10 Tips for Naturally Increasing a Healthy Milk Supply
The responsibility of feeding your newborn is one of the most valuable joys of motherhood. But it can be frustrating too! Personally, we have three children, and I (Jen) have been breastfeeding almost non-stop for nearly five years. We have been through the ups, the downs and the learning curve of establishing a breastfeeding relationship with a newborn. From late night nursings to fussy cluster feedings, ravaging growth spurts and teething, we know it takes a lot of time, energy and patience to sustain breastfeeding and keep a healthy milk supply.
At Spirit of Health, we always look to God as our amazing Creator and wonderful designer. His plan for pregnancy, birth and feeding a newborn is nothing short of a miracle in itself. Many know the amazing benefits of nursing, but you may not be aware that some of the keys to quality and adequate milk supply are simple solutions that are absolutely free! We would like to share with you some of the things that we have learned along our five-year journey of breastfeeding three beautiful babes. Here are our top 10 tips for feeding your baby & sustaining a successful breastfeeding relationship:
Tip #1 – Nurse, Nurse, & Nurse Some More
Lactogenesis, aka nursing, actually begins during pregnancy and goes through three different stages before the actual production of mature mother’s milk. The first two stages involve the making of colostrum. Colostrum, coined “liquid gold,” is the baby's first dose of important immune fighting substances and nutrients critical to setting the stage for the child’s health. The immunoglobulins form antibodies that protect the newborn from disease until its own immune system is working. Colostrum contains proteins, hormones, enzymes, complex sugars and growth factors that speed the growth of the baby. It even contains peroxidase enzymes which destroy disease-carrying microbes and lactoferrin which neutralizes various bacteria. Colostrum can only be described as an absolute miracle from God.
Colostrum production begins in the last weeks of pregnancy (Lactogenesis stage 1) and then upon birth, the volume of colostrum increases and within a few days mother’s milk arrives (Lactogenesis stage 2). These first two stages are under endocrine control. Hormones drive these processes, and for the majority of women, these should happen effortlessly. If you know you struggle with endocrine and hormonal imbalance, we recommend getting on a diet that promotes hormone balancing like our Eating by Design: Hormone Balancing Edition and seeing a naturopath for testing and personalized health protocols.
Lactogenesis stage 3 is what most women affiliate with the term “nursing.” This is the maintenance phase where moms and babies are finding a rhythm and working together to find the right balance of supply and demand. Milk production at this stage is governed by one major factor: milk removal from the breast. This is why it is imperative to avoid supplementing with bottles and using pacifiers in the early months as this can lead to reduced feedings which are needed to stimulate milk production. Hormones do play a role as well, and so it is important to make sure that milk removal happens mainly by nursing and not just through breast pumps, as hormones needed for milk supply are more likely to increase during the bond of nursing and not the act of pumping.
Many times I have been “nervous” that I wasn’t making enough milk because as the day would go on my breasts would feel “empty.” This can actually be a good sign that the baby is draining the breast and that milk production will shortly ensue. Many moms assume they are not making enough milk and are tempted to supplement, but if the child is having adequate weight gain and frequent wet and dirty diapers, there is no need to worry. Nursing on demand, especially in the first few months, is the most effective way to ensure frequent breast emptying. Scheduled nursings can impede this process and work against laying the foundation of a steady milk supply.
Do not hesitate to reach out for encouragement and support from a lactation consultant if you are having difficulty with latching and positioning. Each of my nursing babes had their own style and preference to nursing, and it took time to figure out our unique breastfeeding relationship. Babies will often do “cluster feeding” where they nurse continuously, often starting around 6pm as they gear up for bedtime or sometimes when going through a growth spurt. If the baby is fussy, do not get frustrated, but stay calm, pray, sing if you have to and continue to nurse! It will often improve within a short window of time.
