Breastfeeding: How to Support a Good Milk Supply

JanelMS, RD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 6 minutes

What to know about establishing a good breastmilk supply

  • Understanding the supply and demand of breastmilk production

  • Know what may inhibit your breastmilk production

  • What foods support a good milk supply?

Breastmilk supply is one of the most common concerns from breastfeeding parents.1 It’s natural to worry about your baby getting enough to eat, and this can lead to seeking out the help of friends, doctors, mom groups, and lactation consultants.

The good news is that most of us are capable of having a great milk supply! Many times the key to success lies in understanding baby behavior, optimizing pumping technique, and/or making sure you are feeding or pumping frequently enough.2,3,

Breastmilk production relies on supply and demand

Milk production is based on supply and demand: the more milk your baby consumes (or the more often you pump), the more your body makes.2, Allowing your little one to nurse often and/or pumping often should adequately stimulate the nipple and breast to produce milk.4,5

Frequent feedings or pumping sessions during the first few weeks are particularly important to kick off your milk supply. The act of nursing triggers your brain to secrete two major hormones that aid in breastmilk production: prolactin and oxytocin.2, Prolactin stimulates milk production while oxytocin signals the breasts to release the milk, known as the let-down reflex.3,6

Once baby has finished feeding (or you have emptied your breasts using a pump or hand expression), prolactin signals the milk-producing cells in your breasts to make more milk for the next nursing (or pumping) session, and the amazing process begins again.4,10

Learn about: How and When to Hand Express

Read more on: Top Breastfeeding Latching Tips

Relax and destress to produce more milk

Your baby’s sucking prompts the let-down (Milk Ejection Reflex, or when milk starts to come out), and this reflex works best when you are relaxed.7, Feelings of stress or pain may reduce the flow of milk.7,8,17 Stress relief or distraction techniques are helpful for many moms.9 This may be listening to relaxing music, drinking some tea, or visualizing comfort and milk flow.

Relaxation while pumping is also important.18 One of the biggest barriers to a relaxed pumping session is staring at the bottles and stressing about them filling up.2, Try covering the bottles while pumping, with a sock or blanket for example, to help with your pumping output.

If you find that you are overly stressed or are experiencing intrusive or anxious thoughts, speak to your healthcare provider.

Read more: Stress Management 101

Learn about: Could This Be Postpartum Depression?

If you have questions about your breastmilk supply, our team of registered dietitians, fellow moms, and lactation specialists, are available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm (ET) and Saturday – Sunday 8 am – 2 pm (ET) to help figure out what may be going on. Chat now!

Does what and how much you eat make a difference in your breastmilk supply?

Getting enough calories

Producing breastmilk (along with taking care of your baby and yourself) requires a tremendous amount of energy! So it is not uncommon to feel extra hungry while breastfeeding. In fact, breastfeeding women have increased calorie and nutrient needs.11,

Current recommendations are that exclusively breastfeeding mothers consume 330 - 400 calories per day on top of their pre-pregnancy calorie needs.12,19 This means you may need to eat about as many calories as you did during your third trimester of pregnancy.

If you’re concerned about meeting your nutrition needs, consider talking to your doctor, a registered dietitian, or other healthcare provider about taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Many women choose to continue taking their pre-natal vitamins while breastfeeding. Although it will not replace a healthy diet, it may help, especially if you have a nutrient deficiency.11,12,

Read more: How Much Should I Eat While Breastfeeding

Getting the right foods

Many foods, herbs, and spices such as oatmeal, spinach, fenugreek, garlic, onion, and mint (just to name a few), are believed to aid breastfeeding mamas. However, scientific evidence is limited on whether these foods truly have milk-boosting powers.13 With that being said, most of these potential galactagogues (any food or drug that increases milk production) are items you may be cooking with already and are good for you in other ways.2,13

Rather than focusing on which specific foods to include in your diet, think about making sure you’re eating enough throughout the day and that what you eat is balanced and varied. Eating well will help you feel more energized as well as help make sure you’re meeting both you and your baby’s nutrient needs.20

If you are considering an herbal supplement, always first speak with your health care provider first.

