There are many ways to increase your milk supply, most of them
involving only simple changes in your routine. All of them take
a little time - a wise lactation consultant once told me that it
takes as long to restore your supply as it did for it to
decrease, so don't expect results overnight. But take heart -
within just a few days, you should see your milk supply begin to
Before you convince yourself that you have
a supply problem, troubleshoot your pump. If you're pump is
failing, you'll have a terrible time pumping, so check this
I organize my supply increasing strategy into seven steps.
The steps are not meant to be followed in any particular order -
if one doesn't work for you, just try another. Not every way to
increase supply works for every mother. Experiment a little, and
you'll find what works for you.
1: Send what you pump
2: Breastfeed more
3: Pump more
4: Give fewer bottles
5: Avoid supply busters
6: Feed your milk-making machine
Step 7: Use galactogogues
What if it doesn't work?
Links to other supply-boosting websites
Step 1: Send what you pump
The best way to keep up with what your baby needs during the
day is to just send what you pump the day before. Babies are
smart - if they don't get enough during the day, they'll nurse
more in the evening. Just like you and me - if your lunch was
terrible, you'll have a little more dinner, right? Only babies
aren't self-conscious about asking for that third helping of
The key to making this work is
access to the breast during the evening and night hours. Nurse
your baby as often as he or she wants to, and your baby will get
enough to eat. With this strategy, some babies will start to
reverse cycle, where they do most of their eating when they
are home with you, and most of their sleeping when you are away.
This may sound exhausting, but almost every working mother with
a reverse cycler is relieved that she doesn't have to pump as
much, and has found ways to get plenty of sleep. The page on
reverse cycling contains lots of strategies for getting
enough rest - some of which may surprise you!
If you're sending a little milk from your freezer stash, you
may be decreasing your milk supply without even realizing it.
I've devoted a special page to the freezer stash, because
this is such a common problem.
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Step 2: Breastfeed More
Every feeding that your baby gets from your breasts is one
less bottle that you'll have to pump during the day. Focus on
breastfeeding as much as possible. Nurse your baby right before
you leave for work, or at your daycare center right before you
go. Even if your baby just fed 20 minutes ago, offer your breast
for a "top-off" feeding. This will push back the time of day
when the first bottle is given, ultimately meaning less milk
will be needed for bottles.
Talk to your care provider and ask that they not feed your
baby in the hour and a half to two hours before you get there.
As soon as you arrive to pick up your baby, or as soon as you
get home, sit down to nurse. This is a wonderful way to
reconnect with your baby, and the breastfeeding hormones will
help you to release the stresses of your workday.
Allow plenty of time in the evenings and at night for nursing
- if you have a partner or friends or family who can help, let
them cook dinner and clean up. You won't be nursing this baby
forever, and giving your baby the advantages of breastmilk is
important enough that you can have someone else do the cooking
and put off dusting your collection of Aztec frogs for another
few months. Breastfeeding gives you a great excuse to sit down
in the evening and rest - remember that even three or four
months after giving birth, your body is still recovering, and
you need to take care of yourself!
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Step 3: Pump More
Sometimes adding one more pumping session is all you need to
do to get enough milk for your baby during the day. Did you know
that your milk supply is highest in the morning? Take advantage
of this fact to pump a little extra early in the day.
I'm pumping, but there's no milk!
The nurse-shower-pump routine: Depending on when your baby
wakes up, you can sneak in an extra pumping session before you
leave for work with this routine. Nurse your baby, then take a
relaxing shower, then pump. Or, if your baby is a late sleeper,
pump first, then shower, then nurse. The shower in the middle
helps you relax and helps stimulates let-down for the second
feeding/pumping session. Don't worry about pumping before your
baby eats - your baby is much more efficient than any pump, and
will be able to get plenty of milk. And remember, you're going
to nurse again right before you leave, so he'll have another
chance to fill up soon.
Another great time to pump is right when you get to work. But
wait, you say, in Step 2 I just started nursing right before I
left - my commute is only 20 minutes, and now I pump?? That's
right! If you pump when you first get to work, you're not
interrupting the flow of your day, you're more relaxed, and
you're taking advantage of those high morning prolactin levels.
