Your baby didn't come with an instruction manual, so it's normal to worry that you're doing something wrong and not meeting his needs. Take heart in the knowledge that it's rare for a breastfeeding mom to produce so little milk that she has to supplement with formula. The best and easiest way to produce more milk is to make use of an asset you already have: your baby.
First: Identify the Problem
Before you worry about how to increase your milk supply, you should be sure that your baby needs more milk. "Perceptions about the satisfied baby are tricky," says Paula Santi, a lactation consultant based in Walnut Creek, California, "because some breastfeeding problems are lookalikes." For instance, she says, a baby who's overwhelmed by too much milk may display the same fussiness as a baby who's not getting enough milk.
A few factors can tell you whether you're producing enough milk. After the first few days of life, your baby should steadily gain weight. A baby who is getting enough milk should make audible swallowing sounds after every one or two sucks, seem contented after eating and produce a minimum of four wet disposable diapers or six wet cloth diapers. In the first month, he should produce at least two stools per day. After that, one stool per day is normal.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the more milk your baby drinks, the more your body will produce. "Milk supply issues happen most often when mom and baby are separated and breasts are being stimulated less often," explains Santi. "Two common reasons for this can be scheduling or sleep training." Returning to work or spacing out nighttime feedings signals to your body that your baby doesn't require as much milk as she once did.
A decrease in milk supply is reversible, Santi says. "If mom had a stable, full supply to begin with, it can usually be brought back with more stimulation, either by nursing baby more often or pumping more often. Many women find that supply may suffer when there are fewer than seven stimulations in a 24-hour period." Giving your baby shorter, more frequent feedings will signal to your body that you need lots of milk.
Make More Contact
Skin-to-skin contact with your baby feels delicious, but it also gives your brain a powerful instinctual boost. Remove all his clothes except his diaper before a feeding. Skin contact can wake him up and stimulate him into eating more. You might even try wearing him in a sling while topless when you're at home. Having easy access to food may entice him to nurse more often than he would normally.
Though your baby is your best tool for increasing milk supply, a breast pump does have a purpose for moms with supply problems. If you baby seems to prefer only one breast, pump the other breast after each feeding to keep its supply steady. If your baby sleeps through the night and doesn't require a nighttime feeding, you may still want to pump during the night to keep your supply steady.
Try Fenugreek or Other Lactation Cookies
While not scientifically proven to help increase milk supply, some mothers believe herbs can help stimulate the body to produce more milk. Taking fenugreek should not, however, completely substitute your nursing schedule. Lactation cookies are also a great option for breastfeeding mothers to boost nutrients and keep up their milk supply. Several brands can be found online, or you can make your own with a yummy baking recipe. Do your research and consult with your doctor or lactation specialist.
Don't rush to supplement your baby's diet with formula, warns lactation specialist Cass Romero-Schroeder of Riverside, California. "It is rare a mom can't produce enough for her baby," she explains. She cites supplementing a baby's diet with formula as one of the main factors in decreasing milk supply. "There is a small time and place for supplementing but not as often as most moms think."
Consult your pediatrician before adding formula to your baby's diet. And because you want him to do all of his sucking at the breast, hold off on giving him pacifiers.
Seek help if your milk supply continues to dwindle. Physical issues, such as a mom's hormonal imbalance or a baby's tongue-tie, should be ruled out by your doctor and your baby's pediatrician. A lactation consultant can also help you find the breastfeeding strategy that works best for you and your little one.