Updated April 14th 2023
Are you catching yourself comparing what you produce to someone else online? Social media is filled with with images of collection bottles filled to the caps and bags upon bags upon bags of frozen milk. But you shouldn’t compare yourself or feel bad about your milk production.
Most of what you see is either an over production or from some who exclusively pumps or is false and it’s days upon days worth in one image. What you produce depends on numerous factors including the time of day and how relaxed your body is. The average breast milk production for an infant over 4 weeks old is 3-5oz combined total from both breasts. This means if you were to pump in place of a feeding, you would pump somewhere around this number, again, from both – combined! The average breastmilk fed infant drinks about 24-32 oz per day. That’s over a 24 hour period.
Your baby’s appetite will fluctuate just like yours does. Some days more and some days less. Some people produce more for their baby because their baby eats more. Your baby is their own person with their own needs.
There are of course, times where you may not be producing enough. Usually you would be working with a lactation consultant to determine the root cause of your low supply. This is a topic I cover quite often with clients. You’re not alone if you’re concerned about your supply. So, I’ve put together a few of the suggestions I provide to clients.
More importantly than what a latch looks like is how it feels. I ask every parent I work with how the latch feels. The latch could look pretty good from the outside but if you’re in pain, or uncomfortable or it’s causing damage to your nipples, then it’s not a good latch and something needs to be adjusted.
A good latch should feel comfortable. You should feel a gentle tugging/pulling/stretching sensation or sometimes not much of anything. If you’re feeling anything other than that, the latch should be assessed by a professional. This includes compressing (nipple comes out squished) pinching or pain.
An optimal latch means your baby is able to drink milk so watching your baby for swallowing is a great sign they are getting milk. If they are drinking milk, it means milk is being removed from the breast which is ultimately how milk supply works. The more often milk is removed, the faster it is made (which means an increase!).
This short video explains the reason an effective latch can help support milk production.
Skin to skin
This is probably the most underutilized tool when it comes to increasing milk production. Spending time skin to skin means having your baby in a diaper on your bare chest. You can wear a bathrobe and just open it or be completely shirtless. Whatever you choose, you should be undressed from the waist up. Your baby should be in just a diaper. If it’s a little cool you can keep a light blanket over you both, making sure not to cover your baby’s head.
Enjoying time skin-to-skin with your baby releases oxytocin which is the hormone that helps your milk let-down. In addition, this provides comfort and a safe space for your little one. Skin to skin helps regulate your baby’s body temperature and reduces stress in both your baby and you. A lower level of stress helps support milk production. Your baby is biologically wired to want to be close to you.
You can also do skin to skin in a warm bath. This is another great environment to breastfeed your baby. Allow any attempt or opportunity your baby takes to breastfeed during skin to skin. The more often they are at the breast, the more opportunity to increase your supply.
Relax and Reduce Stress
It’s hard being a parent whether this is your first baby or your third. Having a baby changes your life and creates stress on your body. Your body is physically stressed due to a lack of sleep and just everyday life. Your body can also be nutritionally stressed. There are key vitamins and minerals you need more of when you are postpartum and lactating.
This stress can impact your body’s ability to produce milk. I like to encourage my clients to find a few relaxing activities and techniques to incorporate into their day. Most of these don’t take more than 5 minutes so very easy to fit into a busy day spent caring for a small person. These techniques and activities could include aromatherapy, journalling, deep breathing and meditation to name a few.
Hand expression is a valuable skill for all lactating parents to have. It is not cost prohibitive because all you need is your hands! It’s been shown that hand expression increases breastfeeding rates when compared to pumping at 2 months postpartum.
Hand expression is useful in the first 24 hours after birth as it can help assist with the transition from colostrum to copious milk production (your milk “coming in”) and assist with colostrum collection. Hand expression is also useful when working to increase supply because you can use this technique after your baby feeds at the breast or after you pump.
To learn more about hand expression and how to perform this technique, click here. I wrote an entire blog post dedicated to the subject!
Feed on Demand (aka Responsive Feeding)
If you have a newborn, your baby is experiencing hunger for the very first time. They had 24/7 access to nutrition via the umbilical cord in utero. It’s normal for them to want to feed every 1-3 hours. Often, it’s on the lower end of that.
Newborns eat frequently and the best thing you can do for your milk supply and breastfeeding is to feed them on demand. This is known as responsive feeding and essentially, is feeding your infant whenever they cue they are hungry.
These early hungry cues include your baby starting to open their mouth and smacking their lips. Your baby will begin rooting and turning their head. They will begin to increase their movement (arms and hands moving) and start to become more vocal to eventual crying if they are very hungry. Crying is a late sign of hunger. It’s actually a distress signal and it can make for a very frustrating and difficult time trying to latch them. You baby will need to be calmed first before trying to latch them.
Feeding an older baby should follow the same principle. As soon as they let you know they are hungry, feed them. Spacing out feeding or deliberately waiting can signal to your body to slow down milk production which can begin to reduce your supply.
As you’ve realized if you’ve read this far, there is no quick fix for milk supply but there are ‘fixes’. If something does claim to boost your supply overnight, it’s likely not backed by evidence. Yes, while there are people who claim a certain food or drink boosted their supply almost overnight, they likely just needed more calories and were a little dehydrated.
If you’ve tried everything on this list and checked out the associated links for more information but still find yourself struggling, connect with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. You deserve to work with someone skilled in lactation. The average pediatrician or nurse is not. You deserve the time and attention it takes to find the root of why you’re struggling.
Cheers to a confident breastfeeding experience!