New mothers often worry whether they are producing sufficient breast milk or not. There is no way to measure, so it can be difficult to find out if you are low on milk supply. If your baby is healthy and growing well, you are mostly doing just fine. But if that’s not the case, you should be concerned. Sometimes, insufficient breast stimulation or hormonal imbalances can lead to low breast milk supply. Worry not, as there are ways to increase breast milk.
Breast milk production or lactation is a biological process that begins during pregnancy, with the development of mammary glands and ducts, explains Dr Varija Pai, Consultant- Lactation Specialist, Motherhood Hospitals, Banshankari, Bengaluru. After delivering a child, hormonal changes, primarily driven by prolactin and oxytocin, trigger the initiation of milk production.
Ways to increase breast milk
There are effective ways to boost breast milk production naturally.
1. Frequent and effective breastfeeding
The most effective way to increase milk supply is to breastfeed your baby frequently and effectively, suggests Dr Pai. Breastfeeding stimulates milk production, so try to nurse your baby on demand. That is typically every 2 to 3 hours or more often if your baby shows hunger cues.
2. Proper latch and positioning
Ensure your baby has a good latch and proper positioning during breastfeeding. A deep latch allows your baby to remove milk efficiently, which, in turn, signals your body to produce more milk. Click here to know the signs of a good latch.
3. Breast compression
Gently compress your breast to encourage milk flow while nursing. This can help your baby get more milk during a feeding and stimulate your breasts to produce more milk.
Besides breastfeeding, you can use a breast pump to express milk after or between feedings. Pumping can help to take out more milk from your breasts and increase milk production. Double electric pumps are often the most efficient for this purpose, says the expert.
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5. Stay hydrated and eat well
Proper hydration and nutrition are essential for breast milk production. Drink plenty of water and maintain a well-balanced diet that includes protein-rich foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Some foods such as oats and fenugreek may support lactation and can be included in your diet.
6. Relaxation and stress management
Stress can negatively affect milk supply, so engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and gentle exercise to reduce stress levels. Adequate rest and sleep are also important for milk production.
But remember increasing milk supply is gradual, and results may vary from person to person. All you need is to be patient with yourself and your body.
How much breast milk does a woman produce?
There isn’t a fixed “normal” amount of breast milk that every mother should produce. In fact, breast milk production can vary based on genetics, baby age and feeding patterns, the expert tells Health Shots. However, there are some signs and guidelines that can help you assess your milk supply:
1. Baby’s growth
Milk supply is likely sufficient if your baby gains weight steadily, produces enough wet diapers (at least 6 to 8 per day), and seems content after feedings.
2. Satiety after feedings
If your baby appears satisfied and content after breastfeeding and seems to be getting enough milk, it’s a positive sign. The little one should have a relaxed posture and release breast willingly.
3. Frequency of feedings
In the early weeks, babies feed frequently, often 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. Frequent feedings help to stimulate milk production and meet baby’s growth needs.
4. Breastfeeding comfort
While breastfeeding can be initially uncomfortable, persistent pain or discomfort can indicate latch or positioning issues that may affect milk transfer.
5. Lack of weight gain or loss
If your baby is not gaining weight appropriately or shows signs of weight loss, you should seek guidance from a doctor. Such circumstances may suggest a concern about the milk supply or other breastfeeding factors.
What are the causes of low breast milk supply?
Most women can produce sufficient amount of breast milk, but some may have difficulties. Here are common causes of difficulties in producing breast milk:
1. Hormonal imbalances
Conditions such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism) or insufficient release of the hormone prolactin can disrupt the hormonal balance required for milk production.
2. Insufficient breast stimulation
Adequate breast stimulation is essential for milk production. If a baby has difficulty latching properly during breastfeeding or a mother is not pumping or breastfeeding frequently enough, it can reduce milk production.
3. Stress and anxiety
High levels of stress, anxiety or emotional factors can interfere with lactation, says the expert. Stress hormones such as cortisol, can inhibit the release of oxytocin, which is a hormone needed for milk ejection.
4. Medical conditions
Medical conditions or medications can also affect how much milk you can produce. For example, some medications such as decongestants or hormonal contraceptives can reduce milk supply. Also, medical conditions such as diabetes or previous breast injuries may impact lactation.
5. Breast anatomy
Variations in breast anatomy can contribute to milk production difficulties. Conditions like insufficient glandular tissue (hypoplasia) or breast surgery that removes milk ducts and glands can limit the capacity to produce milk.