The absolute number one concern I get from breastfeeding mothers is that they are worried about their breast milk supply.
In addition to being an L &D nurse, my background in nursing includes being a Team Leader on a very busy postpartum floor. I’ve taken care of numerous women right after they deliver their baby. They consistently want to know what to do to increase their breast milk supply. I mean it, almost every single breastfeeding woman brings up this issue at some point.
For some reason, our culture makes women believe that they will have difficulty producing enough milk to feed their young. The thought is so pervasive, that even women that haven’t delivered their babies yet, are doubtful, often saying they are going to “try” to breastfeed, but only if they have enough milk! I think often times grandparents, other family members and friends probably play a role in diminishing the woman’s confidence, unfortunately. It’s so common to hear family members say, “I bet he’s hungry, he’s crying so much!”
For another great resource on breast milk supply, check out MomSmartNotHard’s post: How to Increase Your Milk Supply: Everything You Need to Know About Milk Production
If you are pregnant or just had a baby and wondering whether you have enough or feel like you don’t, I’m here to teach you one amazing trick that will without a doubt increase your breast milk supply! It’s going to take some work and effort from you, but believe me, it’ll be worth it for the piece of mind knowing that your body is producing enough milk and your baby is satisfied and happy.
The magic trick is…… da da da da dum:
The following tips will work to increase your supply wherever you are in your breastfeeding journey. Although it’s best to start right from day one, if you ever need a boost in your supply, this is the best way to do it!
How Your Breast Milk Supply Works
How do your breasts work when you’re breastfeeding? Have you noticed a change in their size and shape during your pregnancy? The reason for that is your body is stimulating the milk duct system and your breasts are starting to produce colostrum (the first milk) and are getting ready to feed your newborn. This takes place in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Your breasts have milk ducts all around them, that all lead to your areola (the dark part of your nipple). There is also blood flow all around the milk ducts, which introduces fluid and nutrients into the milk.
Simply put, once you’ve birthed your baby, your body starts to produce copious amounts of milk. I say copious, but it won’t seem like a lot to you at first.
In the beginning, your baby’s stomach is extremely small, about the size of a small cherry. In addition, your baby will not come out starving (whatever your aunt says!). They usually have enough reserve to last them the first 24 hours without feeding at all.
Just a quick reminder, I’m talking about full-term healthy infants that don’t have issues with their blood sugar, or other health problems. If you have a baby with any issues, please consult your doctor in regards to feeding.
So, knowing their belly is small, it makes sense that they won’t need a ton in the first feedings. Really, a few drops of colostrum will suffice! Since their stomachs are small, they will fill quickly, but also empty quickly. Hence why babies want to feed very frequently in the beginning. The norm is every 2-3 hours, but more than that is perfectly acceptable and normal as well.
Supply and Demand
So, how can you produce more milk as your baby’s stomach grows? Well, your breasts work using supply and demand. Or to think of it a bit differently, demand and supply! The more the baby feeds, and the more often he or she empties the breast, the more milk your breasts are going to make. This is how your body knows that you are feeding a newborn. If you don’t feed as frequently as needed, or if you stop feeding altogether, your breasts will get the signal to stop making breast milk.
Here’s a myth for ya: Once the baby is done feeding the milk is finished and the breast is empty.
Well, no, not really. Your breasts are constantly making milk. So, even if the baby just fed and wants to feed again, there will be milk there. And actually, it’s a good thing. Your body will get the sign to make more milk.
How then can you make EVEN more milk than that? You guessed it! By taking more milk than your baby does OUT of your breasts. This is called hand expressing. Hand expressing won’t only increase your supply, it will also make your milk come in faster! So why wouldn’t you try this awesome technique?
Hand Expression: The Surefire Way to Increase Your Breast Milk Supply
Hand expression will increase your supply by giving your body the signals to make more milk. It’s that simple! As I said, it will take a lot of work and effort for you, but that work will most definitely pay off. To get the best results I would recommend hand expressing your milk after every feed. You will be exhausted, so try as much as you can to sleep afterwards, between each feed would be ideal (goodbye auntie…). Also, make sure you drink LOTS of fluids and eat as healthy as you can. All those things will help to keep your supply up as well.
Try to hand express for 15 minutes after each feed. Just so you know, you might not get any more milk out during these sessions. That’s not to say it isn’t there! Just the act of stimulating your nipples and breasts will increase your breast milk supply, so don’t worry even for a minute. Also, just because you can’t get any more milk out DOES NOT mean that your baby didn’t get enough during the feed. Our babies are the best at getting the milk out, nothing compares to them. I’m sure you’re baby got some breast milk, even though you weren’t able to express any after the feed.
Start by washing your hands and getting into a comfortable position in a private area. It’s better if you’re sitting up so that gravity isn’t working against you. Be sure to have a container ready that you can use to put the milk you express into. This can be a spoon, cup, syringe or anything clean really.
Expose your breast or breasts fully and start by massaging one of them in a circular motion, working from your shoulder and all the way down to your nipple. This will stimulate the letdown reflex. Take it slow! There is no need to rush, and actually, being stressed and rushed can be counter productive and hinder the letdown reflex and your milk won’t flow as well.
Make a “C” with your thumb and forefinger and place your fingers about an inch away from your areola. Remember, you are expressing your breasts and not your nipple, there is no need to be super close to the nipple. Gently push your fingers back and then squeeze. You are trying to emulate what the baby does when he or she feeds, so don’t bring your fingers too far forward close to the nipple, that might cause you to stop the flow.
Sometimes it takes a few squeezes for the milk to start to flow, so maybe nothing much at all comes out. That is totally ok, stick with the technique and remind yourself that you are stimulating your breast to make more milk. Stay positive! Whatever milk you do express, collect into your container. You do not have to stay in one place the whole time. Move your fingers all around the areola because there are milk ducts all around that you can express milk from.
It can be helpful to massage your breast in between squeezes, to release more milk down. It’s up to you whether you hand express from both breasts or just one in each sitting. If you prefer to switch between breasts, that is perfectly ok. Usually, the recommended time is about 15 minutes for each session. If you’re exhausted you can teach your partner or family member and they can do it while you rest.
After the hand expression session (who knew I could rap?), feed the milk you get to your baby. If your baby is super sleepy and won’t take any extra, save it for later!
I highly recommend the video below, it goes into detail on the technique of expressing breast milk. It might be easier to understand from a video demonstration than from a boring text, so give it a watch!
If you follow this technique and do it after every single time you breastfeed your baby, within a few days, you will most certainly have tons of milk. Also, if your milk hasn’t “come in” yet, this will speed up that process.
Must Watch Amazing Video From Dr. Jane Morton
This video was part of the education for all new moms at one of the hospitals I worked at. It’s about 7 mins long, but totally worth it if you have the time.
Piece of Mind: How to Know Your Baby is Getting Enough?
Check out my other blog post on breastfeeding to know whether your baby is getting enough. Basically, you want to watch his or her output and have them weighed by their health care provider. All babies lose weight right after birth, but they should start gaining back around the 4th day postpartum. The chart I shared in that post from Best Start is a great guide in knowing how much and how often your baby should be feeding, peeing and pooping.
Once your supply is well established and your baby is getting enough (and you know it!), stop hand expressing after every feed. There is such a thing as too much supply and sometimes it can lead to problems, and we don’t want to go there!
I’d love to hear from my readers, send along stories about breastfeeding for everyone to learn from! If you’re not too shy I will post your story.