Unless you need to return to work, we often recommend avoiding pumping to keep the balance of supply and demand as synchronized as possible. Overproduction is a real thing for many women, and excessive pumping can create a very uncomfortable scenario where the baby cannot get to the fatty hindmilk because the body has developed a habit of making more milk than is needed. (Learn more on this on Kelly Mom)
Tip # 2 – Skin to Skin
Skin to skin is normal and natural. That initial skin to skin is crucial when the baby is born, and it is so throughout breastfeeding. The simplicity of skin to skin is enough to stimulate hormone production and boost milk supply. It is my preference at night to have the baby sleep with just a diaper and wrap them loosely with swaddle blankets. Then when they wake to nurse it is only a matter of pulling back the blankets, and we can experience skin to skin with each feeding. The difference between skin to skin nursing compared to nursing clothed is night and day for me. Try it out and pay attention to the feelings of calm, centeredness and peace that come with something so seemingly simple, yet so beautiful. If this is how mom feels, just imagine how the baby is feeling.
Tip # 3 – De-Stress
This is easier said than done. Especially with a crying baby and possibly a few toddlers running around. However, it is important to realize the impact that stress has on the health of your body, including your milk production. We have learned that STRESS is one of the biggest detriments to healthy milk supply, healthy breastfeeding, and a healthy baby. Stress places the body in fight or flight mode, shutting down other body processes. Stress tightens your nerves, lymph, and muscles, all critical parts of milk supply and production. Focusing on de-stressing may be one of the most important things you can do during this important season of life.
Take Holy Basil. This herb has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to calm and relax the nervous system and simultaneously increase milk supply. Double bonus! We love the Cedar Bear liquid Holy Basil and have been using and recommending it for years.
Take a walk outside when able. If you are not ready to walk because you recently gave birth, then sit outside. Get some sunshine on your skin, put your bare feet on the earth, and enjoy the peace of God through nature.
Deep breathing and prayer. This is especially important when the baby is fussy or can’t seem to calm down. Taking deep breaths into the diaphragm turns off cortisol and the stress response. Remember to take long, slow deep breaths into the mid-section and release slowly as well. It works!
Healthy boundaries and perspective on life. This is a time to minimize your commitments and prioritize your breastfeeding newborn. Avoid comparisons to other women who may seem more “productive” and realize that you are doing the most productive thing you could ever do by providing all the necessary nutritional requirements for your growing child.
Tip # 4 – Healthy Lymph
Heat calms, relaxes and opens blood and lymphatic vessels, the gateways for milk production in the breast. Breast tissue is predominantly lymph and a major part of the lymphatic system. A hot compress, hot shower or warm bath can relax and open up milk flow. Breast massage can stimulate milk flow as well. Healthy lymph reduces the chances of having a bout of mastitis as well.
This may sound silly but choosing a nursing bra without an underwire is very important! Underwire bras have been strongly linked to poor breast health, and this is not the time to have poor lymphatic flow to your breast (read more on Dr. Mercola article on underwire bras)!
Tip # 5 – Sleep
Ya right! No seriously. When the baby sleeps, you should sleep. You need recovery time. Yes, there will be tough nights, but take advantage of baby naps even if it means setting up your toddler with an approved activity for 15 minutes and closing your eyes. The early months of caring for a newborn can be exhausting and if your push to “get stuff done” around the house happens every time baby sleeps, you are missing out on healing time, relaxation time, and skin to skin time you both need!
Tip # 6 – Connect to Creation
Today we are so far removed from creation that it takes intentional effort to connect with God’s beauty. Sunshine, fresh air, and healthy movement are so critical for the production of Vitamin D and healthy hormones including the sleep hormone, melatonin, for mom & baby. Not to mention the benefits the sun has on liver health for both mom and baby. Remember that jaundice babies were placed in the sun to help improve their symptoms.
When all these systems are functioning optimally the body is in sync and can do the normal day to day functions with ease, including breastfeeding.
