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How to Increase Your Milk Supply

How do my breasts produce a generous supply of milk?

Your breasts should produce plenty of milk if:

  • your baby stimulates your breasts by nursing regularly and effectively
  • your breasts are regularly and effectively drained by breast-feeding or breast pumping).

Typically, the more milk you remove from your breasts, the more milk you will make. If your milk supply is low, there is a good chance you can increase it by stimulating and emptying your breasts more effectively. In general, the longer your milk supply has been low, the longer it will take to produce more milk. In some cases, it may not be possible to increase a very low milk supply to normal levels.

What causes a low milk supply?

Most often low milk supply is due to not draining the breasts effectively. Causes of a low milk supply include:

  • having a non-demanding, sleepy baby who does not nurse often enough or who does not suck vigorously
  • being separated from your baby during the first week after delivery (for example, if your baby was sick and you were not able to nurse or pump)
  • having a baby who sucks improperly and doesn't empty your breasts well
  • regularly using formula supplement, causing your baby to nurse less frequently
  • having a baby who sleeps though the night (6 or more hours) without nursing
  • being ill yourself with complications after delivery, such as high blood pressure, anemia, or an infection
  • being under a lot of stress, going on a weight-loss diet, or going back to work
  • having very sore nipples
  • having had previous breast surgery, especially with an incision around your areola.

A few women are unable to make sufficient milk even though they are nursing a vigorous, healthy baby and using proper technique. Sometimes no apparent cause can be found for a mother's low milk supply. It is not true that every woman can breast-feed successfully.

How do I increase my milk supply?

  • Try to nurse your baby more often.

    If your baby is sleepy, undress your baby to wake her up. Try switching breasts every 5 minutes.

    During feedings, support your breast with your thumb above and four fingers below. If your baby is sleepy or stops sucking when the flow of milk slows down, use breast compressions to help your baby keep sucking. Compress your breast firmly, but gently, to squirt a spray of milk into your baby's mouth. You do not need to hold the compression. Just compress, release, then compress, and release again. These breast compressions can help your baby get more milk from your breasts.

    If your baby is underweight, premature, ill, or has neurologic problems, your healthcare provider may suggest that you limit the length of each breast-feeding so you don't tire the baby. As your baby gets stronger, she can nurse for a longer time. Meanwhile, your baby probably will need extra feedings until your milk supply increases and she gains more weight. You can use pumped breast milk for these extra feedings, and additional formula, if needed.

  • Pump your breasts.

    Use an electric breast pump to remove extra milk after feedings about every 2 to 3 hours. Try to pump right after you nurse your baby. You can go 5 hours without pumping one time at night, but aim for 7 pumpings every 24 hours.

    Record the amount of milk you pump each time. The totals for each day will help you see how much your milk supply is increasing.

    Using an electric breast pump to stimulate and empty your breasts is especially important if your baby needs extra feedings of pumped milk. Babies getting extra feedings may nurse less often, and some who are fed with a bottle will nurse less effectively.

    To find where you can rent a pump, call Hollister at 1-800-323-4060 or Medela at 1-800-835-5968.

  • Drink plenty of fluids, eat well, rest, and get support from friends and family.

    Drink plenty of liquids each day and eat healthy meals, plus healthy snacks. Try to get extra rest for at least 2 weeks. Try not to get discouraged. Keep thinking positively. Get help and support from your close friends and family.

  • If you think your let-down reflex is inhibited, try the suggestions listed on the let-down reflex topic.

    See The Let-Down Reflex

If you have a medical problem, such as high blood pressure, anemia, or an infection, your milk supply may increase as your health improves.

How do I give my baby extra feedings?

Remember, above all else, your baby's welfare is the most important concern. If your baby is very underweight, your healthcare provider may recommend giving your baby extra breast milk or some formula in addition to the breast milk your baby gets from nursing. These extra feedings may be necessary while you work on increasing your milk supply. A very underweight infant is not able to stimulate more milk production by long sessions of nursing. Regular use of a fully automatic electric breast pump after nursings will be more helpful in increasing your milk supply while your baby catches up in his growth. A rapid increase in your baby's weight will reassure you and your healthcare provider about your baby's health. Your baby will probably nurse better once he reaches a healthy weight.

Bottles are usually the fastest way to feed extra milk to an underweight baby. Once a baby has reached a healthy weight, you can try a device called a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). The SNS can give extra milk to your baby while you are breast-feeding. The baby suckles both your breast and a little tube connected to a bottle of expressed breast milk or formula. The SNS can help a baby nurse more effectively by providing a ready flow of milk at the breast. You can get an SNS from Medela, Inc. (1-800-835-5968) or from a lactation consultant. Make sure a healthcare provider shows you how to use the SNS correctly. Incorrect use of the SNS can keep your baby from getting the right amount of milk.

Written by Marianne Neifert, MD, and the clinical staff of The Lactation Program, Rose Medical Center, Denver, CO. 303-377-3016.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-12-10
Last reviewed: 2009-11-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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