How can I increase my milk supply naturally? Oh if I had a dollar for the number of times I have been asked this question. I’ve answered it so many times that I’m beginning to sound like a broken record in my head. Let’s start by breaking down the milk supply process first:
The Milk Supply Process
Did you know your body starts to prepare for breastfeeding from around the 20th week? Yup! From around the 20th week, your breasts begin to increase in size and starts to prepare your breasts for breastfeeding under the influence of several hormones. You may even notice that your areola (the dark ring around your nipple) gets darker and larger. This is completely normal.
Once delivery occurs and your placenta is out your pregnancy hormones; progesterone and estrogen begin to drop, paving way for your breastfeeding hormones to rise i.e prolactin and oxytocin.
Milk supply in the first few weeks post-delivery are completely under the control of these hormones; prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin is responsible for milk production and oxytocin for milk release. New mums may find that they’re able to pump large amounts of milk these first few days. Gradually as your baby begins to feed, your body starts to regulate your supply and tailoring it to your baby’s exact needs. The only way for your body to know this is by how often you empty your breasts either by pumping or breastfeeding.
After a few days, your milk supply switches completely from hormonal control to the demand and supply mode (autocrine control). Now let’s talk about the demand and supply cycle
The Demand and Supply Process
It’s as simple as it states, demand drives supply. End of story. The more often a mum breastfeeds or pumps, the more your body produces. It is typical for babies to breastfeed 8-12 times daily. This means every 2-3 hours. Let’s say for example that your baby feeds 8 times daily, your body recognizes this and will set up control to supply you this often. This also means that if you need to increase your supply for some reason, then you could add one more session outside of your regular 8 times and your body will eventually meet that need.
It is extremely important to note that when trying to increase your supply this way, you should aim at emptying the breasts completely at each feed. The emptier your breasts are, the faster they fill back up. The fuller they are, the slower they fill up. While you may not notice an immediate increase in supply, you should start to observe an increase after 3-6 days. This is the best way to naturally increase your breastmilk supply.
Top Ways to Increase Milk Supply Naturally
- Skin to Skin or Kangaroo Care
Did you know that the Kangaroo completes its gestation outside the womb? After 33 days, the baby is born and crawls through the mother’s fur into her pouch to complete its growth. After 6 months, its gestation is complete and she can then grow on her own. This is the idea behind skin to skin. It is simply placing your baby skin to skin with you. Start by removing all of your baby’s clothes except the diaper, then place him on your bare chest (i.e chest to chest). The World Health Organisation recommends skin to skin immediately after delivery, even before the cord is cut.
Skin to skin has a lot of benefits to both mum and child. For the newborn, it helps to regulate his temperature, prevents stress-induced by separation from mum, improves breastfeeding and enhances the release of oxytocin. For mum, it helps in bonding and emotions of love and wonder, promotes breastfeeding and can help increase milk supply through the release of oxytocin.
Skin to skin is free and enjoyable by both mum and baby and can be done at any stage of the child’s growth.
If you’re busy twisting your tongue trying to figure out the correct pronunciation, let me make things easier for you. It is pronounced as gah-lac-tuh-gogs, simple! These are simply medications, foods and herbs that have been purported to help increase milk supply. Mothers have used galactogogues through the centuries to help improve their supply. In many traditions across the world, a mother is given meals, infusions or decoctions after delivery, made with galactogogues to help with breastfeeding. Let’s discuss each of them
The most common medications used as Galactogogues are Metoclopramide and Domperidone. Both are prescription-only medications. Domperidone is not even available in some countries due to its side effects. It is important that these medications are taken under the supervision of your health provider. At different doses, metoclopramide can act as an anti-emetic, a treatment for heartburn or a galactogogue. Do not attempt to use them on your own. These drugs act by increasing the prolactin levels in the serum of your blood. They’re not 100% effective at increasing milk supply since not all cases of low milk supply are caused by low prolactin levels. It is best to consult with a breastfeeding expert and a physician for holistic care
For centuries and till date, women from different cultures and times have relied on herbals in their lands to improve their milk supply. In China, new mums are fed with meals and herbal soups to promote healing and improve breast milk supply. The use of these Galactogogues is not based on concrete scientific evidence. However, some studies have been done on some herbals like milk thistle and moringa. In one study, moringa was found to increase milk production by 100%. Even though herbals are easily accessible, caution should be exercised if you decide to try them. Go for good quality herbs from a trusted source. You may speak to your pharmacist about how to use them. Remember, just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it can’t be harmful.
What if I told you that if you walked into your kitchen right now, you probably have up to 3 food items that can boost your supply? Don’t believe me? See for yourself!
Here’s a list of common Galactogogues (Food that promotes lactation):
- Pap: Standard practice in most Nigerian homes. My mum actually gave me a pap instead of water. I had a 50cl bottle with a straw that she’d fill up every morning. Whoever discovered this must truly be a genius. People say the lighter the pap, the better. It’s definitely worth giving a try if you’re a lover of bland meals
- Garlic: Have you ever heard the saying that garlic is good for ‘everything’? I’m beginning to think it’s true. Garlic is a good galactagogue. Best taken fresh or combined with the next milk booster
- Ginger: Wherever you see Garlic, ginger is usually not far away. Both are besties. Grate a clove of garlic with a thumb of ginger and pour in a glass of warm water. Your baby will thank you.
- Oats: Oats have to be the most common galactagogue ever! Rich in fiber and filled with numerous health benefits, a bowl of oats is a breastfeeding Mama’s joy.
- Tiger Nut: Yep you heard that right! It’s not only good for activities in ‘Za Oza room’. Tiger nuts are also great for your milk supply. They’re cheap and readily available
- Nuts: Nuts are packed with fatty acids and high calories. They’re a rich source of omega fatty acids required for brain development. Three servings of almonds have been shown to increase milk supply and also improve the fat content of breast milk
- Lactation Treats: Depending on the source, most lactation treats contain a combination of potent galactagogues. Some of them contain ingredients like Brewer’s yeast and flax meal which have been known to increase milk supply in millions of mothers. Just like herbals, ensure you get your treatment from a trusted source.
So how many of these amazing foods do you already have in your kitchen? See, I told you!