Not being able to produce enough milk is a common concern for moms who are new to breastfeeding. But even if your output seems low, there are things you can do that can increase milk supply. “Most women don’t realize that they have choices about their milk supply, and that they can make it go up or down,” says Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA, author of several popular breastfeeding books including the new Breastfeeding Solutions.
In a nutshell, here’s what you should know about how to increase milk supply: If your breast is too full of milk, it tells the body to slow down milk production. But if the breast is drained, then that signals the body to speed milk production up. Some women may need to breastfeed more often to keep milk production stable and increase milk supply. “And this has nothing to do with breast size,” Mohrbacher adds. When it comes to milk production, “there is a whole spectrum of normal,” she says, so each woman must figure out how often she needs to pump and breastfeed to increase milk supply.
How to increase milk supply
To keep production stable and increase milk supply, begin to pump milk long before your first separation from your baby so that you have a supply on hand for those times when you need to go out—and for your eventual return to your job (plus, breast milk storage always makes life a little easier). “Aim to have two to three weeks of milk before returning to work,” says lactation consultant Corky Harvey, MS, RN, IBCLC, cofounder of The Pump Station, three breastfeeding support centers and stores in Southern California. To increase milk supply even more, add an extra pumping session at night or on the weekends, she suggests. (Finding the best breast pump for you makes it easier.)
Some medications can affect milk supply, says Richard Schanler, MD, Director of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York and professor at Hofstra University School of Medicine. “Oral contraceptives may lower milk supply, so mothers using them may need to breastfeed more often to increase milk supply,” he says. “Antihistamines and decongestants also may affect milk supply.” Talk to your doctor before taking any medications while breastfeeding.
Another breastfeeding secret that could increase milk supply: Some women swear that “milk teas” can boost milk production, says lactation expert Harvey. These herbal teas often found in health food stores contain fenugreek, fennel, and other herbs.