Learn about: Meal Plan: Getting the Right Nutrition While Breastfeeding

Top tips for increasing and maintaining your milk supply

Feed your baby on demand and often

The more your baby nurses (or the more you pump), the more milk you will produce.4,5 Pay attention to your baby’s hunger cues (like lip smacking, finger sucking, and rooting) and feed baby as often as they need.10

In the first few weeks after birth, your goal should be 8 to 12 nursing sessions in a 24-hour period.21 This number will gradually decrease once your baby becomes more efficient and can drink more milk at each feeding.2,5

If you have a sleepy baby, you may need to wake them to nurse at least until you know they are gaining weight well. Stay in close touch with your baby’s doctor and your lactation consultant if your baby is having trouble staying awake during feeds.14

Other babies like to “cluster feed” (seeming to feeding all the time!) and then sleep for longer periods of time, and that’s ok too.15 Note that cluster feeding often happens due to growth spurts and will last a couple days. These very frequent feedings help your body increase supply to meet your little one’s growing needs – so go with the flow and feed as often as your baby wants!

You can expect growth spurts and cluster feeding at approximately 2 – 3 weeks, 4 - 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months.22

Read more:Breastfeeding On Demand Vs. On a Schedule

Learn about: How to Keep Your Baby Awake During Feedings

Relax while breastfeeding

It’s certainly easier said than done but try to take it easy. Breastfeeding and your supply work best when you’re calm and comfortable.2,9

Do your best to nurse your baby in a place where you feel relaxed and try to just focus on your little one during feeds (instead of your to-do list or phone, as tempting as these can be). If you need help clearing your mind, take in your surroundings: notice how your baby feels, smells, and looks. Try singing (your baby will enjoy hearing your voice) or use visualization techniques to picture a place where you feel totally at ease.17 Visualizing your let down and milk flow can also help!

If you are pumping, do your best to distract yourself, be calm, visualize, and try not watch the bottles too closely.2,

Aim to keep the same relaxing techniques at each feeding or pumping session. You can actually train your body to know it’s time for a feed by maintaining this calm routine every time!

Eat well

On average, breastfeeding moms need an extra 330-400 calories each day.11,12, Choosing nutrient-rich foods will help keep you feeling energized and healthy. Your best bets are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, dairy, eggs, meat, fish, and poultry.2,12,

You can add a little extra to each of your meals or enjoy a couple extra healthy snacks in your day - like hummus and vegetables, or fruit and yogurt. At meals and snacks, aim to combine protein with a complex carbohydrate (fruit, vegetable, whole grain) for lasting energy.

Read more: What to Eat While Breastfeeding

Learn about: Healthy Snack Ideas for Postpartum Women

Drink plenty of fluids

While drinking extra water won’t directly increase your milk supply, it’s important to consume enough fluids to prevent dehydration and keep your body in tip top milk-making shape.1016

Some recommendations for fluids for breastfeeding women are between 90-100 ounces per day (2.5 to 3 liters) but aiming to keep your urine a pale yellow or straw color is a handy guideline.2,16

Keep a water bottle handy, but know that other liquids like milk, coffee, tea, juice, and even watery foods (such as soup and fruit) count toward your daily needs as well.10 Try to stick with beverages that do not contain added sugars (like soda and sweetened teas) or alcohol.

Read more: Dos and Don’ts of Caffeine in Beverages and Foods

Learn about: Meal and Hydration Plan for Enabling Milk Supply

Other helpful tips to maintain your milk supply

To continue helping your body make enough milk for your baby, keep these breastfeeding tips in mind:

  • Each breastfeeding session, alternate which breast you start on

  • Offer both breasts each session, particularly in the first few months of breastfeeding

  • If you are away from baby, be sure to pump during any feeds you miss

  • Try to avoid providing formula unless necessary. If you do provide formula, pump anytime baby gets a bottle, this way the body knows how much milk baby needs51025

How do I know if my baby is getting enough breastmilk?

You’ll know your little one is getting plenty of milk by watching their diapers and weight.

For the 5 days of life: Your little one should be making at least 1 wet diaper per day of life along with 2 dirty diapers per 24 hours.23,24 For example: 1 or more wet diaper the first day, 2 or more wet the second day, etc.

After your mature milk starts to come in (or beyond 5 days of life): Your little one should be making 5 or more wet diapers per 24 hours once your mature milk starts coming in. Look for at least 2 to 3 dirty diapers each day.23,24

And of course, weight gain is the best indicator of your little one getting enough breastmilk. So be sure to bring your little one in for all their well checks with their health care provider.

Contact a lactation consultant

If you’re concerned about your milk supply, contact your healthcare provider or a local lactation consultant. The Happy Baby Experts can help you check your baby’s positioning and latch and suggest ways to improve nursing sessions so you and your baby both get what you need.

Let's Chat!

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Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am - 6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am - 2pm (ET).Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Dealing With a Low Breastmilk Supply

Meal and Hydration Plan for Enabling Milk Supply

How to Choose the Right Breast Pump

6 Breastfeeding Positions for You and Your Baby