14 tips on how to increase your breast milk supply

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Are you wondering what to do in order to increase breast milk supply? Here are 14 basic steps that any mother who plans to breastfeed can do to ensure adequate supply of breast milk.

Breast milk is the best milk for babies. This is why I definitely plan to breastfeed my third baby after child birth. However, I have this concern that I might not be able to provide enough milk for my baby due to low breast milk supply.

From my past experience in breastfeeding my first two children, I was only able to breastfeed each of them for one month because it seemed that my baby was not getting enough milk. So I turned to formula milk. 

1. Get enough rest

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I know that this sounds like mission impossible but it is vital that you take care of yourself as you breastfeed your baby. The best way to accomplish this is to get enough rest because tiredness affects breast milk supply. When your baby sleeps, you should sleep too. Ignore non-crucial chores and prioritise sleep. Being well rested will allow you to focus on your breastfeeding journey.

2. Nurse often

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The first few weeks after giving birth is a crucial time to establish milk supply. During this time, frequent, thorough emptying of the breasts sets and controls the level of milk production. It is encouraged to breastfeed your baby every two hours. Your baby’s sucking stimulates hormones to produce breast milk. The more your baby demands milk, the more your supply will increase to keep up.

3. Express milk in between feedings

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As not all babies require hourly feedings, or some mums experience difficulties with latching, the use of breast pump is highly recommended. Breast pumps work by mimicking the sucking motion that infants do when feeding, which typically results in an improved supply of breast milk. Do pump between 8-10 times a day including through the night.

Purchase an effective breast pump for this purpose. Store your expressed excess milk in the fridge or freezer and it can be bottle fed to your baby when you are at work or out of the house.

4. Massage your breasts gently as you nurse (breast compression)

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Another way to stimulate breast milk production is by massaging your breast gently when you are both breastfeeding and also when not feeding. Massaging your breast while nursing can help hindmilk let down more efficiently. In the first 3-6 weeks, babies will often fall asleep at the breast when the flow of milk is slow, even if they haven’t gotten enough to eat. Breast compression helps to continue the flow of milk once the baby starts falling asleep at the breast, so the baby gets more hindmilk.

5. Avoid pacifiers, bottles or formula supplements

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If possible, all of baby’s sucking needs should be met at the breast.  If you use a pacifier, make sure that it isn’t used as a supplement for nutritive sucking. Babies who are full of formula will nurse less often. If you need to supplement with formula, try to pump after feedings to give your breasts extra stimulation.

6. Eat a balanced diet with extra calories a day

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All breastfeeding mothers should make sure she eats the right amount of food. The right diet should include foods rich in carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. If you are hungry, get a fruit instead of junk or fast food.

You should also eat more than what you usually eat because breastfeeding requires an extra 500 calories daily. A breastfeeding mother should not yet think of going through a weight loss program or getting on a restricted diet for it may affect breast milk production and leave her feeling drained of energy.

7. Create a breastfeeding diet menu

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Image: Home made lactation cookies baked by nursing mummy, Anita Shewchuk‎

Besides maintaining a balanced diet, there are some traditional food and herbs that are believed to increase breast milk supply. These are called galactagogue.

Herbs such as Fenugreek (Methi) are used by Indian mums across the globe to help  increase breast milk production. It is easily available from health food stores in the form of tablets. Some women do well on just one tablet three times a day, while others need to take more.

Fenugreek is also available as a form of tea or you could mix the powder with milk for drinking. Indian mums also rely a lot on tumeric powder and turi leaves, which can both be bought at Teka market.

Chinese herbs Dang Gui and dates are designed to nourish the body, clear blockages and in the process, improve your milk supply.

Filipina mums swear by malunggay, a popular plant grown in the Philippines. You can find it in speciality Filipino stores in Singapore. In a study of actual pregnant/nursing women conducted in Ospital ng Makati, it was found that those who took malunggay supplements before and continued after giving birth showed earlier onset of milk and a greater volume of it.

Apparently, though only proper and frequent feeding can really stimulate milk production and maintain supply, malunggay as a galactagogue facilitates the process for a new mother.

For other mums, their go-to dish is oats. Although there are no scientific studies that indicate that eating a serving of oatmeal a day can increase breast milk supply, there is no harm in consuming this super food. Oats are easy to prepare, a good source of iron and great for slowly releasing energy to the body.

