I didn’t know what to expect when I first tried breastfeeding. While in the hospital with my firstborn, my milk took a long time to come in and the lactation consultant advised me to start pumping. Even though she was getting colostrum from pumping and nursing, I was worried that Abby wasn’t getting enough to eat. A couple of days later my milk came in and all was well. Later on I had an excess amount of milk. Although I was nursing several times during the night, I often woke up with wet pajamas, having soaked through my nursing pads. I eventually ended up nursing for eighteen months all together, though the last few were only night time feedings.
Things were different with my youngest child. As if my body was ready to get started right out of the gate, my milk came in quickly. Everything was rosy until a few months later when his demand quickly topped my supply. Oscar likes to eat and at times it is hard to keep up with pumping enough milk to keep on hand, but I am happy to have made it a whole year.
It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes I worried, doubted, and questioned whether or not I should supplement, give up, or carry on. I have read many articles over the past few years with “tips and tricks” promising to increase breastmilk, but often the articles are disappointing because they give recipes for magic cookies or smoothies with expensive ingredients, tell you to take some weird herb that I can never find where I shop, or call for power pumping- ain’t nobody got time for that- or at least I don’t.
I have found that the following tips have helped me increase my supply when it has threatened to bottom out, due to less time to pump at work, sickness, having to pump and dump because I took my migraine medication, stress, and other every day issues.
1. Drink lots of water
One of Abby’s picture books says something like, “A cow drinks a bathtub full of water to produce milk every day…” The first step I take whenever I want to increase my milk production is to drink more water. I often find myself forgetting to drink water at work or when I am busy at home, so I fill a gallon jug with water and set an hourly reminder. This helps me to drink all the water I need, easily keep track of how much I have drank, and how much I still need to drink. Also, I noticed that I tend to drink more water when it is very cold and when I have a straw, so I use an insulated mug.
2. Traditional Medicinal Mother’s Milk Tea
Coriander, fenugreek, fennel, and anise are herbs that make up this organic tea made by Traditional Medicinal. These herbs have been used as traditional supplements to help increase breastmilk production. The tea has a slight licorice flavor, which I enjoy. I noticed a difference in how much milk I was pumping when I drank two cups of tea daily. Unfortunately, my son seemed to be grumpy and have tummy troubles when I was drinking it, so I stopped. I have a couple of boxes to tea leftover and I will probably drink it again after I finish nursing, just because I enjoy the taste.
3. Watch videos of baby while pumping
Not only is it entertaining to watch videos of my adorable kid while I am sitting in the boring pump room at work, but watching the videos also makes my milk let down faster. I will sometimes pump for a few minutes and then watch a video for a second let down. The videos are also good for a quick mood pick-me-up when I am sad that I am at work instead of at home loving on my baby.
4. Use a second let down
I use the Medela Symphony pump and it has a handy little button on it to stimulate a second let down. The rhythm of the pumping changes to a faster, shorter suck to trigger your body to get the milk flowing again. I previously used a different pump that did not have this button and I like the Symphony much better.
5. Pump or nurse more often to stimulate more milk production
The more you nurse or pump, the more milk your body will produce. Increasing the number of pumping sessions per day mimicks an infant cluster feeding. Increased demand should increase supply.
When breastfeeding a woman should eat a balanced diet, continue taking a prenatal vitamin, and eat around 500 extra calories a day in order to make breastmilk. Don’t try to cut your calorie intake too low in order to lose baby weight: you don’t want your body to try to hold on to all the calories you’re taking in and not have enough to produce milk. If you are not getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, your body will begin using minerals from your body (like calcium from your bones) to make up for what it is lacking. “It will suck it right out of you!” as my doctor says.
7. Be comfortable
When you are getting ready to nurse or pump, get comfortable. Have a drink or snack next to your chair. Keep a blanket keep a blanket or shawl in your favorite nursing spot or pump bag. The pump room at the hospital where I work has the temperature on the thermostat locked in at 67 degrees Fahrenheit- you know it was a man who did that, a woman would know better. It often gets down right chilly and I have to keep a shawl on hand so I am not freezing with my shirt or dress off. When you are uncomfortable, you may rush and not get as much milk as you would have otherwise.
Don’t stress! Don’t freak out about how much milk you are producing (or not producing). Find ways to relax that work for you, such as listening to music, watch a favorite movie, meditate, take a warm bath, or snuggle.
According to Baby Center, “Some studies show that physical and mental stress can slow the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream of a breastfeeding mother. If you’re producing less milk because oxytocin is in short supply, relaxation is key.
9. Keep a momento handy
With my first baby I kept a favorite newborn sleeper that she had outgrown in my pump bag. It was soft and snuggly. It reminded me of her. It smelled of her. I could just touch the fabric or smell her scent and immediately let down. If I didn’t have my bra on or my pump flanges up to my breast, milk would literally shoot across the room. A blanket or stuffed toy would also do the trick.
10. Ask for help
If you have questions, are struggling, or just need guidance, don’t be afraid to ask for help. A health care provider, lactation consultant, friend, mother’s group, or others are there to support you. My lactation consultant was incredibly helpful and took time to answer all of my questions and even do research for me.
There are lots of resources available such as Le Leche League, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Nurse Midwives, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among others. Each of these organizations have tons of information and can help. Your provider or your child’s pediatrician can give you information from these organizations or you can find info online.
Stay strong, mama.
If breastfeeding doesn’t work out for you, that’s OK. If you have to supplement or use formula, that’s OK. Fed is best.