Going back to work presents all sorts of challenges for working breastfeeding moms (and all working moms regardless of how baby is fed). One of the hardest challenges can be low breast milk production. You may have experienced no issues with breast milk supply while on maternity leave, but the stress and challenges of juggling work, childcare, family, pumping, housework, sleep deprivation, and life in general may lead to a dip in the amount of milk you are able to pump. Read on for 11 proven ways to increase breast milk supply–some of them have even been used for centuries!
A decrease in breast milk supply can be caused for various incidental reasons: stress, not eating enough, work stress, not drinking enough, family stress, being away from baby, etc. Also keep in mind that a breast pump is not as efficient as removing milk as your baby. Your baby is much better at emptying your breast than a mechanical pump. The best way to increase breast milk supply is to simply nurse more. However, if you are a working mom and away from your baby for an extended period during the day or night, there are other tricks you can try to increase breast milk supply:
Before we move into the steps you can take to increase breast milk supply, make sure you are collecting every single drop of breast milk you produce. Using a silicone pump, or Hakaa, whenever you are nursing your baby will allow you to collect milk without any extra work. Simply place the Hakaa on the opposite breast that you are feeding on and let it collect milk that you can then store away for later. The Hakaa works by suctioning on to your breast and collecting milk when you letdown. It functions similar to a manual pump (though not as strong), so it will stimulate your breasts to produce more milk. With regular use, you will notice an increase in the amount of breast milk you are producing. Try using it every time you nurse your baby.
2. Milk Saver
If using a Hakaa does not appeal to you or if you nurse baby on both breasts in a normal nursing session and are worried about the Hakaa suctioning too much milk, try using a Milkies Milk-Saver. The Milkies Milk-Saver simply sits in your bra and collects any milk that you leak while you nurse. This is a more passive approach to collecting extra milk. If you find that you do not leak much milk, the Hakaa may be the better option. If you leak more than a water hose, then the Milkies Milk-Saver is your best bet.
As an aside, if your breasts only leak or spray milk like Old Faithful at night, you may be wondering if you could use the Milk-Saver. Unfortunately, you would spill precious milk all of over yourself as the Milk-Saver has an open top. It is best to use sitting up. There is not a good option on the market just yet for collecting breast milk you leak at night. Manufacturers of breastfeeding supplies, take note and help us leaky mothas out.
3. Power pumping to increase breast milk supply
Your body produces breast milk by supply and demand. The more your baby or pump demands milk, the more breast milk your body will supply. Remember back to the magical and exhausting newborn days when your baby would cluster feed? It was important for their little bodies, but it was just as important for your body as it helped to regulate your milk supply. Following this supply-and-demand/cluster feeding paradigm, you can increase breast milk supply by demanding more milk of your body using your pump in a quick amount of time.
Check out the process in the graphic below. Perform the power pumping process at the same time of day, for at least 2-3 days to see an increase in breast milk supply. It may take your body a few days to begin producing more milk. Do not get discouraged if it takes 5 or more days to see an increase in supply.
Using this rapid-fire power pumping process will send a signal to your body that more milk is needed. Your body will respond by increasing breast milk supply at the time of day that you power pump. Once your body begins to produce more milk, you can stop power pumping. However, you will want to continue to pump regularly for 15-20 minutes at this specific time each day in order to keep your new breast milk supply up.
If you find it necessary, you can repeat this power pumping process several times in one day to signal to your body that more breast milk is needed. This will emulate when your baby is going through a growth spurt and is nursing more than normal. Also keep in mind that you can adjust the duration of time you spend pumping and resting to suit your schedule and comfort levels.
4. Add a pump session to increase breast milk supply
If your schedule allows, adding in a pump session should increase breast milk supply and give you a few more ounces of milk. Most moms find that adding a pump on their commute is the most convenient time of day for an additional session. Talk about multitasking! If your pump is not battery powered and you commute by car, then you will need an adapter in order to pump in the car:
If pumping on your commute is not an option, try pumping in the morning after baby nurses. Milk production is highest in the morning, so you will be able to get more milk out of an extra morning pump session compared to an evening session. Mornings are hectic though, so if an extra session in the morning will not work either, try adding a pump session before you go to bed or even setting an alarm for the middle of the night. Remember, this is only a season of life! It will not last forever.
