Formula Shortage got you down? Try these tips to increase your breastmilk supply + reasons for dips!
Updated: Jun 1
So you think your supply is low?
Wanna know how to increase your milk supply? Keep reading!
Many lactating people anxiously think that they have a low milk supply, when their supply is usually fine, meaning established, regulated and with a happily growing baby.
You are not alone if you're worried about whether you're producing enough milk to feed your baby. This is totally normal, since you can't really see how much breastmilk your body is making or how much your little one is drinking the same way you can with bottle feeding. But trust me, there are plenty of ways to know that your baby is getting enough milk from you.
Most lactating parents make enough breast milk for their babies, in the early weeks many people make more than what their baby’s milk intake needs are. An average lactating person, with a full milk production routine established and maintained, will produce about 25-35oz milk per 24 hours. If the first month of exclusive breastfeeding is going well, your milk production dramatically increases from about one ounce (30 mL) on Day 1 to around 30 oz by day 40 postpartum. True low supply is believed to affect only 10% to 15% of lactating parents.
When the milk supply is adequate but other issues are at play like excessive gas or a growth spurt, that may be causing the fussiness coinciding with feeding times, leading parents to think their baby is not getting enough milk. When low supply does happen, it's usually temporary & with proper guidance you can do things to bring your supply back up.
The safest ways to increase your milk supply are to make sure your baby has a good latch, breastfeed or pump often, and maybe add some lactogenic foods to your daily eating habits.
Let’s take a look to see if your supply is truly low, and if it is, ways to address it!
We will learn:
Feel free to click on the titles above to jump ahead and skip to the section you need!
Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?
First, let’s address this common question/concern...
For the majority of the public, your amazing body will naturally be able to create the perfect milk supply for your baby’s individual milk intake needs. Your body started laying the framework for this chest/breastfeeding journey while you were going through those awkward stages of puberty. Those little lumps swoll up with glandular tissue to become milk making houses for your future babies. If you want to be even more precise and in depth, this started when you were created as a baby in your own birth givers womb! Around 16 - 20 weeks pregnancy is when hormones facilitate the formation and enlargement of small sacs called alveoli in the breast tissue. These sacs secrete milk during nursing in response to your baby's suckling. The size of your breasts does not affect milk production. We don't store a lot of milk in our breasts on average-- 3 to 4 ounces, which is about enough for one feeding. A few of you reading this may notice or wonder, if your breasts may be underdeveloped or have insufficient glandular tissue, and in this case you may need more assistance from a lactation professional along your journey. Please remember that some chest/breastfeeding IS STILL chest/breastfeeding!
Chest/Breastfeeding is a supply-and-demand system
The more demand on the system/body through effective and efficient feeding at breast or pumping/hand expression, the more milk the body makes. It’s a simple yet intricate dance to get milk production established. We are not perfect and neither is mother nature. Sometimes the body takes a day or two to catch up to a baby's increased milk demands during a growth spurt. This is stressful but very normal! Don’t expect everything to work as planned, be open to change and set realistic short term goals, this is how you will be successful on this journey.
Your boobs are sisters, not twins, (shoutout to IBCLC colleague Heather Sherman at SDBFC for that analogy!) and always have been in every way, look at them, one is ever so slightly or maybe a lot larger or smaller than the other, but they look good and come from the same mother with the same working parts. They will not always produce the same amount and that amount varies throughout the day and it fluctuates by session. This is to be expected, so don’t freak out when one sister decides to make 2oz and the other makes 4oz, you made 6oz total right? So it doesn’t matter which boob it came from, as long as you empty them both often.
Additionally, time spent at the breast is NOT an accurate measurement of how much milk your baby has consumed. We have to watch their body language, I speak baby and encourage you to learn to speak baby too! This way you know when baby is full or hungry by their cues rather than the clock. Many parents think a feeding session longer than an hour means the baby getting a lot of milk, but this isn't necessarily true and can even indicate a problem. In the early days/weeks babies may be slow to eat, but should become more effective and efficient overtime.
More breastfeeding when together means less milk needs to be expressed. The amount of milk per day babies need between 1 and 6 months remains pretty stable, on average between 25 and 35 oz. (750-1050 mL) per day. By thinking of the 24-hour-day as a whole, it becomes obvious that the more times each day the baby breastfeeds directly, the less expressed milk will be needed while parent and baby are apart. But many don’t realize that dropping breast feedings at home and encouraging baby to sleep more at night adds to the amount of expressed milk baby will need during the day. Understanding these basics of breastfeeding can go a long way in helping you meet your long-term infant feeding goals.
