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Breastfeeding: my milk supply is not enough, what can I do?

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 23.02.2023 | 3 min read

The best way to increase your production of breast milk is to ensure that the baby is nursing frequently and effectively. As milk is let down from the breasts, your brain is stimulated to produce more milk to meet the high demand, and your baby will meet this supply, demand more, and so the cycle continues.

Sometimes, it might mean that you will need to nurse every one and a half to two hours in the day, and every three hours at night, to re-stimulate your milk supply. It’s just as important to position the baby for an effective latch so that they are drawing down well from the breast.

What if baby is not latching on well?

If your baby has a tongue tie or gets used to feeding when sleepy, this can affect the latch, which in turn can affect a good feed. Nipple shields and other instruments may also affect the latch. While any of these issues are being addressed, you might want to consider expressing your milk alongside breastfeeding if the latch is less than ideal.

Pumping after nursing or in between can be helpful. You could try pumping for 5 minutes or so after a session, and there is no more milk coming out, to maximize stimulation.

Any other tips?

Offering each breast at every feed is important: first, let baby finish on one side, and then offer the second side.

Minimize distractions when you are nursing and avoid letting baby nurse while they are sleepy. At the time when you are trying to increase milk supply, avoid things like dummies, bottles, and formula because the more time away from the breast, the less stimulation your breasts receive to trigger more milk production.

Breastfeeding is thirsty work, so make sure you stay hydrated, rest when you can, maintain a good nutritious diet, and try to handle anything that causes you stress or anxiety. Breastfeeding can be affected if any of these things are lacking.

Can I take any supplements to help?

Addressing these things can make the biggest difference, and most people don’t need supplements or medication to produce more milk.

Diet additives called galactagogues that help to increase milk supply. Herbal options include fenugreek, alfalfa and blessed thistle. Fenugreek is available as leaves or as a supplement. One teaspoon of fenugreek seeds can be steeped in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes and taken a couple of times a day, or alternatively, you can take three to four fenugreek capsules three times a day.

It usually works within three days, but some may take up to two weeks for you to notice a difference. Everything – natural or not – carries the risk of side effects, and fenugreek may make cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Other food remedies on the market boast benefits, or you might come across recipes for lactation cookies.

Can my doctor prescribe me anything?

Domperidone or metoclopramide are two medications that can be used to increase a mother’s milk supply. These work by blocking a hormone called dopamine in the brain, which inhibits another hormone called prolactin from working. This results in higher prolactin levels, which encourages more milk production.

These work best for women who, for a variety of reasons, may have a low level of prolactin. They are not suitable for everyone.

The use of these medications for this purpose would be off-label, which means that this use is not what the manufacturer intended. You also risk significant side effects such as depression, seizures, and heart problems.

If you are considering something, it will be worth discussing it with your doctor or a lactation expert for more advice. But remember that poor latch and ineffective feeding are the most common causes of insufficient milk production, so these must be addressed.

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