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How to boost your milk supply––the proven home remedies and what you can leave behind.
If you’re a nursing mom, you’ve probably wondered if your baby is getting enough milk. Breastfeeding is amazing, but your body doesn’t come with a Google search bar to tell you down to the ounce how much milk you’re producing. Most of the time, if your baby is gaining weight and urinating regularly, you have nothing to worry about.
But there are times when your breast milk production may dip, either because you go back to work or other environmental factors. People ask us all the time about tricks to increase milk production. We did a little “MythBusters”-style research to find out which home remedies can get your milk flowing, and which you can forget once and for all. (As always, we recommend that you speak with your doctor or an experienced IBCLC, if you’ve noticed a recent dip in your milk supply.)
1. Drinking Lots of Water
Remedy or Myth? A bit of both.
Don’t get us wrong, staying hydrated is important. But research has found that a mom’s level of hydration is not as closely linked to milk supply as we all think. Drinking more water helps when you’re severely dehydrated, but otherwise, your fluid intake (whether it’s high, low or fluctuating from day to day) won’t have a drastic impact on your supply. Be aware of your body’s needs, keep a water bottle or cup close by, and drink to satisfy your thirst.
2. Eating Oatmeal and Extra Calories
Image: Creative Commons
Remedy or Myth? Myth
There’s no scientific evidence that eating oatmeal will boost milk production. However, many people have given anecdotal evidence that it helps. If you want to try for yourself, it wouldn’t hurt to make a bowl with some yummy mix-ins and see if you pump a little more than usual. As for calories, an exclusively breastfeeding mom only needs 300 to 500 more calories than pre-pregnancy. It’s recommended that moms consume about 300 extra calories during the latter part of pregnancy, so this amount isn’t a huge change from before baby was born.
3. Taking Fenugreek and Other Herbs
Remedy or Myth? Myth
Although fenugreek and other herbs have been shown to increase milk supply in some cases, the research is inconclusive. Some moms experience no effect, while others can actually see a decrease in production. And this type of remedy can come with some icky side effects—ranging from sweat and urine that smells like maple syrup to digestive issues for mom and baby. Typically, moms don’t need to take herbal supplements or medications to help their supply.
4. Getting More Sleep
Remedy or Myth? Remedy
Sleep is good, but for a new mom, a full eight hours is typically a total fantasy. (Psst! Sleep deprivation is a real concern for new moms). While there isn’t much concrete research, adequate rest helps your body work at an optimal level and decreases stress. These are two positive outcomes for maintaining or increasing your breast milk supply. How do you get a little more rest? Nap when you can, go to bed early and have your partner put the baby back to bed after middle-of-the-night feedings.
Remember that it’s also a fine balance because breast milk production is all about supply and demand—the more milk removed from the breast, the more your body will make. So if you have dad feed the baby in the middle of the night while you get some extra sleep, you aren’t releasing as much milk during that time. For some moms, that “break” can hurt their supply if it happens too often or for too many hours at a time. Once your baby starts sleeping through the night, your body and milk supply will adjust accordingly.
Remedy or Myth? Remedy
If milk supply is based on demand, the best way to boost your supply is to increase the demand, i.e. remove more milk. To remove more breast milk, you might have to dedicate some extra time to the cause. Block off a weekend (two to three days) to curl up in bed or on the couch and just nurse, nurse, nurse. Or add some extra pumping sessions where you can—early in the morning, in the middle of the night or between nursing sessions. Power-pumping usually involves a daily hour-long session that mimics cluster feeding: pump for 20 minutes, rest for 10 minutes, pump for 10 minutes, rest for another 10, pump for 10. Try using “hands-on pumping”—massaging and compressing your breasts as you pump—or hand expression after pumping to get more milk out. For any of these techniques, the trick is to “empty” your breasts completely and frequently, so your body produces more.
So what does all of this mean? Our “MythBusters” exercise boils down to a few simple points: Take care of your body. Find what works for you. Remember that more milk out equals more milk made (supply and demand!), so nurse on demand and pump as frequently as you need. If you have concerns about your baby’s weight gain or how much milk they’re taking in, talk to your pediatrician and contact an IBCLC through The Lactation Network.