MS, RD, LDN, CBS
Janel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University. As the recipient of the 2010 Massachusetts Young Dietitian of the Year award, she believes in making healthy eating simple, sustainable, and delicious.
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Milk production is based on supply and demand: the more milk your baby consumes, the more your body makes. Allowing your little one to nurse often, and at both breasts during each feeding should adequately stimulate the nipple and breast to produce milk.
Frequent feedings 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. Prolactin stimulates milk production while oxytocin signals the breasts to release the milk, known as the let-down reflex.
Your baby’s sucking cues the let-down, and the reflex works best when you are relaxed. Feelings of stress or pain, therefore, may impede the flow of milk, making it so important to relax during feeds instead of letting everyday stresses get to you – including thinking about whether your baby is getting enough milk!
The same mental state applies while you are pumping, so admire photos of your little guy and think happy thoughts to get the milk flowing. And don’t fret if you think you’re not pumping enough. Your baby is more efficient than a pump, so the amount of milk extracted is likely to be less than the amount your little one is actually consuming.
Once baby has finished feeding (or you have emptied your breasts using a pump), 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 anew!
Producing breastmilk (along with taking care of your baby) requires a tremendous amount of energy! So it is not uncommon to feel extra hungry while exclusively breastfeeding, as breastfeeding women experience increased calorie and nutrient needs.
Studies show that most healthy breastfeeding women produce abundant milk while eating 1,800-2,200 calories a day. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends that exclusively breastfeeding women who were at a healthy pre-pregnancy weight consume 450-500 calories per day on top of their pre-pregnancy calorie needs. 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, 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 can certainly help, especially if you have a nutrient deficiency.
Many foods, herbs, and spices like 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. 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.
If you are considering an herbal supplement, always first speak with your health care provider first. And read How much should I eat while breastfeeding for even more details.
Your body makes milk based on how much is removed from the breast. In other words, the more your baby nurses, the more milk you will produce. Pay attention to your baby’s hunger cues (like lip smacking, finger sucking, and rooting) and feed your babe as often as he needs.
In the first few weeks after birth, your goal should be 8 to 12 nursing sessions in a 24-hour period. This number will gradually reduce, once your baby becomes more efficient and can drink more milk at each feeding.
If you have a sleepy baby, you may need to wake him to nurse. Other babies like to “cluster feed” and then sleep for longer periods of time, and that’s ok too.
It’s certainly easier said than done, but try to take it easy. Breastfeeding works best when you’re relaxed because stress can inhibit your “let-down”, or the reflex allowing milk to flow from breast to baby.
Do your best to nurse your baby in a place where you feel comfortable and try to just focus on your little one during feeds (instead of your to-do list or smart phone, as tempting as these can be). If you need help clearing your mind, appeal to the senses – 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.
On average, breastfeeding moms need an extra 450-500 calories each day. Choose nutrient-rich foods, to 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.
You can add a little extra to each of your meals or enjoy a couple healthy snacks in your day – like hummus and vegetables, or fruit and yogurt.
Read How much should I eat while breastfeeding for all the details.
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.
Aim for a total of 13 to 16 (8 oz) cups of fluids per day. Keep a water bottle handy, but know that other liquids like milk, coffee, tea, and juice count toward your daily needs. However, try to stick with beverages that do not contain added sugars (like soda and sweetened teas) or alcohol.
And see Dos and Don’ts of caffeine in beverages and foods for more guidance.
If you’re concerned about your milk supply, contact your healthcare provider. Also Happy Family Coaches 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.
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