Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
How to Increase Your Milk Supply
How do my breasts produce a generous supply of milk?
Your breasts should produce a generous supply of milk if:
- your baby regularly and effectively sucks from your
- your breasts are regularly and effectively emptied
during feedings (or by 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 no matter what you do.
What causes a low milk supply?
Low milk supply is one of the most common breast-feeding
problems for nursing mothers. Frequent causes of a low
milk supply include:
- having a nondemanding, sleepy baby who does not awaken
often enough to nurse 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 (7 or more
hours) without nursing
- being ill yourself with complications after the 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 that make it hard for you to
- having had previous breast surgery, especially if it
damaged your milk ducts.
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. The popular myth that every woman
can breast-feed successfully is simply not true.
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.
If your baby is underweight, premature, ill, or has
neurologic problems, your doctor may recommend 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 require supplemental milk feedings until your milk
supply increases and she gains more weight.
- Drink plenty of fluids, eat well, rest, and get support
from friends and family.
Drink plenty of liquids each day and eat regular
nutritious meals, plus healthy snacks. Try to get
additional rest by doing only the bare necessities for at
least 2 weeks. Try not to get discouraged. Keep
thinking positively. Get help and support from your close
friends and family.
- Pump your breasts.
Use a rented, hospital-grade, electric breast pump--
preferably with a double collection system--to pump your
breasts 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
seven pumpings every 24 hours.
Record the amounts of milk you pump each time. The
totals for each day will help you know 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
to drink supplemental formula. Babies getting
supplements 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 Ameda/Egnell
at 1-800-323-4060; Medela, Inc., at 1-800-Tell-You
(1-800-835-5968); or White River at 1-800-342-3906.
- If you think your let-down reflex is inhibited, try the
suggestions for conditioning your milk ejection reflex
listed on the let-down reflex topic.
See The Let-Down Reflex
If you have physical problems, such as severely sore nipples
or a breast infection, your milk supply may increase as your
nipples heal or your infection is treated.
When and how should I use supplements?
Remember, above all else, your baby's welfare is the most
important concern. If your baby is very underweight, the
doctor may decide that your infant needs to gain weight
fast. In this case the doctor may recommend giving your
baby infant formula in addition to breast milk feedings
while you work on increasing your milk supply. A seriously
underweight infant is not in any condition to stimulate more
milk production by long sessions of nursing. Regular use of
a hospital-grade electric breast pump after nursings will be
more helpful in increasing your milk supply while your baby
catches up in his growth. Prompt improvement in your baby's
weight will reassure you and your doctor about your baby's
health. Your baby will probably nurse better once he
reaches a healthy weight.
When supplements are necessary, formula or your expressed
breast milk can be fed to your baby by bottle, cup, syringe,
or a device called a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS). The
SNS can provide supplement to your baby while you are
breast-feeding. The baby suckles both your breast and a
little tube connected to a bottle of formula or expressed
breast milk. 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 health care provider
shows you how to use the SNS correctly. Incorrect use of
the SNS can keep your baby from getting the right amount of
Bottles are usually the fastest way to give a supplement to
an underweight baby. Once a baby has reached a healthy
weight, one of the other, slower methods can be used. You
should not try to use one of these other feeding methods
unless a lactation consultant or a health care provider shows