Some popular Asian dishes and ingredients to increase breast milk include:

Green papaya and fish head soup

Pig trotter soup

Black bean chicken soup

Fish maw soup

Red bean soup

Lentil soup

Brown sugar and sesame soup

Rice porridge

Frog legs porridge ("tian ji" porridge)

Red date longan tea

Chicken essence

Meals containing seafood (the 5 lowest mercury seafood are shrimps, canned tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish)

Abalone

Green vegetables like spinach, kale, wheat grass, collards

Other vegetables like carrots, asparagus, bitter gourd, potatoes, radish, garlic, artichokes and raw papaya

Tapioca pearls

Chick peas (chana dahl or hummus)

Japanese seaweed

Chia seeds

Nuts like almonds, walnuts and dried figs

Dates

Durian

Lactation cookies (ensure it consists one of these ingredients ; rolled oats, brewers yeast, flaxseeds or fenugreek)

8. Drink plenty of fluids

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Fluids does not necessarily mean water. It can be juice, milk or soup.  Drinking lots of fluids will help you replace the fluids lost in breastfeeding. Breastfeeding mums should be drinking at least 2 liters of fluids daily. Some mothers may need to drink more water each day when breastfeeding is well established.

According to the Singapore Health Promotion board, "88% of breast milk is water. Breast milk volume increases from as little as 50 ml on the first day, to as much as 750 ml a day, when breastfeeding is well established. So, the most critical nutrient needed for the production of ample breastmilk to meet a suckling baby s demand, is water.

Many mums in Singapore swear by drinking milo, coconut milk, soya milk, alfafa drink, barley green drink and red date tea to increase milk supply.

There are some cultures who believe that drinking beer also helps to increase their milk supply. While beer has malt which can increase milk production, alcohol may also cause slow letdown for some mothers. The bitter taste of beer may also turn off some babies. So do proceed with caution.

9. Foods to avoid (Milk killers)

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A number of mums on theAsianparent breastfeeding mums group, lists the following as milk killers for them - Chives, cabbage, pig's liver, fruits like tamarind, guava, watermelon, mangosteens, san cha herbs like mint, sage, rosemary, thyme, spearmint, peppermint and parsley. Chinese herbs like dong guai mei/dong guai tail/American Ginseng is also known to be a milk killer.

The Singapore Health Promotion Board also suggests staying away from strong flavours in food such as garlic and onion, which are also known to cross into breastmilk. Some babies, sensitive to the changes in breastmilk flavour, may decrease intake.

10. Continue to take prenatal vitamins

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It is also important that you get the necessary nutrients your body needs as you nurse your baby. One way to do this is to continue to take multivitamins or the prenatal vitamins you took while you were pregnant. When nursing, you need 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Unless you're an avid dairy eater, it can be hard to get that much calcium from food, so your prenatal vitamins can help in that area.

11. Avoid cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine

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These are substances you should avoid while breastfeeding because the toxins can get to your milk and to your baby’s body. Remember that whatever you take also goes to your baby.

Alcohol is best avoided as it does pass through to the breast milk and can affect baby's alertness and ability to suckle.

Caffeine may trigger restlessness in the baby, so it is adviced to keep it to less than 200 mg daily.

Mothers who smoke produce less breastmilk than who don’t smoke. It has also been reported that nicotine has direct effect on babies, including causing vomiting, diarrhea, an increased pulse rate and restlessness.

12. Avoid or lessen exposure to stress factors

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Research indicates that extreme stress can decrease breast milk production. So keep away from stressors or to at least lower your exposure to them. If it is the household chores that cause you stress, then hire a maid whether part-time or full-time. Have a baby sitter come once in a while. Find some time to relax. Assign tasks to your husband or to another family member. 

13.  Placenta encapsulation

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The custom of consuming the placenta  is centuries old and practised most often in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is believed that eating your placenta has all sorts of benefits, including reducing postpartum depression and increasing milk supply. However, there is no scientific evidence that ingesting your placenta has any health benefits, but there may be a placebo effect.

Placenta encapsulation costs between $300-$355 in Singapore. You can learn more about it here.

14. Ask a breastfeeding lactation consultant

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If you have followed some or all of these steps and nothing seems to work, then consult a lactation consultant on other ways to increase breast milk supply. They can also help identify latching or other problems. In Singapore, lactation consultants charge between $55 to $160 per session. Charges depend on whether it is a home visit or in hospital visit.

Some recommended lactation consultants include Sister Wong, from NUH, who can be reached at 97220376 and Sister Kang from Mount Alvernia Parent Craft- 98399477/6347 6641.