How I Increased My Breastmilk Supply & You Can Too
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
There’s a lot of things I didn’t think about when I started my journey in breastfeeding and one of them was breastmilk supply. I figured the body would just do it’s thing and make sure the baby was fed and, in some ways, that is very true. Breastfeeding is very much a supply and demand game. It’s your child’s first lesson in microeconomics. Unfortunately, due to my son’s poor latch and other breastfeeding issues at the start, my supply/demand game took a hit. The amazing thing about breastmilk supply, though, is that you can always get it back!
There are some people who lack enough glandular tissue in order to make enough milk and if you feel that is the case for you, I’d consult a lactation consultant to confirm. Also, if breastfeeding directly (meaning not pumping), latch is very important and make sure you get that handled right away. For the most part, though, breast milk supply can be increased (or decreased for those who need to). I am sharing some tips and tricks that I used to increase breastmilk supply and worked for me. Please keep in mind though, that it takes time. Give yourself at least 2 weeks to see any changes. Before we get into the how, though, I want to first explain what creates breast milk from a Chinese Medicine perspective in an easy to digest way. I think understanding how breastmilk is created, will help you understand how to make more of it.
Breast Milk in Chinese Medicine
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), breast milk is formed by a combination of blood and qi (vital energy). Blood is required to make the milk and qi is required to transform the blood into milk and to allow the milk flow properly. For women, especially new Moms, it’s very easy to become deficient in blood and qi. Prolonged labor, exhaustion, stress, loss of blood during labor and lack of proper nutrition can lead to a loss of blood and/or qi. Emotions (stress, anger, depression) can also cause blood and qi to stagnate, meaning the qi can’t turn the blood into milk; or the milk is present, but won’t flow properly, as seen in clogged ducts and mastitis.
So now that you understand the mechanics, there are some steps you can take in order to increase breast milk:
Supply/Demand: I would be remiss to write an article about increasing breastmilk supply without mentioning supply and demand, even if you’ve heard it a thousands times already. Emptying your breasts of breastmilk (either through baby drinking or pumping), signals your body to make more milk. The more often you feed/pump for, the more milk you will make. If you’re in a spot where you need to increase supply, feed and pump more often. This could be as much as every 2 hrs (depending on babies age, etc). Don’t skip night feeds/pumping if you’re trying to increase supply. Your body makes the most milk overnight. When my son was 4 months old, we sleep-trained him and he was sleeping through the night. Since I was exclusively pumping at that point, my supply began to drop and it meant that I had to wake up at least once in the middle of the night to pump. Waking up to pump is torcher for a new Mom, but just know that it’s temporary and ultimately worth it.
Relax & Sleep: I know as a Mom of a newborn, this is easier said than done, but your body needs it. It takes energy (qi) for your body to create milk and if you’re running on empty, it will hinder your supply. You need physical and mental rest and relaxation in order to recover from even the easiest of labors. As a Mom, we instinctively put ourselves aside and care for others, but it’s important to learn to care for yourself.
My first born was not a sleeper and therefore, I did not sleep. He would wake up every couple of hours and just cry, even after he was fed. When I realized it was affecting my breastmilk supply, I had my husband step in and take my son on the times he would wake up, but didn’t really need milk. I would try to nap during some of my son’s naps. I took a couple of minutes here and there to meditate and quiet my mind and center myself because my mind was filled with emotions. It was hard at first, but I learned to ask for help.
Eat, Eat, Eat: As I mentioned, in order to increase milk, you need to increase blood. In order for your body to make blood, you need to make sure you’re eating ENOUGH. You can't create a substance without having substance. This means not counting calories, or comparing your meal sizes to what they were before having a child, or over exercising. Eat when you’re hungry and until you’re satiated. If you’re like me while breastfeeding, that means eating every 2-3hrs and eating a LOT.
Eat warming foods. Warm and lightly cooked foods are easier for the body to digest and assimilate food. They also allow qi to move more freely. Too many raw and cold foods can cause qi to stagnate (not move).
Foods that increase breastmilk supply: Add and focus on including these foods in your diet: Bone broth, carrots, lentils, oats, peanuts, fresh papaya, soups/stews, red meat, eggs, seaweed, cooked leafy greens, beets, cherries, black beans, dates, quinoa and rice. Include warming (but not hot/spicy) spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, paprika, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, mustard seed, dill, and rosemary.
Increase Fluid Intake: The body needs a lot of fluid in order to make blood and milk. Just think, all the milk coming out of your body needs fluid going in your body to make it. Drinking water and electrolytes in natural forms such as coconut water is important, but also don’t forget about your food. Meals can add a lot of fluid to your diet. Focus on “wet” foods such as rice/whole grains, soups/stews and steamed veggies.
Red Raspberry Leaf Tea: This was one of the most helpful things that a lactation consultant told me. I had used red raspberry leaf all through my pregnancy, but never considered it postpartum. Sometimes I feel like Red Raspberry leaf tea is just magical and one of it’s magic properties is increasing breastmilk. Have a couple of cups of strongly brewed tea a day. To make it a little sweeter and boost the breast milk making “magic,” add some dried goji berries to the tea. You can make a large batch ahead and just warm some up when you're ready to drink it.
Acupuncture: Acupuncture helps in many ways and will differ depending on the person. It can help the body to relax and destress, improve digestion to assimilate food and create milk better and move qi in order for the blood to properly create milk.
It can be very frustrating and emotional when you feel like you're not making enough milk for your baby. You're not alone. Having a newborn is tough and dealing with milk supply doesn't make it any easier, but hang in there. Ask for help when you need it and where you can get it.