Breastfeeding Article Disclaimer: I’m a firm believer that fed is best; that each parent should do what needs to be done to properly care for herself/himself and for her or his child. I write about breastfeeding because it’s my personal experience; never to shame and never to divide. Please help keep this community positive by choosing not to participate in the shaming of another parent or another parent’s choices—here or anywhere. We are all in this together.
I’m about a week away from wrapping up a year of breastfeeding my youngest daughter. This is the second child that I’ve been able to meet my breastfeeding goal with, and I’m incredibly proud of myself. That being said, breastfeeding has been a challenge for me with both of my daughters because I have a naturally low breastmilk supply. Before you start to write a comment, let me say a few things:
- I’m aware that breastfeeding is a system of supply and demand. My supply is still naturally low.
- I’m aware that there are certain foods that you can try to up your milk supply with. My supply is still naturally low.
- I’m aware that there are all kinds of techniques and supplements and lifestyle changes that can help you produce more milk, and my supply is still naturally low.
The truth about breastfeeding is, everyone starts off with a different amount of milk, regardless of what you do or don’t do. On day one of nursing a child, some moms face an over supply, some have a supply that is more or less average, and some, like myself, have a naturally low breastmilk supply. If you also have a naturally low breastmilk supply…this post is for you.
While nursing both of my daughters, I struggled to find information that was in anyway relevant to me and my low breastmilk supply. It seemed like everything I read featured an image of 10 oz. of expressed breastmilk from one pump session, or a story about how eating this one food increased milk supply by 4 oz. per feeding within one day.
And, guys? That has never been me.
My breastfeeding journey has been very much about just making it through; producing enough day by day (because building a freezer stash when you have a low milk supply is a whole challenge in and of itself). It’s been about fighting to produce enough food to keep my child nourished. Now I know that every single nursing mother, regardless of milk supply, experiences similar moments of struggling. Breastfeeding is challenging no matter what. And, that being said, having a low breastmilk supply comes with added challenges that few really understand.
Am I starving my child?
Am I selfish to breastfeed when my supply is low?
What if I don’t pump enough milk during the workday?
Will I need to go buy formula?
When your supply is low, you constantly feel on-edge; as if the ability to breastfeed can slip away in a single moment if you don’t do exactly what needs to be done. To help combat those constant feelings on my second breastfeeding adventure, I set out to try new milk-boosting methods and lifestyle tweaks in an effort to save a bit of my sanity and not stress myself out.
While every mom’s experience will be different, these are 5 things that really helped boost/maintain my breastmilk supply:
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5 Breastmilk-Boosting Tips for Moms with a Naturally Low Supply
1. Add a Pump Session to Build a Freezer Stash
This was the game changer for me between breastfeeding my first child and breastfeeding my second.
With baby #1, I felt like I was never able to get ahead on my milk supply. When I got home with baby #2, I was on a mission to change that.
I added my session in the early evening, after my little one was down for her first stretch of the night, because that was the time that was least-stressful for me, as my oldest daughter was always asleep, the newborn slept pretty regularly through that time, and my partner was around to help out if one of them were to wake up while I was pumping. Basically, I picked a time that wouldn’t stress me out; a time where I had some extra support.
During the first few weeks of my daughter’s life, I was lucky to maybe get half an ounce from that added session. It was slow building, for sure. But I kept pumping and was able to put away a two ounce bag every couple of days without too much added stress…which was a huge accomplishment for me!
My supply started to increase gradually over time, and I was able to, little by little, build a respectable freezer stash of about 100 oz. by the time I returned to work after my maternity leave. When I returned to work for baby #1, I literally had 4 oz. in the freezer and had to do a mid-day milk exchange with my partner (who was working freelance from home and taking care of our girl at the time). STRESSFUL. NOT FUN.
When you’re adding a pump session, make sure you…
- Pump for at least 20 minutes, no matter how much (or how little) milk you produce
- Don’t stare at the milk coming out; it will only stress you out
- Relax as much as humanly possible while pumping
2. Don’t Stress About Your Weight
Some mamas are able to get their pre-pregnancy bodies back quickly after having a baby, and many will credit breastfeeding to their weight loss. It’s true that breastfeeding does burn off a good number of calories, but it’s also important to note that typically the calories your burn off are linked to how much milk you’re producing and expressing. That means that if your milk supply is naturally lower, you’re going to be burning off fewer calories from breastfeeding than women with a naturally higher supply. (Bummer, right?)