If you're lucky enough to pump at your desk, it can also be a
good opportunity to go through emails and voice mails. Make sure
you learn the hands free pumping tricks!
Other tricks: Some moms nurse their baby on one side and
pump the other. Others pump after their baby has gone to bed.
A few particularly dedicated moms that I know have gone so far
as to set an alarm and pump in the middle of the night - they
had babies who slept through. It can be done!
But there's no milk!!
Maybe you've added a pumping session but you're not getting
any more milk. Don't give up! Pumping more gives your body an
important signal to make more milk. Keep pumping at that new
time, and within a few days you will see your supply gradually
start to increase. Even "dry-pumping", when nothing is coming
out, is just a request to the kitchen to make more tomorrow.
Stick with it a few days, and you'll see results.
If you never have much milk when you pump, see the tips for
back to Step 3
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Step 4: Give fewer bottles
This goes right along with "send what you pump". It's
important not to overfeed the breastfed babies, but because
bottle-feeding is easier for a baby than breastfeeding, it can
be easy to do.
How to avoid overfeeding:
1. Let your baby decide when a feeding is over. Don't ever
encourage your baby to finish a bottle when he's stopped on his
own. Unlike many grown-ups, babies know when they've had enough
to eat, and honoring this helps prevent overfeeding, and
possibly obesity later in life. How many of us wish we always
stopped eating when we'd had enough? If you are worried about
wasting milk, learn more about reheating
bottles that haven't been finished.
2. Small, frequent feedings are best for breastfed babies, so
send milk in several smaller bottles. Breastfed babies do not
always need to increase the amount of milk that they get as they
get older. Studies have shown that the amount of breastmilk
eaten does not change much between three months and six months,
so even though the formula-fed babies are getting bigger and
bigger bottles every month, your baby can get as much nutrition
from smaller amounts. Breastmilk is just more efficiently
2. Use a slow-flow nipple. Unless your baby is very fussy
about taking a bottle, stay with the newborn flow nipples as
long as you are breastfeeding. Using a faster flow nipple will
lead to overfeeding, and can also lead to a bottle preference or
3. Use other comfort measures. Breastfed babies are generally
used to more skin contact and touch than formula-fed babies.
Talk to your care provider about holding and walking your baby
when she fusses, and not always reaching for the bottle. If your
care provider has a lot of other children to care for, she may
want to wear your baby in a sling or carrier during the day.
kellymom.com has a great handout called
bottle-feeding the breastfed baby that you can print out and
give to your care provider.
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Step 5: Avoid Supply Busters
The number one supply buster is not emptying your breasts
often enough. This is covered in steps 2 and 3. However, there
are others that are less easy to spot.
control pills: Some moms can take birth control pills
with no effect on supply. For others, even a low-dose,
estrogen-free pill causes a supply drop within days. If you're
on the pill and having supply problems, switch to another
birth-control method and see if things get better.
Decongestants: We finally have a
published study showing
what we've known anecdotally for years - that Sudafed (pseudephedrine)
can decrease milk supply by up to 20%. It's possible that
antihistamines (like Benadryl) might do the same thing. If you
have a cold, there are other things you can do for your
congestion - stay hydrated, take hot showers (the steam is very
healing), use a
pot to rinse your
sinuses (here it is
packaged to look more scientific), or use a nasal
decongestant spray carefully, as they can become
addictive (though even daily use probably won't hurt your
baby, you'll just be stuffed up all the time).
your period: There's nothing you can do to avoid this
one - but the return of your period is often accompanied by a
dip in supply. However, if this is the cause, your supply will
usually bounce right back up by the time the bleeding stops.
Pumping a little extra and letting your baby nurse a lot will
help, and try to avoid dipping into your
freezer stash. Some studies show
supplementing with calcium before your period can make
this supply dip much less.
