To increase breast milk, we first have to look at the cause of low milk production:
The Number One Reason For Low Milk Supply Is Not Breastfeeding Often Enough
Not breastfeeding often enough (or pumping enough if you are an exclusive pumper) is like a bodybuilder who only goes to the gym once every few weeks and wonders why he doesn’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
To increase breast milk supply you’ll need to pump or nurse All The Time. At least, it’ll seem that way. It’s hard work, but if your body is going to respond, it will respond within two weeks (often in less than a week). So understand that this is going to take some serious work for a week or two, but take comfort in knowing this breastfeeding marathon is only temporary.
Breastfeeding is a simple supply and demand system. The body has feedback mechanisms in place to match supply with demand. If demand is high, the body will work to increase breast milk production. When demand is low, breast milk production is cut. What we’re going to do is create an artificially high demand to coax the body to increase breast milk production.
The first step to increase breast milk production is to breastfeed baby whenever he acts hungry, roots or cries. Every time he starts to breastfeed note the time and write it down. Be sure you put baby back on the breast
two hours after the time you wrote down, if not sooner. It doesn’t matter when baby stopped breastfeeding – we only care about when he started breastfeeding. Breastfeed (or pump, if exclusively pumping) every two hours from the start of one feeding to the start of the next.
Allow baby to breastfeed for 10 to 15 minutes of active nursing then switch sides. It’s very important to have baby breastfeed from both sides, during each breastfeeding session. (Offering only one side, is a strategy used to correct an oversupply of breast milk!)
Active nursing is different from comfort sucking. During active nursing you’ll see baby’s jaw moving with long, strong pulls. You’ll see or hear baby swallowing. Active nursing usually lasts just 10 to 15 minutes and then baby will switch to comfort sucking. Observe your baby closely so you can see the difference. Keep baby actively nursing by getting him down to his diaper before nursing, talking to him during nursing, tickling him and anything you can do to keep him alert enough to be actively breastfeeding.
My second child was so relaxed about breastfeeding that we had to get a cold, wet wash cloth and put it on her neck to get her to wake up enough to breastfeed effectively, so sometimes keeping baby actively nursing for at least 10 minutes can require extreme methods.
After about 10 to 15 minutes you’ll see baby switch to comfort sucking. Jaw movements slow, baby’s eyes are usually closed, there’s very little swallowing. This is your cue to break the latch, burp baby, maybe walk him around for a few minutes to wake him back up and put him on the other side. Again keep baby stimulated for at least 10 minutes of active nursing.
After baby switches to comfort sucking on the second breast, break the latch and burp him again. Then set baby down and pump (or hand express) both breasts for 10 minutes or until no more milk is flowing, whichever is longer. It doesn’t matter how much breast milk you get during this pumping session. Even if you don’t get a single drop, you’re still creating that high demand to which your body will respond with an increase in breast milk.
If baby cries or roots around and it’s only been 20 minutes since you finished breastfeeding, put him back on and write down the new start time. Even if your breasts feel empty, put him back on. If you want to increase breast milk, it’s all about creating a huge demand for your milk.
If you’re like me, you will probably find all this extra breastfeeding and pumping difficult. I know it’s tough. I’ve been there. Just remember it’s a temporary sacrifice that will increase your breast milk supply. For me I’d get antsy spending so much time breastfeeding. I wanted to do something. I found if I had things to do nearby, like a book or magazine to read, or an iPad to play with, or an audio book loaded in the stereo or a Tivo remote I could make the best of the time and be productive or, at least, be entertained.
If you offer the breast at the two hour mark and he doesn’t want to breastfeed or is too sleepy to breastfeed, pump both sides for 10 minutes or until milk stops flowing, whichever is longer. If baby wants to nurse soon after this pumping session, be ready to give him some or all the breast milk that you pumped. Use a monoject to give the breast milk while he is breastfeeding.
Right before you go to bed, add a pumping session and pump both sides until empty then pump for five extra minutes. Pump for 10 minutes per side at a minimum.
Finally if your baby sleeps more than 4 consecutive hours at night, also add an additional feeding at night, sometime during that long stretch. I know how counterintuitive it is to wake up a sleeping baby, but the increased demand from this nighttime feeding will increase breast milk production.
The extra nighttime feeding is triply awesome. First it’s an additional feeding, which tells the body to increase breast milk production. Second it takes advantage of the body’s higher nighttime prolactin (milk-making hormone) levels. And third more milk is removed because you’re tired and relaxed. There is a down side of course. We all need sleep! If getting up is tiring you out, make it a priority to add a nap during the day to make up for the lost sleep.
All this increased breastfeeding & pumping can take its toll on your nipples so be sure to have proper latches every time. Use nipple-care products, such as those from Lansinoh, liberally as needed.
Follow this schedule for two weeks. Even if your breasts feel empty or nothing is coming out when you pump, stick to the plan. It’s not about how much milk is coming out, it’s about communicating with your body that it needs to increase breast milk production. It’s the mommy version of lifting weights. Lift weights now and bigger muscles will follow. Remove milk frequently now and an increase in breast milk will follow.
Now that you’re removing breast milk frequently enough, be sure you’re also removing it completely.