Lesson 46: How to increase milk production while pumping

When I first started pumping, I was producing 10 ounces in 10 minutes with no problem. Pumping was a breeze and I always managed to pump twice as much as I needed in one session. I also had a plentiful freezer stash of milk, so I didn’t worry about not having enough food for J in the beginning.

But as the weeks went by and my boobs were seeing more of my pump than my baby, my supply started dwindling. It happened slowly at first, but by the time he was 8 months old, I was starting to panic. My freezer stash was dwindling, and I wasn’t pumping enough to replace it. I knew that in just a few months I’d be faced with not having enough milk to send with my baby to daycare. Yes, I could have supplemented him with formula (and I eventually did), but that wasn’t my goal. I wanted to provide enough breast milk to at least get him through his 1st birthday.

Like I do with a lot of things, I obsessed over it–and the more I worried about it, the more my supply dwindled. Now while I was pumping at work, rather than tuning out the pump and busying myself with paperwork or whatever, I stared at the drops of milk landing in the bottle, watching it slowly climb to the 2 ounce mark. I would sometimes pump for 45 minutes, only to get a total of 3-4 ounces. By this point I had to start supplementing with formula (which was a struggle since he didn’t tolerate it well at first).

So I did what any Type A control freak might do in my position: I researched and I came up with a plan. And I did find a few things that worked for me.

Don’t panic. You may think your baby isn’t getting enough milk, but chances are, she is. It’s so hard to feel confident that they’re eating enough when you can’t actually see how much they’re eating. But unless she’s just not gaining weight, she’s probably eating enough. Don’t supplement unless you have to (but it’s okay if you need to!). The more you supplement, the less Baby is nursing. The less she’s nursing, the less milk your body will produce.

Nurse, nurse, nurse! The more you can get your baby to nurse, the more milk your body will produce. Even if you can’t get your baby to latch on, skin-to-skin is a great way to increase milk production.

Drink water. You should be doing that anyway, but make sure you’re drinking lots and lots of water!

Eat! You need to make sure you’re eating enough calories–now is not the time to stress over trying to get your pre-baby body back. You’ll only be nursing your baby for a short season of your life; you can focus on weight loss later. I’m not saying to be unhealthy, because it is important to get your calories from a healthy source. But many moms I know who struggled with milk production simply were not taking in enough calories to sustain production.

There are several different foods that are known for their milk-making properties. Try adding oatmeal, garlic, carrots, fennel, cashews, almonds, macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, and ginger to your diet.

Eat a lactation cookie or other lactation-boosting foods for breakfast. They’re actually quite healthy! You can order Milkin’ Cookies, BreastFast, or Milkin’ Tea from my Etsy shop here.

Nurse and pump. During the times you are able to nurse your baby, pump immediately after.

Take fenugreek. You need about 3500 mg a day in order to affect your milk production. Start on the low end and gradually increase your dosage until your pee smells like maple syrup. Yum. For more information on using fenugreek to boost milk production, go here.

Watch out for these things that can reduce supply: many birth control pills, supplementing, pacifiers, nipple shields, decongestants, stress, not getting enough sleep, illness, and scheduled feedings.

Know when to call it a day. Yes, there are ways of increasing your supply. And I encourage you to try some of them if you ever need to. While I definitely advocate breastfeeding, I highly recommend coming to peace with the fact that it’s very okay to supplement your baby with formula if you need to. It does not make you a bad or less-than mom.Breastmilk is great, but there can come a point where the negatives outweigh the positives. Remember, a happy mama is the most important thing to the health and well-being of your infant!

Resources for the mama who’s struggling to produce…

Is your newborn jaundiced? It’s not uncommon for a breastfed baby to have higher bilirubin counts than a formula-fed baby. Find resources here on breastfeeding a baby with jaundice.

Think your baby isn’t gaining enough weight? Remember that the average weight gain for breastfed babies isn’t the same as formula-fed babies.

Do you think your supply is low? It’s good to have a basic understanding of how your body produces milk before worrying too much. If it’s low, these tips can help.

Finally, you can find a lot of helpful articles on breastfeeding in general here.

4 comments on “Lesson 46: How to increase milk production while pumping

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