The good news is that most women, even those with a low supply, are able to see some weight loss through eating healthfully and exercising smartly (once they are cleared by a medical professional to do so).
A big key when breastfeeding is your goal and you have a naturally low supply is not to go overboard. Make sure you eat plenty of good calories. Over cutting can cause your supply to drop pretty dang quickly.
If the weight doesn’t magically melt away and you’re breastfeeding your heart out…don’t beat yourself up over it. No woman, breastfeeding or not, should be too hard on herself after LITERALLY GROWING A HUMAN. Give yourself a break, some love, the occasional piece of chocolate or glass of wine. The added stress won’t help you out whatsoever.
3. Find the Breastmilk Booster That Works for Your Body
There are tons and tons of foods and supplements that may increase your milk supply. And because most moms will swear by different items, it’s safe to assume that different boosters work differently for different people. The best way to figure out what works best for you is to try a few different ones and see what gives you the best results. Make sure you run any dietary questions by your doctor when you’re breastfeeding first, but pantry foods commonly known to increase production are:
You can easily find the oatmeal at any grocery store—I used plain old Quaker old fashioned rolled oats. Oatmeal was actually the #1 thing that boosted my supply while breastfeeding. To boost my supply even more, I added in some ground flax seed and wheat germ.
The wheat germ can be a little tricky to find in the grocery store, so I ended up buying mine on Amazon (which you can do here if you’re interested in giving it a shot yourself).
The ground flax seed is available in most grocery stores now a days, but if you can’t find it, you can buy it on Amazon (seriously, what did we do before online shopping was a thing?). This is the brand that I always use and love, but there are lots of others to choose from. Just make sure you go for ground flax seed, as your body will absorb it and all it’s milk-boosting goodness easier.
Brewer’s Yeast was entirely new to me, and honestly I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. Whenever I’m in doubt…I pretty much throw things into smoothies, which is exactly what I did with Brewer’s Yeast. Banana + Oatmeal + Almond Butter + Plain Greek Yogurt + Almond Milk + Brewer’s Yeast = a tasty breastfeeding treat. You can even make up a big batch like I did and keep it in mason jars to grab over the course of a few days (because honestly, what new mama has time to make a smoothie multiple times a day?). Again, I have no earthly idea where one would find Brewer’s Yeast in the grocery store, so I bought it on Amazon here and saved myself a headache.
Mother’s Milk Tea wasn’t as much of a booster as the other things on this list, but it did make a tad bit off a difference for me—and some moms swear by it!—so I wanted to make sure it was included on your “to-try” list, just in case. It’s usually available in the tea department of most grocery stores, but you can also buy it on Amazon here. Again, remember that all boosters work a little differently for everyone, so don’t be afraid to try different things!
4. Water, Water, Water and then More Water
Pretty common sense for all breastfeeding mamas, but if you have a naturally low breastmilk supply…GET THAT WATER IN, lady friend.
A big key for me was making sure to drink extra water whenever I had a cup of coffee, an alcoholic beverage, or anything that would possibly leave me a little dehydrated. If you’re constantly on-the-go, traveling, or always physically active…same thing. Make sure you add some extra h2o.
To calculate the daily amount of water that I’ve heard most breastfeeding moms aim to consume (and what I personally did), you just:
- Take your current body weight in pounds
- Divide it in half
- Aim to drink that many ounces of water a day.
So, for example, if you weigh 200 lbs, you would aim to drink 100 oz of water daily. And again, if you have any questions or concerns about what may be best for you personally, please always check with a medical professional (which I’m not).
5. Meditate Every Dang Day
An often-overlooked factor in breastmilk production is stress. When stress-levels go up, milk levels typically go down. For mamas with a naturally low supply, it’s super important to not let something like stress sneak into your day and reduce your breastmilk production.
For me, adding a daily meditation (even if it was 60 seconds sitting in a bathroom stall) made a difference not only in my milk supply, but in maintain my mental sanity on days when breastfeeding felt overwhelming.
What are some great breastmilk-boosting tips that worked for you?