How to kickstart your milk supply and build it when you need more
If you’re wondering how to increase your breast milk supply so you always have enough when your baby’s hungry, I’ve wondered that too.
I remember sitting with my baby in my arms when she was a few weeks old. We had literally just finished nursing – like ten minutes earlier – and she was looking for my breast again. What was up? What was I supposed to do now? My boobs were soft and definitely not gushing milk – but little one was still hungry…
There’s a lot to understand about how breastmilk supply actually works and, frankly, you need a bit of patience and perseverance to figure it out.
Not medical advice – Please note that nothing in this post or website should be taken as medical advice.
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Milk supply is a learning curve
Looking to increase breast milk supply?
Are you over there with a hungry baby and empty boobs? Or trying to figure out breastfeeding while you’re still pregnant?
Milk supply is a big issue for nursing moms. It can be overwhelming – even make-or-break for your breastfeeding journey. And it’s hard to understand how it’s all going to work. How will your breasts know how much milk to make?
It also doesn’t help when you’re producing two drops of colostrum and your baby’s crying – or you’re wildly engorged and leaking.
How does breastmilk supply even work?
If you’re new to breastfeeding, you might not know how it all works.
Those boobs that for years just hung out looking pretty suddenly start producing milk and somehow they know what your baby needs and when so they can provide it. It’s pretty amazing really.
You’ll notice the changes in your breasts while you’re pregnant because those pregnancy hormones that can have you on an emotional rollercoaster are also telling your breasts to get ready to make milk. As you get closer to giving birth, you will find that you can already express drops of colostrum (the clear yellow very first milk) by hand if you try. This is your body making final preparations for your baby arriving.
Let’s talk colostrum for a second
So before baby arrives and for the first few days after, what your breasts produce is called colostrum. It doesn’t look much like milk because it’s clear – you’ll know your milk has come in when it turns white. (Also because the volume will go up like crazy.)
But for those few days, you might feel frustrated. Your baby is rooting and looking for your nipple but you know there’s only a tiny amount coming out each time. It seems like they’re hungry all the time and you start to wonder if something’s wrong with you but it isn’t. It takes time for your milk to come in and during those colostrum days your baby is getting tiny amounts of highly nutritious food.
Unless your healthcare providers are telling you otherwise (because that’s who you need to listen to – the professionals who are right there with you and your baby) you should be fine to wait it out and keep nursing whenever baby wants until the milk arrives.
But that tiny baby looking for the breast all the time is just doing exactly what he’s meant to – working on your supply.
Supply and demand breast milk production
Did you know that breastmilk works on the supply and demand principle? Your baby demands and your boobs supply.
This means that the more you breastfeed, the more milk you will make because every time you remove milk from your breasts by nursing your baby or pumping, you send a signal to your body to make more milk.
Sometimes, it might feel like you aren’t producing enough milk because your baby wants to feed ALL THE TIME. You’ve literally sat and nursed for an hour and they doze off and you relax and gaze lovingly at them – or wonder if you dare try to move them so you can pee?
Ten minutes later they wake up again and they are rooting and turning towards your breasts – AGAIN! You can’t believe it and begin to wonder if you have low supply – but it’s probably not you. Babies come to the breast a lot when they need to build up mommy’s supply. So the first few days with a newborn are pretty full-on with breastfeeding. Then it might settle down a little and you might get longer between nursing sessions – but as soon as baby hits a growth spurt they’ll be back breastfeeding constantly again.
And your breasts are always producing milk for your baby while they’re feeding so even if you have soft, floppy breasts that feel empty and sad, don’t worry – your baby will still be getting milk. Probably rich, fatty hindmilk, which is more satisfying than the watery milk that at the beginning of a feed.
So even if it feels like it won’t do any good, nurse more to increase breast milk supply.
Different types of breastmilk – foremilk and hindmilk
Well, they’re not really different types – it all comes from the same place – but you will notice that the milk at the beginning of a feed (foremilk) is different to the breastmilk later on in a feed (hindmilk).
Foremilk is watery and looks almost grey when you pump it. It’s the milk you might find spraying out as soon as you remove your nursing pad – or even in the shower or bath. If it’s going all over your baby’s face, that’s probably foremilk. It’s great for quenching baby’s thirst when they start feeding but the longer they feed, the more hindmilk they will be getting.
Hindmilk is important because it’s thicker and fattier – which means that it’s better for satisfying an infant’s hunger. It’s also whiter and creamier to look at in the bottle when you pump. Your poor, overused empty breasts will actually be producing small amounts of really rich milk if you let your baby latch on again very quickly after a feed.
How to get your milk supply going
The first order of business – once you figure out how to latch your baby on without feeling like you’re breastfeeding a vampire – is to figure out your milk supply. Baby is hungry and mama wants to provide – but what’s the best way to get a rocking milk supply?
In theory, it’s easy.
Let baby do his or her thing. Ignore housework. Let friends cook for you. Eat pre-frozen meals and stay in bed with your baby, nursing loads and enjoying skin-to-skin. All that closeness sends messages to your body to make lots of milk.
Just letting your baby breastfeed to their heart’s content is the #1 way to get your milk supply going. I know it’s not that easy if you have other kids or you’re on your own, but seriously try to find a way to make time to just nurse lots. It’ll do great things for your early breastmilk supply.
This takes patience when you feel like you’re not getting a break. You might worry that you’re not providing enough or you’ve got a super hungry baby but it’s most likely just your little one instinctively building your supply for you. If you feel like you should offer formula, try telling yourself, “One more time.” Often, you’ll tell yourself that a few times – but eventually, it will be THE time. The time when they go to sleep for a while after feeding and you get an actual break.
