Breast Milk – How to Increase it and What Affects Supply

Breast feeding is a fraught topic and most people will have an opinion on it. It can be very emotionally charged, and many mothers worry about their milk supply and whether they have enough breast milk to feed their baby.

The good news is that most mothers make exactly the right amount that their babies require. Your body is also able to adapt your supply to suit your baby’s growth spurts, or taper off if you’re combining solid food with breast milk.

There are things that you can do to increase your supply if you’re worried about it.

The quickest and most effective way to increase your supply is to feed more frequently. Within 24 to 48 hours your supply will adjust to accommodate the more frequent feeds.

Other tips include:

  • Resting when the baby rests
  • Drinking plenty of water and eating well.
  • Taking a herb such as Fenugreek will also help with supply, but check with your midwife or caregiver before you take this, just to be sure it’s right for you.

It is worth checking that your baby is attached properly – as this can also interfere with supply. If possible, stop using dummies, nipple shields and bottles and avoid top up feeds with formula, if possible. All these will interfere with breast feeding, so while you are still getting established it’s best to avoid these back ups in the early days.

What can interfere with your efforts to increase your supply?

  1. Postpartum haemorrhage – In some instances, when a woman haemorrhages after birth, the stress and trauma of the situation can inhibit the initial milk supply, particularly if you had to be separated from your baby for medical treatment. Don’t despair. When you feel stronger you can breastfeed more frequently as a way to increase your supply.
  2. Low functioning thyroid – women’s hormones and the thyroid glad are closely connected and if you have a low functioning thyroid, known as hypothyroidism, it can interfere with milk production. The thyroid helps with the regulation of the two main hormones involved in breast feeding, so if your thyroid is sluggish, your production of great milk may be too. If you feel your supply is low, it’s worth getting your GP to run a check on your thyroid as Postpartum thyroiditis affects up to ten per cent of women in the first year after giving birth.
  3. Herbs, spices – herbs such as Fenugreek  are used to increase breast milk supply, but there are other herbs that have the opposite effect. In particular, thyme, parsley, lemon balm, peppermint and oregano have been said to decrease supply. Cooking with these herbs is fine and won’t interfere, as it is only in large quantities that they can have this affect. However, if you use essential oils it’s worth choosing alternatives to these as a precaution.
  4. Cold & Flu and Allergy medication: In the early weeks after birth it is best to avoid these medications if you can. Pseudoephedrine, the common ingredient in these over the counter medications can affect milk supply in the early weeks. However, if your supply is well established, using these medications shouldn’t have any adverse affects on your supply. Just steer clear in the early weeks.
  5. Hormonal birth control: most hormone-based birth control won’t interfere with milk supply. However, those with higher levels of oestrogen can impact supply. Nursing mothers should opt for progesterone-only birth control if they are using hormonal birth control.

If you have considered all the above options and have tried increasing the frequency of feeds, to no avail, it may be worth considering seeking some help. Your local MCH Nurse should be able to assist you, or a private appointment with a lactation consultant may help.

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