Breast milk is the perfect food for babies, but sometimes nature's ideal plan and reality don't seem to cooperate. Insufficient milk supply can be an issue for moms and babies directly after birth. It can also be a concern for breastfeeding moms as baby gets older, mom starts back to work, baby is starting solids, and in various other situations.
Just because the well seems to be running dry, it doesn't mean your nursing days are numbered. Here are a few things to try if you're concerned about increasing milk supply.
#1 – First, do a reality check
Keep in mind that supply and demand changes with baby's on-going growth and development. Sometimes moms are unnecessarily worried that baby isn't getting enough milk.
Reliable signs that your baby is getting enough from your milk are if your baby is growing, gaining weight, and creating plenty of dirty diapers each day.
Also, it's easy to forget that your breasts are designed to produce milk – not store it. Don't wait until you feel “full” to feed baby. This can lower your supply.
If you're still not quite sure, a lactation consultant, pediatrician, or other health practitioner can help you assess whether or not your supply is too low.
#2 – Prioritize yourself
It's easy for new moms to be so focused on taking care of their little ones that they forget to take care of themselves.
Make sure you are getting plenty of rest, water, and nutrient-dense food. If eating (and making) homemade food sounds overwhelming or confusing – read this first and start with what inspires you.
As a rule of thumb, eat the same nutrient-dense diet while nursing as while pregnant. Read more about what to eat while pregnant and nursing here.
If you need to, ask a loved-one for help or hire a helper so you can take much-needed breaks. By nourishing yourself first your body will be best equipped to provide nourishment for your baby.
#3 – Chill out
Stress will absolutely reduce your milk supply. Making your sanity a priority will not only help to prolong breastfeeding, but will also start setting a good example of self care for your child… Yes, she's watching you.
#4 – Ask an expert
Often times, low milk production can be rectified with some support from an experienced lactation consultant. She can help you to determine the best positioning, scheduling, pumping, and supplementation so you don't have to give up on giving baby the best nutrition possible.
Solutions may be simple or require a bit of dedication on your part, but these specialized practitioners know breasts, babies, and milk best. Contact your midwives or La Leche League to find a lactation consultant near you.
#5 – Acupuncture
For over two thousand years, acupuncture has been used to address low milk production and recent modern research proves its efficacy.
Chinese medicine differentiates two main reasons for low milk supply.
In the first, the breasts are soft and milk production is inadequate, and in the second, the breasts are distended but not flowing. Stimulation of specific acupuncture points can trigger the body to release more prolactin, a hormone essential to milk production.
Acupuncture can also help to reduce breast engorgement and inflammation.
#6 – Fenugreek
There are many herbs that can support lactation. Fenugreek, a small stony seed from the pod of a bean-like plant, seems to be the most effective. Fenugreek is a common ingredient in lactation support products such as Mother's Milk Tea. I recommend a very effective herbal tincture available at most well-stocked natural food stores called More Milk Plus.
You can also make a strong tea (infusion) out of the seeds (often found at stores carrying bulk herbs), or make a delicious stew from the recipe below with the seeds and fresh Fenugreek leaves.
The leaves can be purchased at Persian markets (in Santa Monica, CA Tehran Market on Wilshire Blvd), and if you can't find them you can still make an delicious ‘lactation stew' using other greens and the seeds. Keep in mind that the store bought tea is not extremely effective when addressing low milk supply. Stick with the tincture, infusion, or stew.
Still not flowing?
You've exhausted all the above suggestions and the milk's still not sufficient?
If you're feeling frustrated about your options and worried about baby's nutrition and bonding – read this article on breast milk substitutes as healthy alternatives to formula that can be decent options when breast milk is just not an option.