You may need to be in bed of course for the initial time after the birth, but as your strength returns, it is important to get outside. God’s time clock is set by the sun and the earth! Experience morning sunshine and enjoy a sunset walking barefoot on the earth holding your baby. This “grounds” you and your baby to the earth to receive healing negative ions. Remember, this is a normal part of God’s plan and design. For some odd reason, we seem to fear going outside and “exposing” our babies to nature, thinking that indoors is healthier than outdoors. Nothing could be further from the truth, or God’s design and purpose. At the very least, open all your windows and get as much sunshine, fresh air and green plants around you as possible. You may also consider an earthing bed sheet to maximize your connection to the earth and receive its healing benefit while laying on your bed.
“One thing I will never forget as a father. With all three of our beautiful little babies, when I was responsible for caring for our little ones, and mom was unavailable if crying and fussing started, I learned to simply walk outside. It is no exaggeration that the MINUTE I stepped outside, the crying stopped and the baby was at peace, and I noticed this even more so if I was skin to skin and walking barefoot on the grass. This should teach us something about God, how we were created, and how far we have strayed from connection to our natural world.” -Vaughn
Tip # 7 – Water & Hydration
This should be a no-brainer, but we sometimes forget when life is crazy. You can’t make breast milk without fluids. This doesn’t mean drinking water until you are water-logged. Ideally, you drink water at room temperature with a little lemon added in for additional electrolytes. The best water comes from raw fruits and vegetables, so juicing and eating a diet high in these foods while breastfeeding is the goal for optimal nutrition and hydration. The more processed foods, sugars, and starches you eat, the harder it will be to stay hydrated. The more raw fruits and veggies you eat, the easier.
Tip # 8 - Beta-Carotene Rich Foods
The body needs an extra supply of beta-carotene (the precursor to Vitamin A) when nursing. Vitamin A plays an essential part in your newborn’s growth and immune development. A diet high in beta-carotene for mom will translate to higher levels of Vitamin A in her breast milk. Beta-Carotene is found in many colored fruits and vegetables. Two of the most common sources are carrots and beets. Juice them, eat them on salads, steam or roast them. Whatever works for you. I personally love beet crystals and add them regularly to juices or smoothies. The absolute best source of beta-carotene in the world (roughly 37X higher than carrots) is Spirulina. We use the Nutrex Hawaiian Spirulina because of its quality and purity. Take as much as you like, up to a tablespoon is easy if you add it to a fruit smoothie or juice.
Tip # 9 – Herbal Galactagogues. Take Herbs that Promote Milk Supply
Some herbs have been used for hundreds of years for this purpose. They are well known, and they work. These herbs include:
There are many great formulas out there that combine these herbs to make it easier for you. Two of my favorites include:
Tip # 10 – Eat Galactagogue Containing Foods
There are many great foods also known to promote milk supply. Here is a quick list of foods you can add to your diet, and some amazingly delicious and simple recipes that feature some of these foods.
- Oats and oatmeal
- Flaxseeds (excellent source, and good for omega 3’s also)
- Sesame Seeds
- Brewer’s Yeast and Nutritional Yeast
- Carrots and beets
- Roasted Beets
- Garlicky Kale Salad
Breastfeeding your baby is extremely rewarding although it can be a difficult practice to sustain in our hurried lives. Be confident in your choice to breastfeed, focusing on the amazing benefits it provides for your child. You really are giving them the best possible start at life for proper growth and a strong immune system. And of course, we cannot forget to mention the beautiful bond and connection that is formed with breastfeeding. So much is happening in such a simple act that we can easily take it for granted.
In our fast-paced culture, a nursing momma needs to remember that this is a delicate season of life. Pulling back from over-commitment and seeing yourself as productively raising a human being is crucial to your success. Give yourself lots of grace and enjoy this short window of time!
“You are He who brought me forth from the womb. You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon you, I was cast from birth. You have been my God from my mother’s womb.” -Psalm 22:9-10