I lied. This is the number one supply buster. Stress is just bad
for you all-around, but it can put a major dent in your milk
supply, which then - guess what? - increases your stress! Try to
find ways to relieve your stress - pay someone to clean the
house, turn down the new contract at work, ask family and
friends for help. Practice
deep breathing exercises, and take time to care for
Sickness: If you get sick, it's likely your supply will take a dip.
Staying hydrated and taking care of yourself will help. When you
are breastfeeding, you need to take sickness seriously. However,
maybe you used up all your sick days in your maternity leave,
and feel like you have to go to work anyway. Try to take it
easy, and listen to what your mother told you - chicken soup,
drink lots of juice, and get some rest!! Ask for help
whenever you can. Hot showers are also
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Step 6: Feed your milk-making machine
Your body will make milk pretty much no matter what you eat.
But - to make milk efficiently, there are a few tricks that can
help. There are three primary ingredients in breastmilk – water,
protein and fat. Be sure your body has enough of these to make
milk. The fat is pretty efficiently moved from your butt, belly
and thighs into the milk even if you don’t have much in your
diet (hooray for biology!), but protein and water are different.
You need a pretty high daily intake of protein and water to keep
milk production up. Try keeping peanuts in your desk, or
bringing hard-boiled eggs with your lunch. And be sure you have
a big water cup or bottle that sits on your desk at the ready
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Step 7: Use Galactogogues
A galactogogue is any substance that increases milk
production. These are generally herbal remedies, and I've found
that with herbs, some work for some people, some don't. Try a
few and see what works for you. Most are available at health
food stores or online. At the end of the list are
Here are my favorite herbal and food-based galactogogues:
Tincture – 1 dropperful per hour till supply
increases. Then decrease until supply is maintained. Take in
a little cup of water, it’s nasty. Use More Milk Two if
Fenugreek – 3 capsules 3 times a day until you
smell faintly of maple. Don’t use if you’re pregnant. Can
increase dose to 3 capsules 5 times a day. More effective if
used in combination with Blessed Thistle.
Mother’s Milk tea (From Traditional Medicinals) 3
cups/day – I found this didn’t really increase supply so
much as maintain it. Lots of honey, also nasty.
Alfalfa tablets – also a great laxative to
counteract the iron in your prenatal vitamins! 2 capsules
herbs – blessed thistle (not milk thistle),
nettle, fennel, anise. B vitamins can also help. Hops are
good galactogogues as well, but I think they don’t just mean
- sage, peppermint and wintergreen as some people
find that these decrease supply.
- oatmeal is reported to increase supply, and it
sure can't hurt. I like a bowl of all-natural, whole grain,
rolled oats in the morning, but I'm kind of a hippie that
way. Others get their oatmeal from the instant packets, or
even oatmeal cookies - yum!
There are two drugs that are commonly used to increase milk
supply, Reglan and Domperidone. In both cases, their use to
increase milk supply is what the FDA calls "off-label" - meaning
that increasing milk supply is not what they are approved for,
but it is legal to prescribe them for that purpose. These drugs
are a last resort - please go through steps 1-6 and try some of
the herbs first. Personally, I would take one of these before I
gave my baby formula - but it's your choice.
Reglan is more widely available, but has more side effects.
One side effect is depression (as if you weren't depressed
enough having a low milk supply) so if you have any history of
depression this drug should be avoided. For my own funny Reglan
story, click here.
Domperidone is harder to get these days. The politics behind
the Domperidone "ban" are complex, but based on the research, I
believe that this drug is the best medical choice for low milk
supply. Click here for more information.
What if it doesn't work?
What if you've tried all of the above tricks and still can't
pump enough? What if your work schedule just doesn't allow you
to pump enough? Do you need to quit entirely??
Breastfeeding is never an all or nothing proposition, and there
are a lot of ways to find a solution that works for you. Read
this page for some encouragement.
Being that I'm not the worlds expert on everything, here are a
few different takes on the issue of milk supply:
Angelfire's supply pages
Breastfeeding information for adoptive mothers, with lots of
supply boosting tips and information
BFAR.org: The women who run
the "Breastfeeding after Reduction" website have put together a
number of supply boosting tips. Scroll down the navigation bar
on the left side of the homepage for a lot of useful tips and