Hey there my lactating friends! As we all know, breastfeeding is not always smooth sailing! Most of us reach a point where we worry our baby isn't getting enough milk, and then wonder what we can do about it. We always recommend checking in with a lactation consultant if you're having serious (or minor) issues, but here are some tips to help you top up in the meantime!
1 - Eat and Drink More.
WHAT!? Is this lady insane? I thought by 'simple' she was actually going to tell me something I didn't know. She's over here telling me to eat and drink more...
Hear me out! Did you know that it takes between 200-500 extra calories per day to breastfeed? That doesn't seem like a lot, but it is more than you needed even in the last trimester of your pregnancy. This amount can increase to nearly 1,000 calories per day if you are nursing an older baby going through a growth spurt. For some women, even a small deficit in calories can create a noticeable drop in milk supply. I remember while nursing my 2nd baby, that even a mild workout at the gym would tank my supply for over 24 hours. I learned to load up as if I were going to run a marathon the night before I planned to workout, and that solved the problem. What kinds of things can help?
- Always carry healthy snacks in your purse. Hunger can be a sign you are in a calorie deficit, so curb that feeling immediately!
- Plan an additional healthy "mini-meal" into your day. A bowl of oatmeal with a dollop of greek yogurt mid-morning, for example.
- "Hack" something you already eat. Already having a green smoothie in the morning? Add some avocado, coconut oil, or flaxseed to up the calorie and fat content.
Ok, so what about fluids? I'm already drinking a ton of water all day! I don't know how I could possibly drink more without floating away!
You may be taking in enough fluids, but is your body holding on to it? We need adequate electrolytes to hold on to fluids long enough for them to hydrate us.
FUN FACT: Did you know mammary glands are really just modified sweat glands?
Yes, it's true. Every time you breastfeed, you lose electrolytes because it's almost like you are sweating profusely. If you are only drinking water and don't get enough minerals from your diet, you may be missing out on some important electrolytes. There is an easy fix for this:
- Drink an electrolyte replacing fluid at least once per day. Our favorite is coconut water for its other health benefits and low sugar content, but sports drinks can work in a pinch, too.
- Add concentrated mineral drops to your water. They are cheap and easy to find, and can have a huge benefit in your ability to balance fluid levels.
2- Increase Demand for Milk
Again...I already knew this...
Well, I did say this was simple! Outside of a truly medical reason for low supply, the majority of women's bodies produce breastmilk on a supply-and-demand system. The more demand there is, the more supply there will be.
But I've tried pumping and nothing comes out.
Yes, that is perfectly normal. If your baby is gaining weight well and yet you can't pump any extra milk, that means your body is producing the *exact right amount*. Our bodies are not meant to produce many extra ounces of milk, since that would be inefficient and not conducive to our survival as a species. However, if you're like me, you enjoy having extra just for the peace of mind (and stockpiled for a date night), so I get it! Here are some tips to increase demand:
- Netflix and Nurse. I know you've heard it before, but letting your baby nurse whenever they want (be the pacifier!) is really the best way to increase supply. Take a "nursing vacation" over the weekend and spend some time in bed with baby, just nursing and cuddling...and binge-watching your favorite show.
- Pump It. Pump It Real Good. You can also add a pumping session, but don't expect to get much or any milk right away. It will take a few days to a week for your body to "get it" and adjust. This is why babies get super "hangry" during a growth spurt; it's actually the week before the growth spurt that they get like this. Their instincts tell them to nurse more frequently to ensure your body has adjusted and will produce enough milk for their coming growth spurt. Our bodies are so amazing! The best time add a session is first thing in the morning, when our prolactin levels are highest, but any time of day is fine!
3 - Consider Using a Galactagogue
That sounds overwhelming...
A galactagogue is anything that, on its own, helps promote milk supply. It can be an herb (think fenugreek or fennel), a prescription medication, or a type of food. Always consult your doctor before using any type of medication or herb, since everyone can react differently (and some women may even have the opposite reaction to fenugreek, ending up with reduced supply). Using foods with known galactagogue properties is much safer and easier. Here are a few:
- Brewer's Yeast- A byproduct of the beer-making process, this yeast is full of protein, minerals, and vitamins, especially b-vitamins which breastfeeding women need lots of!
- Oats - A great complex carbohydrate and good source of iron.
- Flax- Full of omega-3 healthy fats, protein, and many other vitamins.
- Wheat Germ- More omega-3's, vitamin E, and a folate.
You can buy some of these and add them to your smoothies, cereals, and baked goods. If you're not up for chasing down ingredients or complicated baking right now, snag some of our made-to-order lactation cookies or lactation cookie mixes!
May your cup runneth over!
One last thing to remember before you go, is that none of these boosters will fix a low supply caused by a poor latch or tongue tie. They may provide a temporary "band-aid" to help you transition to a better latch (and better milk production!) but always consult a trained breastfeeding professional in those situations. Need help locating someone in your area? We would LOVE to help point you in the right direction. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did you learn something new from this post? Comment below!
Miesha Vargas is a mother of 4, a professional birth doula of nearly 8 years, a certified Lamaze childbirth educator, and the founder of Monarch Birth & Baby.