Here’s how to speak baby & learn to watch for signs of milk transfer:
Listen to hear your baby swallow while they feed
Look for milk in the corners of their mouth, especially after they unlatch
Watch for satisfied and content behavior after nursing like falling asleep after feeding
Check for chest fullness, should feel less full than they did before the feeding started
For my structured or data driven parents, some more precise ways of making sure your baby is getting enough milk:
Newborns will lose as much as 10% of their birth weight in the first few days after birth. This is normal, do not be alarmed! After that initial loss, they should begin gaining weight consistently. Most babies gain at least 0.5 to 1 ounce per day for the first few months, and they are back up to their birth weight within 10 to 14 days. If you're worried, book a lactation consult and ask for a weighted feed. Take your baby to the pediatrician by the 2 week check up or sooner, to ensure all is well. If you struggle, ask your midwife, OBGYN, pediatrician or doula to recommend a lactation consultant or to give you the information for a breastfeeding support group like La Leche League (those are everywhere, international). Also try local birth centers and reach out to birth worker, parent friends, online groups, etc.
Wet diapers are also a good sign that your baby is getting enough. Once your milk "comes in" or rather increases in volume by day 3-5, you should see an increase in the number of wet diapers. By day six, your baby should be going through at least 6 to 8 wet diapers every day—or more.If you're worried about knowing how much milk your baby is getting, track how many wet diapers your baby has over the course of the day—and call your doctor if you think it’s a not been enough diapers. While not ideal, it is not uncommon for some babies to go three to four days between bowel movements. Formula stools are different from breastmilk stools, formula often leads to gas, constipation, GI/tummy issues. Breast milk is very easily digested & gentle on the tummy creating less “bad” waste. Infant probiotics, baby massage, infant chiropractic can help babies who are experiencing poop irregularity.
Warning Signs of Dehydration
If you see the following signs, seek medical attention immediately because your baby could be dehydrated:
Less frequent urination
Few tears when crying
Reluctance to feed
Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
One of the most common causes of low breast milk supply is a poor latch. If your baby is latching on properly, they may not be able to get the milk out effectively and efficiently, which can cause your body to produce less milk. It's the removal of milk from your breasts that tells your body to make more. If you aren't sure if your baby is latching well, have a lactation consultant evaluate the latch with you. Sometimes little changes in positioning can make a big difference in latch and comfort. Try laid back positions or football/clutch for a deeper latch.
Not breastfeeding often enough is also a common reason milk supply might dip. Most newborns need to feed every 2-3 hours—during the day AND the night. The more you put your baby to the breast, the more you will stimulate your body to make the right amount of milk supply for your baby's needs.
Each time you feed, try and let your baby eat for about 15-20 minutes per side, offering the other side if baby is still hungry. If your baby nurses for less than 5 minutes, that's likely not enough time for the milk to be fully drained from your breasts, which can negatively impact your supply. If they are failing to stay awake, try rousing techniques like massaging the palms of their hands, soles of feet, ears, remove clothing so they aren’t too cozy, talk to them and play with and kiss those cute tiny arms and hands. If your baby often seems to be tired from eating 5 mins into the feed or less, contact your pediatrician and an IBCLC to figure out the root cause of this as it can lead to poor weight gain.
When babies go through growth spurts they have wild appetites, and they may appear ‘hangry’ all the time, inconsolable without the boob, and as a result, it can make you feel like you have a low milk supply when in reality, it's just that your supply hasn't caught up to the demand of your baby's new needs due to this growth spurt, and there will be more than one!
Download the wonder weeks app to track these leaps more closely and know when to prepare. Babies can get frustrated too, and sometimes this is why they cry. They will get over this hurdle in a few days, and all will be ok even when it feels like it won’t be. You have an opinionated little person already and that's ok! If you feed your baby when they show early signs of hunger, your body will recognize the increase in demand and it will make more milk. You should begin to see that increased supply within a few days as the growth spurt subsides and your milk supply matches up to the demand.
Milk supply self sabotage? - Try to Avoid:
Letting your baby sleep for extended periods of time between feedings
Giving a pacifier in place of a feeding instead of after or between
Not feeding on demand
Missing hunger cues or feed sessions
Factors That Affect Milk Yield
Your baby’s age
Whether or not you’re exclusively breastfeeding; combo feeding decreases supply
Time passed since your last breastfeeding or pumping
Time of day
Your emotional state
Your breast storage capacity
Your pump quality (hospital grade is most efficient and effective) and flange fit, yes there are more sizes than what it comes with the standard of 24mm and 27mm
Your baby’s age
How much milk a baby consumes per feeding varies by age and—until one month or so—by weight. Newborn stomachs are tiny, during the first week most full-term babies take no more than 1 to 2 ounces (30 to 60 mL) at feedings. After about four to five weeks, babies reach their peak feeding volume of about 3 to 4 ounces (90 to 120 mL) and peak daily milk intake of about 30 ounces per day (900 mL)
An exclusively breastfeeding baby receives only breastmilk (no other liquids or solids) primarily at the breast. Giving formula regularly will cause you to express less breastmilk than an exclusively breastfeeding person, because the milk production in a combo feeding parent will be lower.
