Pump Up the Volume

Simple ways to increase breast milk production.

Women are built for breastfeeding. No matter your age, weight or cup size, if you can make a baby, you can probably make his perfect food on demand. While it’s the most natural thing a mother can do, breastfeeding can be challenging. If this rings true for you, childbirth and postpartum doula Jennifer Rokeby-Mayeux says not to worry. “Almost all women will make enough milk to nourish their baby or babies. Some just need extra support to overcome obstacles.” Use these tips to help boost your production for nursing.

  • Start right away. “Babies are hard-wired to breastfeed,” says Kim James, certified birth doula and childbirth educator. “Their reflexes, cues and competencies at birth lead to the ability to breastfeed within hours after birth.” James says the best way to enhance both oxytocin and prolactin, the two hormones that are responsible for breast milk synthesis, is to nurse immediately after birth. The more time the brand-new baby spends in contact with mother the better.
  • Drink more. To produce breast milk, you have to be hydrated. It seems logical, but most of us don’t drink enough water even when we’re not nursing. Rokeby-Mayeaux works with new mothers who are having trouble breastfeeding. The most common reason for difficulty is the mother not getting ample fluids. This challenge is easy to remedy. “Every time she nurses she needs to have a glass, mug, jug or canteen filled with water to drink during the nursing session.” Other liquids can contribute to the hydration efforts, too.
  • Stress less. Anxiety can affect milk production and make breastfeeding feel less satisfying than it could be. Try to think of nursing time as your break. Some moms enjoy reading during feedings. Others catch a quick nap, which can be a real stress buster since lack of sleep is one of the biggest contributors to stress. Rokeby-Mayeux suggests new moms set a goal of getting as much sleep in 24 hours as they used to require at night before they got pregnant. She also emphasizes the importance of sleeping for a minimum of three to four hours straight each night.
  • Learn to coax baby to latch on and off. How you sit, hold your baby and offer the breast affect lactation. Vary your breastfeeding positions from feeding to feeding. Explore several techniques and settle on a few that are most comfortable. Your goal is the best latch, which means the entire areola— not just the nipple— is in the baby’s mouth. Look for baby’s upper and lower lips turning out and his chin touching the breast. James advocates a new method called “biologic nurturing” that increases comfort for mother and baby, encourages better initial latches and ultimately leads to better milk supplies. According to James, baby should be doing most of the work. “It turns out, we may have been over thinking this whole breastfeeding thing.” Bottom line: Switch positions until you find what works best.
  • Eat a sandwich. Why let a desire to get back into your pre-pregnancy jeans sabotage your breastfeeding efforts? Just as when you were expecting, you want to eat the most nutrient-dense foods as possible— but some dessert doesn’t hurt. Remember, your baby is literally sucking those extra calories right out of you. Plus, caring for a baby takes a lot of energy. If you don’t eat enough while breastfeeding, your body begins to rob from its own reserves.
  • Flash your breasts more often. The best way to increase breast milk volume is to nurse frequently. “Babies can’t tell time,” Rokeby-Mayeux says. This is her rationale for not putting babies on a schedule. James agrees, and explains why milk is made fastest when the breasts are emptied often. “When the breasts are empty, the prolactin receptor sites are shaped best to receive the prolactin hormone signals that say ‘turn on breastmilk making,’” she reveals. “When the breasts are full or haven’t been fully emptied, the prolactin receptors change shape and won’t allow the hormone to fit, essentially saying ‘turn off breastmilk making.’” James reminds new moms to offer both breasts at each feeding and empty both breasts, even if means pumping the other side.
  • Say no to pacifiers and bottles. Most experts agree that using pacifiers and bottles can slow down breast milk production, especially for a mother with a baby younger than 6 months. This is because the mom nurses less and the baby satisfies his sucking urges on the pacifier or bottle. What about those times when it is necessary to supplement breastfeeding with the bottle? If you have to miss a feeding, pumping helps to maintain milk production. However, because the hormone oxytocin is released during breastfeeding and creates milk production, the body produces much more milk with actual nursing over pumping.
  • Pump when necessary. Pumping breasts in between feedings builds an inventory of breast milk that can be safely stored in the freezer and, like frequent breastfeeding, essentially trains breasts to produce more milk. James says that women who want to increase their supply have to work at getting more milk out. The trick with pumping is frequency, not duration. “If mother can get five minutes of pumping in every 40 minutes, she’ll significantly increase her supply within 48 hours.”
  • Relax. Frequent massages and warm baths can prevent engorgement and stimulate letdown. If you don’t have a willing partner, just pour yourself a hot cup of tea and draw a nice bath. And if your production gets very low, take a nursing vacation— not a hiatus from nursing, but a break from everything else while you get breastfeeding back on track. Go to bed with your baby and do nothing but eat, drink and nurse for two or three days.