5. Change out the membranes on your pump
The membranes are the small white flaps that attach to the yellow valves. They should be replaced every 2-3 months for the entire duration of your pumping journey. Small tears that are not visible to the eye can occur which can hinder the amount of milk your pump is able to express. The membranes are small, but they are an extremely important component. They are also inexpensive and come in packs, so changing them out is an easy way to increase breast milk supply.
6. Make sure you are eating enough calories
On average, breastfeeding burns between 200-500 calories a day, depending on your baby’s age and how much breast milk you are producing. An exclusively breastfeeding mother needs to take in, on average, 300-500 calories per day above normal caloric intake to maintain weight. Working breastfeeding moms are often juggling many things at once. If you are not making eating a priority, or if you simply are not eating enough, you will notice a dip in supply. Make sure to eat breakfast (oatmeal can help increase breast milk supply). Try adding in one or two calorie dense and nutritious snacks throughout your work day (mixed nuts, granola bar, hard boiled eggs, banana + nut butter, lactation cookies, etc.). Or you could add in a few Oreos. 😉
Related article: 4 Staple Lactation Oatmeal Recipes You Should Know How to Make
7. Make sure you are drinking enough water
The Institute of Medicine suggests that lactating mothers need 3.1 liters (13 cups) of fluids a day compared to non-lactating mothers who need 2.3 liters (10 cups) a day. Drinking enough water is a struggle for loads of people. Try keeping a large insulated tumbler full of water with you at all times. Many moms say that Gatorade, coconut water and/or Smart Water helps them see an increase in breast milk supply, too. Dark beer such as Guinness are another beverage some moms report increase breast milk production. If you give this a go, we do not recommend consuming at work. 😉 There is not any scientific evidence to support these varied claims of certain beverages helping increase breast milk supply, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from working breastfeeding moms the world over who say these drinks help.
8. Lactation supplements
A lactation supplement, or galactagogue, is a substance that may increase breast milk supply. Some moms find great success in boosting their milk production by taking a galactagogue in pill, powder, or tea form. While lots of moms see an increase in breast milk supply when using galactagogues, some moms report a reduction in the amount of milk they are able to pump. Stomach issues for mom or baby can occur, too. Keep these things in mind if you try using a galactagogue. As with everything when it comes to being a mom, you have to find what works for you. The most common galatagogues in supplement form are:
- Fenugreek – Far and away the most common lactation supplement. This herb has been used for centuries by lactating mothers. You need to take at least 3500mg per day, or 2 tablets 3 times a day, to see an increase in breast milk supply.
- Blessed Thistle – This herb was originally used to treat the bubonic plague. If you decide to try out this lactation supplement, you will also be protecting yourself from the plague. Win/win. In all seriousness, the recommended dosage for blessed thistle is 3500mg per day, or 3 tablets 3 times a day.
- Fenugreek + Blessed Thistle – Many moms find that taking fenugreek and blessed thistle together enables them to see an increase in breast milk supply vs. taking each herb separately. If you would prefer a capsule that combines the two, take 2 of these tablets 3 times a day. It reportedly works within 12-24 hours.
- Goat’s Rue – Another herb that has been used as a lactation supplement for centuries, goat’s rue was originally used to boost milk supply in cows and goats. Seems legit. Dairy cows are our spirit animals, right? You will need 1400mg, or 1 capsule 4 times a day.
- Alfalfa – Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens, or plant estrogen, which can potentially increase breast milk supply. The best way to absorb the nutrients found in alfalfa is by consuming it as food. You can find alfalfa sprouts in the refrigerated produce section of your grocery store. If consuming sprouts is not your thing, you can take them in tablet form. The recommended dosage for alfalfa as a lactation supplement is 3 tablets 3 times a day.
- Motherlove More Milk Plus blend – If taking several different herbs seems daunting, many moms find success with this herbal blend supplement. It includes fenugreek, blessed thistle, nettle, and fennel. Remember that not all herbs work for everyone, so your mileage may vary.