Time elapsed since your last milk removal. On average, after the first month of life, an exclusively lactating parent can expect to pump:
About half a feeding when pumping between feedings; 1.5 - 2 oz (45 - 60 mL)
About a full feeding if pumping only no feeding at breast; 3 - 4 ounces (90 - 120 mL)
Time of day
Most pump more milk in the morning than later in the day. That’s because milk production varies over the course of the day. During afternoon & evening, milk production is often slower, so more feeds during this time is normal for the baby to get a full feed. 30 - 60 mins after the first morning feed is a great time to pump. No matter when you pump, you can pump on one side while nursing on the other to take advantage of the baby-induced let-down and save yourself some precious time by multi-tasking. A hands free pumping bra like this one by Kindred Bravely, can help accomplish other tasks while you pump both sides.
If you feel stressed or angry when you feed or pump, this releases adrenaline into your bloodstream, which can seriously inhibit your milk flow. I’ve seen it with many clients especially through the pandemic. If you’re feeling down and aren’t able to express as much milk as usual, take a meditation break and pump later, try again when you’re feeling calmer and more relaxed. If you need mental health support, try Postpartum Health Alliance or Postpartum Support International. Get therapy if you need it, and for my melanated mamas try Therapy for Black Girls as a resource to find a trusted Black therapist.
Your chest storage capacity
This is the maximum amount of milk available in your breasts during the time of day when your breasts are at their fullest. Storage capacity is based on the amount of room in your milk-making glands, not breast size. People with a larger storage capacity usually pump more milk per session than those with a smaller storage capacity. What matters is how much the baby is getting over a 24-hour day, not per session, as it varies. Breast storage capacity explains many of the differences in breastfeeding patterns and pump yields that are super common. Baby may want to eat more often with smaller breasts(smaller storage capacity) and less often with larger breasts(larger storage capacity). Frequency at breasts does not always indicate a problem. Ask an IBCLC to help you determine if baby is getting enough at your chest with a weighted feed session.
Pump quality and fit
Automatic double pumps that generate 40 to 60 suction-and-release cycles per minute are most effective at expressing milk. Pump fit affects your comfort and milk flow. Pump fit is not about breast size; it’s about nipple size. It refers to how well your nipples fit into the pump opening or “nipple tunnel” that your nipple is pulled into during pumping. If the nipple tunnel squeezes your nipple during pumping, this reduces your milk flow and you pump less milk. A too-large or too-small nipple tunnel can cause discomfort during pumping. Small-breasted people can have large nipples and large-breasted people can have small nipples. Also, because few people are completely symmetrical, you may need one size nipple tunnel for one breast and another size for the other, this is normal.
You know you have a good pump fit if you see some space around your nipples as they move in and out of the nipple tunnel. If your nipple rubs along the tunnel’s sides, it is too small. It can also be too large with too much space around the tunnel. Ideally, you want no more than about a quarter inch of the dark circle around your nipple (areola) pulled into the tunnel during pumping. If too much is pulled in, this can cause rubbing and soreness. You’ll know you need a different size nipple tunnel if you feel discomfort during pumping even when your pump suction is near its lowest setting.
Formula Shortage or Natural Disaster
The return of your period has caused a dip in your supply of breast milk
Preemie or ill child/baby
Relactation - You stopped but would like to start again (results may vary)
Induced Lactation - Adoption/Surrogacy/Bonus Parents
Hormonal birth control methods
PIMS (perceived insufficient milk supply) due to PMADs or other mental health conditions
True Low Milk Supply
A true low breast milk supply can happen. When someone’s supply is low, it is often due to an underlying issue that prevents the person's body from producing the full needs of the baby. Some can be managed, but others cannot be changed or fixed. True low milk supply can be caused by a wide array of things from exhaustion to extreme stress, previous breast surgeries, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), belly birth or recovery from traumatic birth, certain medications, IGT (insufficient glandular tissue), underdeveloped breasts, some chronic illnesses, or lactation failure (rare).
Galactagogues: Do you really need those cookies and teas?
A substance that increases milk supply is called a galactagogue. Galactagogues can include foods, herbs, or medications. Some of the most commonly used herbal galactagogues are moringa, oats, fenugreek blessed thistle, and alfalfa. There are also prescription medications that can increase milk supply. Before you decide on any type of galactagogue, consider your reasons for doing so. Remain cautious about potential side effects or interactions and always ask a trusted IBCLC to help find out the root cause for your supply concerns and then you can make an informed decision on which galactagogue or medicinal options might be best and safest for you with a doctor and herbalist approval.
