One of the most common reasons mothers cease breastfeeding earlier than they wanted to is because they feel they don’t have enough milk for their baby. Here are some ideas to help you work out if your supply really is low and some suggestions that will help you make more milk, if it is low! More information is available in our booklet Breastfeeding: and your supply which can be purchased from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
In the early weeks/months, you and your baby are getting to know each other. You work together to build your milk supply. Feeding your baby whenever he needs it will help him get all the milk he needs to grow and develop. It is important to remember that every baby is different. Yours won't be the same as your sister's or your neighbour's baby.
Whilst most mothers are able to make plenty of milk to meet their baby's needs, sometimes there are genuine low supply issues (such as insufficient glandular tissue) and no matter how hard a woman tries she cannot increase her supply any further.
How breastfeeding works
During pregnancy your breasts change and develop to be ready to make milk for your baby. Milk is there even when your baby is born prematurely. The amount usually increases greatly a few days after birth (the milk comes in). The first milk in the breasts after the birth and, often before, is called colostrum. This thick, yellowish milk is more concentrated than mature milk. It is rich in protein and antibodies that help to protect your baby from illness. Your baby only needs a small amount of food in the first few days after birth. The amount of colostrum in your breasts is enough to meet his needs. Mature breastmilk, which is thin and bluish-white in appearance, gradually replaces colostrum over this time.
When he sucks at the breast, your baby stimulates tiny nerves in the nipple. This causes the release of hormones into your bloodstream. One of the hormones (prolactin) activates the milk-making tissues. The other hormone (oxytocin) causes the breast to push out or let down the milk (let-down reflex).
How do I know if my baby is getting enough breastmilk?
If your baby shows the following signs then it is likely that you do have enough milk.
- At least 6 very wet cloth nappies or at least 5 very wet disposable nappies in 24 hours. The urine should be odourless and clear/very pale in colour. A very young baby will usually have 3 or more soft or runny bowel movements each day for several weeks. An older baby is likely to have fewer bowel movements than this. Strong, dark urine or formed bowel motions suggest that the baby needs more breastmilk and you should seek medical advice.
- Good skin colour and muscle tone. Does she look like she fits her skin? If you gently ‘pinch’ her skin, it should spring back into place.
- Your baby is alert and reasonably contented and does not want to feed constantly. It is however normal for babies to have times when they feed more frequently. See the Cluster feeding and fussy babies and the Fussy periods and wonder weeks articles on this website. It is also normal for babies to wake for night feeds. Some babies sleep through the night at an early age while others wake during the night for some time.
- Some weight gain and growth in length and head circumference.
For more information, see the Baby weight gains article on this website.
How to make more milk: Demand = Supply
To build your supply, the following ideas may help.
- Provided that your baby is correctly attached, you will find that the quickest and most successful way to boost your supply is to breastfeed more often. Offer a breastfeed every 2–3 hours during the day, for a few days, or increase the number of feeds by offering the breast in between your baby's usual breastfeeds.
- Here is an easy way to do this. If your baby does not settle after a feed, try offering another quick little ‘top up’ breastfeed. Those few minutes of extra feeding and cuddling may be all that is needed to soothe and satisfy him.
- Let your baby finish the first breast before switching to the second breast.
- Or, you may find it helps to change sides several times during a feed, whenever your baby's sucking seems to become less strong. Some people find that this encourages the baby to suck more strongly and stimulates a good let-down reflex.
- You can also try massaging your breast. Stroke it towards the nipple on all sides as your baby feeds. Take care not to disturb the nipple in your baby's mouth.
- If your baby is awake you can offer little ‘snack’ feeds without waiting for baby to cry for them.
- You can try offering the breast to soothe your baby for a few days, instead of other comforting strategies (eg a dummy).
- You may find that your baby has fussy periods when he wants to breastfeed more frequently. There is more about this in the Fussy periods and wonder weeks article on this website.
- Although they vary greatly, many new babies need 8–12 or more feeds in 24 hours. Babies generally feed less often as they get older. Babies also generally feed more efficiently as they get older.
- To increase your supply, you will need to fit in more feeds than is usual for YOUR BABY. Feeds do not need to be very long, just more often. In each 24 hours some feeds may be only 5–10 minutes long, others may be 30 minutes or longer, particularly when baby feeds to sleep slowly and contentedly.
- Help your milk to let-down quickly. Relax and enjoy feed times. Try to remove distractions (turn your phone off, put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door), then settle with baby into a comfortable chair. Breathe deeply, relaxing each part of your body separately as you may have learned to do at antenatal classes. Have a drink on hand, a book or a magazine, listen to the radio or watch TV. For more ideas, see the let-down reflex article on this website.
- Babies vary greatly in the amount of sucking they seem to need. There is no need to worry if your baby is contented with a fairly short feed. Some babies however love to continue sucking long after the flow of milk has dwindled to a trickle. This is fine too. Your baby will let you know how long his feeds need to be.
- A baby who is well attached and positioned is more able to drain the breast well. For more information, see the Attachment to the breast article on this website.
MORE FREQUENT FEEDING MEANS MORE MILK!
- Feed your baby more often than usual.
- Check that baby is well positioned at the breast.
- Allow the baby to decide the length of a feed.
Struggling with a low milk supply can be very upsetting and frustrating. Remember that any amount of breastmilk you provide your baby is valuable. If you have tried these ideas and are still finding low supply to be a problem, speaking with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor on the Breastfeeding Helpline , a lactation consultant or your medical adviser may help. Also, see the Galactagogues (substances claimed to increase supply) article on this website.
Breastfeeding: and your supply booklet
Breastfeeding - and Your Supply explains the basics of how breastfeeding works, the supply-and-demand relationship of how breasts make milk and the let-down reflex.
© Australian Breastfeeding Association Reviewed April 2018