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A dozen times a day, Edie pulled off my breast, screaming. She was going hungry. Again.
A lactation nurse confirmed my suspicion that my milk supply had dropped, and Peeper had gained almost no weight in two weeks. I was devastated. And I didn’t know how to increase my milk supply.
Over the next weeks I did whatever I could to make more breastmilk.
I’m happy and grateful to be able to say that my milk is back!
Peeper no longer cries when I’m running on empty, and I don’t have to try to feed her every hour or less.
Here is a summary of what I tried to increase my milk for breastfeeding and pumping.
How to increase your milk supply
Making milk takes a lot of water, so drink up. Keep a water bottle wherever you nurse (and check out my post about creating a perfect nursing station here)—or better yet, stash full bottles of water throughout the house so there’s always one on hand.
Side note: A friend of mine swears she noticed a big jump in her milk supply when she started drinking a Powerade every day.
If you don’t love the taste of water, fancy it up. Infuse it with watermelon, cucumber, mint or whatever floats your boat.
Oatmeal, almonds, flax and brewer’s yeast are all reported to increase milk supply. I ate oats with almonds for breakfast, sprinkled brewer’s yeast on tofu or hid it in smoothies, and snacked on lactation cookies baked by a friend. I recently found a company that will ship cookies to you and even has a monthly cookie subscription service. (Does anyone have a recipe for cookies she likes?)
Follow my breastfeeding board on Pinterest for lactation cookie recipes, lactation smoothie recipes and more tips to increase your milk supply.
For a while I choked down lactation support tea. I steeped 2 bags per cup for ten minutes and drank three cups a day. Traditional Medicinals Mother’s Milk tasted less foul than Yogi Nursing Support, though it was more expensive. I didn’t see a ton of difference, but the herbal breastmilk support route has been supported by centuries of women. Plus, it can’t hurt: At the very least, you’re drinking lots of water.
An occasional brewskie has been shown to increase milk production and levels of prolactin, the breastfeeding hormone. The six-pack of amber I bought sat in my fridge for a week, though, because when my milk levels were low Peeper wanted to eat every hour. It takes about two hours for you to metabolize the alcohol in one drink, so I didn’t feel able to have a beer. La Leche League gives the green light on light alcohol consumption during breastfeeding.
Once my supply started to return, though, I did drink a beer occasionally. The mornings after I drank I woke up with anime boobs and had to wake Peeper to nurse her. I definitely noticed more milk when I pumped after her first feeding after drinking a beer for milk supply. It’s important to drink beer with more of the ingredients that increase milk supply—the barley in particular—so you’ll want to drink an ale or stout. (I don’t think Coors Lite will do much for your milk!)
If you’re going the beer route, I recommend drinking one in the middle of the day, if you can. I did this one day and noticed the increase in supply before I went to bed, which meant more milk for Peeper that same day and I wasn’t so ready to pop the next morning.
I take one Vitanica Lactation Blend supplement daily. The brand was recommended to me by a nurse at my midwife office. It includes borage seed oil, fenugreek, milk thistle, blessed thistle, hops, red raspberry leaf and other herbs traditionally used for lactation support.
I originally bought fenugreek supplements but several nurses have told me it’s not very effective on its own. I have a bottle of it still, though, so I take it as well but don’t exceed the recommended total dosage.
Side note: When my supply has tanked in the past—like when I had the flu or was out of town and pumping (but not as often as my baby eats)—I take two lactation supplements twice a day. My supply increases within a day or two, without fail.
Word to the wise: I’ve noticed that when I take my lactation supplement, my armpits smell a bit like licorice (from the herbs within the supplement). It’s kind of weird but totally worth it to increase breastmilk supply!
I’ve struggled with pumping since we had Peeper. I hate it. Pumping was even worse when my supply dropped: Having a machine pull at your most sensitive parts and being rewarded with only a dribble of milk was demoralizing and depressing.
I pumped once a day when my supply was low. I didn’t bother doing it any more often than that because Peeper wanted to eat all the time. That said, pumping more increases your milk production because of supply and demand: Your body will ramp up production to meet the pump’s “need.”
Many women have success with the technique of pumping after Baby has finished breastfeeding and then offering that milk in a bottle. Here’s the thing: If pumping after every single nursing session makes you want to jump out the window, it’s not worth it—for you or your baby. That’s where I was with pumping, and that’s what you have to weigh for yourself.
Now that my supply has returned, I pump once after she goes to sleep at night and once first thing in the morning after her initial feeding. It gives me enough milk to have on hand in the fridge if I need to leave the house for a few hours. I have also restocked my freezer a bit after having to thaw most of my stash when my supply dropped.
The idea behind pumping is that the stimulation tells your body it needs to make more milk. So pumping can help especially if your baby isn’t a vigorous eater.
I missed the memo that by Edie’s age, she should probably nurse from both breasts at each feeding. After I tried to get her to eat from both sides, at the suggestion of her pediatrician, I noticed that slowly my milk supply increased and she could eat more at one feeding, since her belly stretched out a bit.
I stopped using the nipple shield. Some women find that using one decreases their supply—probably because it protects the nipple and so decreases stimulation, tricking the body into thinking it needs to produce less.
I don’t regret using it at all, even if it did decrease my supply. The nipple shield allowed me to continue feeding Peeper the way I wanted to and allowed me to heal after her tongue tie damaged my nipples.
I use it occasionally now, usually in the morning. After a night’s rest, I now flow like a fire hose, and the nipple shield’s reservoir helps Peeper keep up with the deluge.
When Peeper wasn’t gaining and more than a week of all the other attempts hadn’t boosted my milk enough, a nurse mentioned Domperidone to me. It’s a prescription for gut movement that also happens to increase lactation, and it should only be used as a last resort if all other approaches to increase your milk supply don’t work.
The FDA advised against using Domperidone about a decade ago after some sick patients (not breastfeeding mothers) taking the drug intravenously had cardiac problems. As a result, it can be hard to find a doctor to prescribe it, and only compounding pharmacies sell it. It was classified as L1, safe, for breastfeeding mothers.
Update: The FDA completely cleared domperidone from pharmacy shelves, citing concerns that the drug may do cardiac damage.
Metoclopramide (Reglan) is also prescribed to increase prolactin levels, but it crosses the blood-brain barrier (unlike Domperidone) and causes depression in many women who take it. Because I’ve been borderline depressed a few times during the postpartum period, I wanted to steer clear of it.
Domperidone, I think, was the factor that truly amped up my supply. I took it for a few weeks and then stopped. Once my supply was back to a normal level, the supply-demand of Peeper’s nursing was enough for the upkeep of my breastmilk supply.
Trying hard to boost milk supply
I’m nowhere near a doctor, nurse or lactation specialist. I don’t know the physiological reasons behind the increase in my milk supply, but I know my own experiences.
Not having enough milk to feed your baby feels miserable. There’s nothing like feeling like you can’t provide for your child’s most fundamental need. If you’re at that point, mama, I understand. I know how frustrating, sad, and even shameful it feels. Know that you are not alone in feeling these and in trying to feed your baby the way you want. I am rooting for you.
If any of this information helps someone boost her supply even by a half-ounce a day, that’s enough improvement to make this post worthwhile. Good luck, mamas!
Do you have any other suggestions? What has worked for you? What didn’t work?
If you liked this post, check out my other breastfeeding articles: