Recipe to increase supply

The 5 ingredients for boosting supply

By Emma Biggar, IBCLC

Last updated 22nd of January 2020

Are you concerned about low supply? Before you reach for the smoothies and the teas it can be helpful to have an understanding of the basics. Continue reading for a discussion of the main elements needed to boost supply.

Feed frequently

Spend as much time with your baby as possible and offer the breast at every opportunity. Frequent and effective removal of milk is needed to stimulate milk production. Remaining close with your baby increases the likelihood of picking up on subtle hunger cues so that you don't miss breastfeeding opportunities. Be guided by your baby and allow them to feed for as long as they like. Adhering to strict routines that may not align with your individual baby's needs can lead to low supply. As can cutting feeds short as it can reduce the amount of milk removed. Your body will make the amount of milk needed but can only know how much is needed by how much is removed. Spending time skin-to-skin is also known to influence milk production as well as continued night feeding. Click here to read more about breast milk production.

Investigate the cause of low supply

Despite the temptation, it's not ideal to jump straight into trying to fix the problem without getting to the bottom of whats causing your low supply. At least not if you are wanting to make effective and lasting improvements. Is it you, your baby or a combination of the two? You don’t have to accept that this is just how it is. Mothers often assume low supply is simply the result of their own body failing to make enough milk but true biological causes for inadequate milk production are rare. The vast majority of the time it has nothing to do with your body's ability to make enough milk but rather what is happening at the breast during feeds. It’s worth checking whether your baby is well attached and that they are removing milk effectively. Usually, when a baby latches on to the breast their tongue extends of their lower gum and cups the areola. Their suck generates negative pressure through their rhythmic tongue movements allowing them to stimulate your let-down and consume the milk. If any part of this is not functioning optimally, it will not matter that you have all the working mechanics needed for milk production as your body is not receiving the appropriate signals to maintain production. This often results in a decrease in supply over time. Playing around with attachment and positions can help you find the right fit. If you are unsure, seek support to assess underlying causes and ways to optimise breastfeeding for you and your baby.

Avoid the top-up trap

At times you might become overwhelmed with concern about whether your baby is getting enough milk. Well meaning friends and family might suggest you offer a bottle to top-up your baby. This might appear to help initially however many mothers report decreased supply over time. What happens, each time you feed using a method other than breastfeeding, your breasts miss out on the opportunity to be stimulated; a requirement to maintain supply. If you have offered both breasts to you baby and they still appear hungry, you can always go back to the initial breast. In fact you can continue switching sides until your baby is satisfied. This will work wonders and may be just the very thing needed to increase your supply. Click here to read about cluster feeding.

If you really do need to top up try to give minimal amounts rather than large quantities, express to replace the missed feeding signals and practice paced bottle feeding. If your goal is exclusive breastfeeding, it is worth having a plan and going back to investigating why the top-ups are needed. Click here to read more about the signs that your baby is getting enough milk.

Pump with a plan

There are many reasons a mother might find pumping helpful. Its useful to have a plan about when and why you are pumping and whether it is going to be a long or short term commitment. Perhaps your baby is not draining the breast effectively and pumping provides the extra stimulation needed to maintain production. For example, if the baby is premature or unwell and gets tired quickly at the breast. That little pumping session after a feed can help protect your supply until your baby is strong enough to take over. Some mothers might have periods of time when they are separated from their baby and pumping prevents a reduction in supply from missed feeding opportunities. This might be when you need to return to work. Other times pumping can be used to provide your body with increased signals to make more milk. Often this is done in a way that mimics cluster feeding. This might be pumping every hour for 5 minutes or pumping for 10 minutes every 20-30 minutes for several hours. However you choose to do it, the aim is to increase the frequency of milk removal. If you have a physiological reason for the low production or your baby has a congenital condition affecting their attachment, pumping in addition to feeding at the breast might be needed to maintain an adequate supply. This is usually the exception rather than the norm.

Remember, the amount of milk you pump does not indicate the amount of milk you can make. Babies tend to be far more effective at removing milk from the breast than the pump. For some mothers, their bodies simply don’t respond to a pump. They may find they are unable to get anything out despite being able to successfully breastfeed their baby. Sometimes parts of the pump can need replacing such as the seals and this ends up being the reason mothers are experiencing difficulty expressing much milk.

Stay positive and seek support

Not all breastfeeding looks the same. Sometimes there are hurdles you need to overcome before breastfeeding looks the way you expected. Other times it’s about optimising your breastfeeding and working with the situation as best you can. For many mothers, the support of a qualified IBCLC can prove priceless in helping to navigate and overcoming breastfeeding challenges.

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Emma Biggar is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Registered Nurse and mother of three. Emma provides in-home breastfeeding and early parenting support to families in the Eastern and South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Click here to read more about the types of services available or here to visit the online booking page. Contact Emma by email here or visit her website or Facebook page.