do this, you just squeeze very gently on the breast – this should not hurt. Extra pressure is then placed upon the milk glands which encourages them to release more milk and increase the flow either being pumped or making its way to your baby’s mouth.
The good news is that breast compression often brings immediate results, although they may be short-lived. It’s a good way to get more milk to your baby in that particular feed however and when used with some of the other techniques we’re speaking about, could help to solve your low milk supply problem.
Try Supplements or Herbs
If you’re not finding much joy from the other suggestions or you simply want to try and boost your supply further, you could try taking commonly used herbs or supplements which are reputed to boost milk flow. However, it goes without saying that you should always check with your doctor, health visitor, or midwife beforehand. There is still some research that needs to be done in terms of effectiveness and before adding anything into your diet it’s best to get things checked out.
However, fenugreek is one of the most commonly used herbs that may help to boost milk production. In addition, you could try ginger, garlic, fennel, or even brewer’s yeast. Alfalfa, spirulina and blessed thistle are also reputed to have some effects but again, double check with your doctor. These aren’t without side effects in some cases and it’s not possible to predict as a whole – everyone is different and covering all bases for safety is important.
Check Your Lifestyle
A little earlier we talked about some of the things that may reduce your milk flow. The problem is, many of those are lifestyle factors that you might not even realise are having a detrimental effect on your flow. By checking your lifestyle and cutting out damaging habits you may find that your milk production increases pretty quickly on its own, without any need for other interventions.
If you smoke, you need to stop. Smoking can seriously cut your breastmilk supply right down. Also, if you have started taking the combined birth pill, this could also be having an effect on your breastmilk flow. This is something you’ll need to speak to your doctor about and perhaps think about changing to another contraceptive form if you find that it’s a troubling element for you.
Of course, you’ve just had a baby and you’re tired and stressed out. It’s completely normal to feel this way but you need to do your best to rest up as much as you can and try and relax. Tiredness and stress can affect your milk supply. So, ask for help and don’t feel bad about doing – you’re human! Try and rest as much as you can when your baby is sleeping and simply know that you’re doing your very best, and that is more than enough!
Focus on Your Diet and Hydration
When you breastfeed, you’re expending energy without even realising. So, make sure that you are eating a healthy diet and that you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. You might also like to add some foods to your diet which are reported to be useful for breastfeeding mums, such as almonds, vegetables which are dark green in colour and oatmeal.
In terms of hydration, you need to keep downing that water. You should be aiming for around 6-8 glasses of water every day and you can also supplement your hydration efforts with juice and milk too. Staying hydrated is vitally important for health and energy levels, even when you’re not breastfeeding, and when you’re busy it can be very easy to forget to sit down and have a drink. Keep drinking water throughout the day and you may find that with changes to your overall lifestyle, your milk production may start to increase naturally.
Try Not to Skip Feeds
It might be that you sometimes give your baby formula or miss a feed for whatever reason. When you do this, you’re basically not feeding as much as you could and as we’ve already established, your body needs you to feed regularly in order to produce more milk. You’re sending the wrong message to your milk ducts!
If you really do need to skip a feed for whatever reason, try and remember to pump in its place. That will ensure that your milk supply keeps flowing in the right direction. However, remember that it’s far better in terms of stimulating your milk supply for your baby to feed directly from the breast. Pumping is perfectly fine, but you will get better results in terms of your flow simulation if your baby feeds directly.
As you can see, breast milk production is all about using it as much as you can. If you stop feeding as much, you’re going to find that your supply drops off gradually. So, the single best way to increase your milk production is to feed regularly or to pump in its place if necessary.
Remember, anxiety and stress can also reduce your milk flow. Whilst it’s normal to be a little on edge or stressed as a new mum, you have to relax and calm down. You’re doing a wonderful job and your baby is thriving and growing. You’re keeping a human alive and that’s amazing!
By trying your best to remain as healthy as you can, resting up whenever you get the opportunity and relaxing as best you can, you’ll find that you feel far stronger and more confident in your feeding efforts. It could very well be that there is nothing at all wrong with your milk flow, but as a mum who loves her child and wants the best for them, you’re just concerned that maybe they’re not getting enough. It’s very rare for babies not to get the milk they need and for it to go unnoticed for long.
Have a little faith in yourself. You’ve got this!