Become a Pumping Pro: by Christsenio Dean, RN, CLEC
Hello everyone, it’s Christsenio here! I’m so excited to be back with you for our third chat in the “Become a Pumping Pro Series.” In the first blog post, we went over “Which Pump is Right for You” and in the most recent blog post we covered “10 Ways to Get the Most Milk Output Using a Pump". I’m back this time to talk more with our pumping warriors about ways to naturally increase your milk supply!
If we haven’t met yet, I’m a NICU Nurse and one of the Allergy Experts here at Free to Feed. I’m incredibly passionate about helping families navigate infant food allergies, while continuing breastfeeding. Despite what you may have heard, your breastfeeding journey does NOT need to end at the first sign of infant food allergies, and I’ve helped many families successfully continue breast/body feeding despite infant allergy challenges. I am a parent and a food allergy warrior supporter. You can learn more about my background here.
Frequent and Effective Milk Removal is the Best Way to Increase Supply
I want to emphasize that the overall best natural way to increase milk supply is to increase milk removal. Frequent and efficient removal results in the body producing more milk. By combining increasing pumping sessions with the methods we’ll discuss below, you will enhance your chances of boosting your supply.
Now, let’s dive in so I can help you learn more about some of the additional ways to naturally increase your supply!
Below you’ll learn:
Back to the basics
Skin to skin
Avoiding factors that can reduce your supply
Back to the Basics
Sometimes, the most basic advice can be the solution to our problems! Living a healthy lifestyle can do amazing things for so many of us and likewise, can significantly help in naturally increasing milk supply. Consuming a healthy diet, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress can boost your milk making powers (5). With that said, I understand how challenging it can be to strive for all of these factors while being a parent to a little one(s). Trying to engage in small healthy behaviors every day, can go a long way when it comes to milk supply. You got this!
For our warriors on elimination diets, following an elimination diet often results in a well balanced diet since you typically avoid many processed foods and instead, consume so many nutritious, whole foods. What can be difficult while on an elimination diet is consuming a variety of foods, especially when your baby has allergies in several food protein groups. It’s important to try and do your best to consume as wide a variety of nutritious foods as possible and be open to trying new foods as well! Our Free to Feed team is always happy to help support you in navigating an elimination diet.
Eating well, hydration, sleep, and minimizing stress are all equally as important and contribute to your milk supply. In regards to hydration, while breastfeeding, it is essential to drink to thirst. While dehydration can negatively impact milk supply, overhydration has not been proven to increase milk supply.
Lack of sleep and stress can go hand in hand. One can lead to the other. Practicing stress reducing activities can help encourage a good night’s rest. For instance, exercising, going for a walk, taking a relaxing bath, listening to calming music or reading can all aid in supporting a good night’s sleep. Sleep is such a critical aspect to our overall health and well-being, and yet can be so hard to come by as a new parent. Poor sleep and health can lead to decreased oxytocin and therefore decreased milk supply (3).
If you have support systems around you, tap into them when you’re in need of some extra sleep, self care time, or need a little time to cook a nutritious meal. It takes a village!
Skin to Skin
There’s nothing like cuddling up skin to skin with your baby. Skin to skin involves baby laying on your bare chest with only a diaper on. This type of parent/baby bonding increases the oxytocin hormone. So, not only can it make both you and your baby feel good, but oxytocin helps to increase the ejection of milk from the breast. Greater pumped milk volumes can be noticed if the breasts are pumped soon after skin to skin. In regards to an amount of skin to skin time to aim for, as much or as little as desired. In the early postpartum days, it can be beneficial to perform skin to skin most of or the entire day. As the weeks and months pass, it is common to reduce to several hours per day. I encourage my clients to aim for at least 30 minutes of skin to skin prior to each pumping session. Not only can skin to skin help increase milk supply, it is also such a beneficial bonding experience throughout the breastfeeding journey.