How to increase breastmilk supply
You’ve done all that but baby is ALWAYS hungry and you just want to make more milk?
Ok, well – you to need to pump.
Pumping alongside breastfeeding helps with milk supply because you are removing extra milk from your breasts. Just like we saw above, that tells your body to make more because your body doesn’t know that that milk is in the fridge and not in your baby. It just knows some milk has gone and needs replacing.
That also sounds simple – but how do you manage to pump AS WELL when your baby is sucking up every last drop you are making?
Have faith in your body and what you’re doing – even though in the moment it feels like it’s not working. If you hang in there it is going to get better. Tell yourself this when you have to keep pumping even with no milk coming – and when you’ve just finished pumping and your baby wants the breast again. It will work out. It will also increase breast milk supply.
So – when to pump?
Pump between feeds to increase supply
It’s tough on you any which way. You need to pump to get your body to produce more milk so try pumping between feeds. Do it even though you’re tired and can’t be bothered and even though you’re worried you won’t have enough milk for baby’s next feed.
Pumping between feeds tricks your breasts into thinking that baby is feeding more often and needing more milk so if you pump between feeds a few times, your supply will go up.
Pump after feeds
Pumping after a feed works the same way – but you might not collect so much milk this way. If you aim to pump for ten minutes after each feed, you might do the whole time without collecting a drop. How disheartening!
But go easy on yourself and keep going. It’s still a great way to build your supply because even though you’re not getting milk, that right away tells your breasts that they need to produce more milk because the baby is still demanding but no milk is coming.
If your babies are anything like mine, there’s rarely any milk to pump at the end of a feed. We’re doing this on the hope and promise that more milk will come.
Pump during feeds
Latch your baby on first and get the milk flowing then apply the pump to the other side. If you’re using a Haakaa, all you need do is attach it and make sure your baby isn’t going to kick it off. It will do the rest, collecting milk for you effortlessly and building your supply.
Tips for getting more from your pump
The more often you pump alongside breastfeeding, the more milk you will make – even if you are pumping and nothing is coming out. But sometimes we all just want to see the fruits of our labours – or more milk in the pump bottle.
Here are a few tricks that helped me squeeze every drop from my breasts when they weren’t cooperating.
Heat helps your let down
A warm compress like a warm flannel held to your breast will often help a little more milk to flow – and so will a warm drink. If you really want as much milk as you can get, drink a cup of tea while holding a warm compress on your breasts then pump right away. Pump while you are actually drinking or holding the compress for the best results.
Relax – and distract yourself
How relaxed are you feeling? Maybe not very relaxed. Milk supply issues can go deep for moms – maybe you’re even feeling like you’re failing as a mom because your baby is always hungry even though you’re doing your best.
Let me tell you right now that you aren’t. You’re a great mom. We’ve never met and we probably never will but I know that already because you cared enough about your milk supply to read this big long post. Worrying and trying to fix your issues is exactly what great, devoted moms do. (Yes, formula feeding moms also love and are devoted to their babies.)
If you ARE stressing about your supply, this is just a little nudge to try and relax. To take your mind off your milk supply for a little while even though you’re pumping.
If you’re feeling tense (maybe because you feel like you haven’t pumped enough milk yet) that doesn’t help your milk along. For the most milk output and to really increase your milk supply you need to relax while you pump. Don’t watch the pump bottles filling up. Turn on a TV show you like or read something funny – anything to stop yourself stressing over your pump.
Move the flanges around to get more milk
Sometimes it helps to stimulate a different part of your breast for a while, so if the milk has stopped flowing, change the angle of the pump a little. Angling it up or down or left or right a few degrees without actually taking it off will change how it’s stimulating your breast and might grab you an extra ounce. Even pressing down a little more than usual can help.
Change pumps for more milk
Or, why not try totally changing how you’re pumping to see if that helps? If you have more than one pump, switch to the other one, or slap on your Haakaa for a while. The constant suction of a Haakaa might be just what your breast needs to let down a little more after the rhythmic pulsing of an electric pump or the intense, long pulls of a manual.
Can you offer formula when your baby seems to be hungry constantly?
Of course you can. This is your baby and you can do this your way.
The only thing to bear in mind is that if you give a formula top-up, that’s a breastfeed less. It’s one less message to your body to make more milk for your baby. It’s better for your supply to keep breastfeeding – but it might be better for your sanity to top up.
This is about your priorities and how much exclusively breastfeeding matters to you.
How to have the best breastmilk supply you can
So remember at the start when I said my baby was hungry and she had only just fed – and I wondered what to do? Well, I learned everything I could about breastfeeding and was very patient and determined. (My partner might disagree about the patient bit but I’m standing by it.)
Pumping between and after feeds really helped – even though I sometimes had to feed that pumped milk to my baby soon after.
And telling myself, “Just once more,” when I had to feed again – right after another feed – was a total game-changer. As silly as that sounds, it helps.
Maybe it’s because the hardest part is not knowing when your baby is finally going to settle and give you a little peace, and if you tell yourself it’s going to be now, it helps. It even helps if it might not be true. It sure helped me and I’d love to know if it helps you.
Learn to breastfeed now and benefit when your baby comes
And remember to check out Milkology’s Ultimate Breastfeeding Class – Stacey’ll have you confident and excited to start nursing in no time.
Check out these breastfeeding posts too
This post from Kellymom