Some examples in which people consider using a galactogogue:
To increase pumping output, even if the baby remains well nourished with nursing.
Used in combination with increased milk removal by pump or baby with additional sessions of either or both.
Non-birth giving, adoptive, bonus and surrogate parents may wish to induce or increase the volume of milk to provide for a nursing baby/child.
Keep in mind, the methods for increasing milk supply that are non-herbal and non-medicinal are usually sufficient to provide the desired results, however if this has not worked on it’s own, adding a galactagogue to the mix/routine of increased feeding frequency and milk removal may be even more effective. Taking a liquid form of a plant, versus a dried powdered form, delivers more potent properties and is more readily absorbed into the bloodstream. Some types of galactagogues work better in particular situations and not in others.
All of these galactagogues, whether herbal or prescription medication, have potential side effects and drug interactions that must be considered for each individual person and baby. There are a good amount of herbs and prescription medicines that help to increase milk supply but also have related uses for digestive problems. Fenugreek, blessed thistle, fennel, alfalfa, metoclopramide and domperidone to name a few. People with blood sugar issues should refrain from using Fenugreek and opt to ask your lactation consultant about alternatives instead. Check with your lactation consultant and medical care provider for information specific to your individual circumstances.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: Now that we understand milk production. You know that Body armor, gatorade, drinks from Starbucks or any other chain, beer and other TikTok myths are not going to increase your supply! These drinks are all helpful in other ways like helping to balance or restore electrolyte balance in the body, which makes you well hydrated. I don’t care what Mariah Carey told you, Beer is not going to give you an abundant supply. If you feel tipsy or drunk you should refrain from breastfeeding until you are sober. You don’t need to dump your milk after 1-2 drinks but beyond that use with caution and proper guidance. If you want a beer, drink your alcoholic beverage and wait 2-3 hours before feeding or pumping. Clearing the alcohol from the bloodstream is the goal, small trace amounts may remain but will not be harmful to a healthy full term nursing baby. Some suspect beer to help because of the brewers yeast in it, while the yeast may have some slight impact on possibly increasing production, drink responsibly because there is a right and wrong way to drink and breastfeed, let me show you how in this video I made.
Some people like to try more non-conventional holistic methods like the use of cannabis or CBD products. It works similarly to beer in that it may help relax you and take the edge off, give you some happy feelings which promote a good letdown and flow of milk production; but it will not increase your supply. Because of insufficient long-term data on the outcome of infants exposed to cannabis via breastmilk, health professionals' opinions on the acceptability of breastfeeding by cannabis-using lactating people varies. According to the CDC Data is insufficient to say yes or no. I’m not generally opposed to it, but I think healthcare providers should--without bias--discuss these options on case by case basis. Learn more in my most viewed blog Cannabis & Breastfeeding : Lit Tits
A Few Commonly Used Galactagogues:
Probably number one most commonly used; I’m not a huge fan of it but some really like it, so I’m here for it but I’m not living for it! Mostly because it shouldn’t be used by just anyone for a plethora of serious health reasons. Blog coming soon “WTF?! What the fenugreek and other lactogenic herbs”. Stay following!
Eating a bowl of oatmeal, if nothing else, is healthy. Sometimes it can increase milk supply.
Oatmeal is a good source of iron. It is known that anemia/low iron levels can result in a decreased milk supply, so it makes sense that eating something high in iron might increase milk supply in some. Oatmeal is warm and comforting, anything that increases relaxation can encourage let-down, and hence improve milk supply/flow. Oatmeal, oat bran as well as fenugreek and alfalfa are known to decrease cholesterol. Oats are not associated with any adverse effects. Those with gluten sensitivity (celiac disease) should eat oats with caution.
No scientific evidence regarding oatmeal and milk supply, oatmeal does seem to work for some. In some countries, it is traditional folk medicine to eat oats for milk production.
Malunggay (Moringa) – A Super Food
Malunggay – also known as moringa, moringa oleifera, “miracle tree” – has traditionally been used to supplement the necessary minerals (iron, calcium, potassium, zinc), vitamins (A, C, E, and the B complex), and protein in pregnant and breastfeeding folks. It is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India, and widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas all over the world. This tree is miraculously packed with 90+ vitamins, minerals, vital proteins and amino acids, antioxidants, and omega oils, and is often used to treat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing people. Delivers anti-inflammatory support, promoting healthy digestion, increasing energy, and helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and circulation. It has also been used to reduce swelling and as an antibacterial agent. Specific to breastfeeding, people have used it for generations to support healthy lactation. As malunggay is comparable to other dark leafy greens, its incorporation into a lactating diet is safe for both lactating person and baby. Evidence shows that malunggay can act as a galactagogue, even among mothers who give birth to preterm infants. Moringa capsules are available in a liquid herbal extract and are vegetarian.