The most stressful part of being a breastfeeding mother is when baby is eating more than you produce. The best way to increase your supply is to nurse – get yourself some snacks, a big glass of water, and settle in bed for some skin-to-skin and marathon nursing sessions while friends and family help take care of everything else. Sounds fabulous, right? While this is great advice, it just isn’t feasible for all of us. Whether you are back to work, exclusively pumping, busy with older siblings, or simply don’t have the local support system to make a few days of just nursing work, some of us need some other tricks to boost our supply. If you are not quite producing enough or of you just want to build up a little bit of a freezer stash for breathing room (or a night out of adult time) here are a few good tips to increase your supply.
INCREASE PUMPS. A good way to increase supply is to increase pumping time. Pumping every 2-3 hours, around the clock if you can make it work, will help to empty your breasts more often and trigger your body to produce more. Pumping is most effective if you practice hands-on pumping, which involves massaging the breast while the pump is running. If you are double pumping, a hands-free pumping bra is a lifesaver so that you can keep the pump running on both sides while you use your hands to massage one side at a time. Even just adding one or two more pumping sessions per day will help build your supply.
Keep in mind when increasing pump time that you should add up the total ounces per day, not per pump, when tracking your output. For the first few days to a week your output will probably stay the same or decrease slightly, but it will be spread out over more pumps so each individual pump total will drop. You should start to see an increase after the first week. Also, you should try to keep your total pump time per day under 3 hours, you need to remember to balance pumping with all of the other things that are taking your time, you have a new baby to care for, you are recovering from childbirth, and you need to take care of yourself in order to be able to give the best care to your baby, not to mention exhaustion is a major cause of decreasing supply.
POWER PUMPING is in my opinion the best way to increase your supply. Power pumping mimics cluster feedings and will boost your output. Choose one pump per day where you can set aside just over an hour to pump without major interruptions. My favorite time was right after the kids both went to bed, armed with good high protein/high fat snacks, a big glass of water, and a DVR full of missed shows to catch up on. Having a hands-free pumping bra is a must, that way you can get everything set up and just turn on/off as you go. The timing of a power pump is as follows:
20 minutes on
10 minutes off
10 minutes on
10 minutes off
10 minutes on
When power pumping it is important to remember that the times are estimates. If you are in the middle of an active let-down and your timer goes off, keep pumping until the milk stops flowing or you are only getting drops at a time. Stop for the full 10 minutes, and then start again. Make sure to massage well while you are pumping, and don’t worry if nothing comes out in the later pumps. It isn’t about instant results, it is about putting in an order for more milk later. The main drawback of power pumping is the lack of instant gratification. It will take at least 2-3 days for you to notice an increase.
INCREASE CALORIE INTAKE. I know, we are all trying to drop a few of those extra pregnancy pounds. Trust me, I’m almost 3 years post-partum and it is still a work in progress! You are a new mom. You have a tiny human relying on you for everything in their life and you are trying to figure out how to balance caring for your new baby, caring for your home, and caring for yourself. It is so easy to put yourself last, not to mention that when you finally get to sit down and relax for a minute it is hard to drag yourself up to make a meal or even a snack. Technically you only burn about 500 extra calories when breastfeeding, so you don’t need a lot more. Many of us, though, don’t get the intake we need to begin with, so we are hurting our supply without even knowing it.
Oatmeal, Gatorade, nuts/nut butters, garlic, kale, spinach, and lactation cookies that contain flax or brewer’s yeast are thought to be good foods to increase supply, but in reality none of them are a “magic food.” The most likely cause of your supply increase is due to the increase of good nutrients that make your body work better in general, the extra milk is a happy side-effect of eating better. Most often these things are added to your diet as opposed to replacing something (i.e. adding steel-cut oatmeal and berries for breakfast when previously you skipped breakfast), so the caloric increase is helpful as well. Most importantly, give up on restrictive dieting to lose weight unless you are working with a professional that has experience in breastfeeding. It took nine long months to put on that weight, and it always takes longer to lose than it does to gain. Be patient, realize that your body is AMAZING – you actually BUILT a BABY! Carry yourself with confidence and make sure that you choose a healthy route if you are trying to lose weight.
HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS are thought to be another way to increase your supply. Personally I have a love/hate relationship with these. I love that there are moms out there that have seen a big increase in milk supply from taking fenugreek, fennel, goat’s rue, blessed thistle, etc., but I hate that there are no large-scale studies that show effectiveness of the herbs. What I do know is that each woman is different, just like each baby is different, so herbal supplements will work differently for everyone. The most important thing to do before you begin taking any herbal supplement is to talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or herbalist about any other medications you are taking and discuss with them which side effects you should be watching for when you begin taking a supplement. Some supplements for lactation hinder the absorption of other medications or cause uncomfortable side effects that can create issues for you that may in turn cause your supply to decrease.
Increasing your supply is hard work, and requires a good support system. If you are trying to increase your supply and want to talk to one of our lactation professionals to help establish a plan, give us a call at (815) 758-0911 x 301. If you are interested in purchasing replacement pump parts, a hands free pumping bra, or any herbal supplements visit our web store at www.lehanbreastpumps.com.
Blog post written by:
Patricia Hager, CLC
Breast Pump Operations Coordinator
Last Modified: Wednesday 11th March 2015