- Brewer’s Yeast – You are likely familiar with lactation cookie recipes. Most of these cookie recipes call for including Brewer’s Yeast. Brewer’s Yeast is a fungus that is used in brewing beer. Appetizing, no? Despite–or in spite of–that it’s a nutritional powerhouse with over 52% of its nutrient profile being protein. It’s also an excellent source of B-complex vitamins. It has a distinct bitter taste to it (as you would imagine being a fungus and all) that can be masked when added to foods. Try adding a tablespoon to your morning oatmeal or adding some to your favorite cookie recipe.
- Mother’s Milk tea – We would be remiss not to mention the OG of modern day galactagogues. The jury is split on whether mom’s like the taste of this tea and whether or not it actually increases breast milk supply. However, some moms swear by it.
Keep in mind that since these products are natural, and not pharmaceutical grade, it may take a week or more to see any results. As always, speak with your medical provider if you have any questions or concerns about taking herbal lactation supplements.
9. Meditation to increase breast milk supply
Before you exit of the screen and think we have ventured off the deep end, hear us out. A study done by the University of New Mexico in 1989 showed that moms of preterm infants who listened to this mediation recording expressed 63% more milk than a random group of moms who did not listen to the recording. Why not give it a go and see if it helps you increase breast milk supply? If that recording is not your style, you can try this one from the folks over at Mamava.
If guided meditation is not your thing, simply try listening to classical music or other meditation music while you pump. Take some deep breaths and try relaxing as much as possible. A pumping savasana, if you will. In this fast-paced, exhausted phase of life that comes with being a working breastfeeding mom, your body would undoubtedly welcome a little bit of meditation (assuming you don’t fall asleep, although your body would probably like that, too).
10. Rent a hospital grade breast pump
If none of the above seems to work for you, or you have had difficulty with breast milk supply since your baby was born, it may be most beneficial to you to rent a hospital grade breast pump. The Medela Symphony is the breast pump most moms in NICUs are given in order to initiate breastfeeding if they are unable to nurse their infants after birth. The Symphony features Medela’s initiation technology, as well as its convenient 2-Phase Expression technology. Due to its more advanced technology than standard breast pumps, the Medela Symphony empties breasts faster and can bring out flat or inverted nipples which can cause low breast milk supply.
A hospital grade breast pump often has stronger suction strengths, special wavelengths, and additional programming since they are made for new mothers that have medical issues that may prevent them from breastfeeding. Because of this, a hospital grade breast pump typically has higher suction than normal breast pumps. This stronger suction can lead to an increase in breast milk supply. Most insurance companies will not cover hospital grade pump rentals, but you can pay out of pocket around $75/month. We recommend checking with Aeroflow Breastpumps for potential insurance coverage and rental information.
11. Prescription medications to increase breast milk supply
If you have tried all of the above and nothing is working for you, speak with your medical provider about prescription medications that can increase breast milk supply. In all likelihood, you do not need to go this route as most moms can see an increase in breast milk supply utilizing one of the above methods. However, some moms may need to give their boobs and bodies a nudge.
Your body produces breast milk with the help of the hormone prolactin. If you have low prolactin levels, your breast milk supply may be affected. Only lab work ordered by your physician can deem if you have low prolactin levels or not. If you think you might, speak with your medical provider about the risks and benefits of a prescription medication for lactation. The most commonly prescribed drugs are:
- Metoclopramide (Reglan) – This drug can cause severe depression for moms with a history of depression or anxiety. If you suffer from (or even think you might suffer from) postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety (PPA), please let your medical provider know when discussing this medication.
- Domperidone (Motilium) – This drug is not available in the US, but your OBGYN or midwife may be able to order it from Canada or the UK.
Remember above all that your love, affection and mental health are more important to your baby than the ounces of breast milk you can or cannot provide. Try some of these methods to increase breast milk supply, but ultimately do not drive yourself bonkers. Provide what you can to your baby, and supplement with the rest. Happy mom = happy baby!
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