Drain Breasts Frequently
When pumping, ensure that you are fully draining the breast. An empty breast will make more milk than a full breast (5). This will often look like continuing to pump for a few minutes after milk flow has stopped or slowed to a trickle. Fuller breasts contain greater levels of feedback inhibitor of lactation, which prevents the body from making more milk. So, do your best to avoid missing pump sessions. To increase supply, parents should aim to pump for 10-15 minutes after each breastfeeding session, approximately 8-12 times in a day.
Avoid Factors That Can Reduce Your Supply
It’s important to note that there are factors that have been shown to decrease milk supply. For example, medications such as decongestants and birth control pills containing estrogen can decrease milk supply (2). Herbs such as peppermint, sage, oregano, and parsley have also been known to decrease milk supply when used in large quantities (2). I recommend consulting with your medical provider regarding any substances listed above that may be impacting your supply.
A galactagogue is a food or substance that’s thought to boost your production of breastmilk. It is important to know that the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine does not endorse the use of any specific galactagogues due to the lack of evidence on their safety and efficacy (4).
Parents have reported that they’ve seen an increase in milk volume when consuming the foods and drinks listed below:
Dill, cumin, sesame
A diet rich in nutritious foods such as: seeds, nuts, whole grains, lean meat, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes (4).
For decades now, there have been any individuals who have also reported increased milk production when they consume herbs such as:
Shatavari root extract
If you are interested in trying any of the above-mentioned galactagogues, I would encourage you to consult with an herbalist, a medical professional or your physician to receive guidance on proper dosage, side effects, and medication interactions. Also, be aware that some of these items are common infant food allergy triggers. This is why it is most helpful to book a 1:1 so you aren’t navigating supply plus elimination!
You got this! Feeding your little can feel so overwhelming and milk supply can be a source of stress and concern for so many parents. Many of the methods I mentioned above may seem intuitive, but when you’re navigating life with a baby, little sleep, etc., it can be so easy for us to forget to focus on taking care of ourselves! Oftentimes the most basic factors can help new parents increase their milk supply. It’s so important for you to make sure you’re getting what you need, so you can be there for your baby. Eat right, sleep tight, soak it all in with skin to skin, get rest, engage in stress reducing activities, and keep doing your best. You are doing an amazing job!
The Free to Feed team is here to support you, too. We are here to cheer you on, problem-solve with you and find ways that can make this more doable for your unique circumstances. If you would like more support with your journey, I recommend you lean on an Allergy Expert (like me!) who understands the challenges you are currently facing, and can relate to what you are feeling. Not only do our Allergy Experts have first-hand experience navigating infant food allergies in our own families, we’ve directly helped over 5,000 families find success with our consultations.
Book a 1:1 consult here.
That’s all for today! I look forward to continuing our ‘Become a Pumping Pro’ series, and will be back to share more pumping guidance and support soon!
Keep on pumping,
💙 Christsenio Dean
Registered Nurse, Certified Lactation Educator Counselor, & Allergy Expert at Free to Feed
Bazzano, A. N., Hofer, R., Thibeau, S., Gillispie, V., Jacobs, M., & Theall, K. P. (2016). A Review of Herbal and Pharmaceutical Galactagogues for Breast-Feeding. The Ochsner journal, 16(4), 511–524.
Bonyata, K. (2018, January 2). Too much milk: Sage and other herbs for decreasing milk supply. KellyMom.com - Breastfeeding and Parenting. https://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/herbs/herbs-oversupply/
Does stress impact breast milk quality and supply? Medela. (2022, July 6). https://www.medela.us/breastfeeding/articles/does-stress-impact-breast-milk-quality-and-supply
Ryan, R. A., Hepworth, A. D., Lyndon, A., & Bihuniak, J. D. (2023). Use of galactagogues to increase milk production among breastfeeding mothers in the United States: A descriptive study. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 123(9), 1329–1339. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2023.05.019
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Low milk supply. WIC Breastfeeding Support - U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov/low-milk-supply