Not enough breastmilk: getting help
If you’d like some help with breastfeeding, support services are available. Your midwife, child and family health nurse or GP or the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) can support you with breastfeeding your baby. They can also help you find a lactation consultant if you need one.
An ABA counsellor can also help – phone the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268.
This article covers how to increase milk supply. If you’re having other issues with breastfeeding, you could check out our articles on how to manage oversupply and engorgement, breastfeeding attachment techniques, sore nipples and nipple infections and mastitis and blocked ducts.
Not enough milk supply
Many mums worry they aren’t making enough milk for their babies. You might feel especially anxious in the early days if your baby cries after feeds.
But babies cry for all sorts of reasons. When your baby cries, they could be saying, ‘I'm still hungry’. But your baby could just as easily be saying ‘I’m tired’ or ‘I’m not hungry now, but I’ve got a tummy ache’.
The best way to know whether your baby is getting enough milk is to look at their nappies and weight gain. Signs that your baby is getting enough milk are that your baby:
- has at least 6 wet cloth nappies or 5 very wet disposables in 24 hours, with clear or pale wee
- poos 3-4 times a day if your baby is younger than 6-8 weeks old (an older baby is likely to do fewer poos)
- has healthy skin tone and muscle tone (if you gently pinch your baby’s skin, it should spring back into place)
- is alert and mostly happy after and between feeds
- is gaining some weight and growing in length and head circumference.
It’s normal for babies to lose a little bit of weight in the first week of life. After this, if your baby isn’t gaining weight and has fewer than 6 wet cloth nappies or 5 very wet disposables in 24 hours, you might be advised to give extra milk. You can do this by giving extra breastfeeds or by giving your baby expressed breastmilk. If this doesn’t help, talk to your midwife, child and family health nurse, GP or lactation consultant.
Most mothers can breastfeed and produce enough milk for their babies if they have the right information, support and care.
How to increase milk supply
Each time your baby takes some milk from your breasts, your breasts get the message to make more milk. So you could try fitting in a few extra breastfeeds each day.
For example, if you’re breastfeeding every 3-4 hours (from the start of one feed to the start of the next), you could try offering baby a few extra snack breastfeeds in between. Aim to breastfeed at least 8-12 times in 24 hours.
If your baby doesn’t settle after a feed, take a break and give a ‘top-up’ breastfeed again in about 20-30 minutes. There will be more milk there, and feeding again will help increase milk supply. You can repeat these ‘top-ups’ several times if your baby doesn’t settle.
You could also offer an extra night-time feed, or you could feed more often during the evening. Your prolactin levels are higher at night, so more frequent feeding at night might increase your milk supply.
If your baby is asleep for a long time or is generally very sleepy and won’t take frequent feeds, you can try waking your baby to feed. Also, a baby in the lighter phase of sleep might feed while asleep, so you can also try feeding when you see your baby moving around or their eyelids are flickering.
Another option is to express after each breastfeed or while your baby is sleeping. This makes sure your breasts are well drained and helps to increase your milk supply. You can store it in the fridge or freezer for using later on.
Massaging or applying pressure to your breasts while breastfeeding or expressing helps with milk flow and drainage.
Skin-to-skin contact with your baby can help to increase your milk supply because it stimulates prolactin and oxytocin. Both of these hormones help your body to make and release breastmilk.
You can have skin-to-skin contact while breastfeeding by taking your top and bra off and just having your baby in a nappy on your chest. If it’s cold, wrap a blanket around yourselves to keep warm.
Relaxed and comfortable environment
The more relaxed you are while breastfeeding, the better your milk will flow. Make sure your chair or bed is comfortable and try to remove any distractions. For example, turn off your phone or put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your door. Have a glass of water on hand for yourself too.
It’s important to make sure you look after yourself and get enough rest. Go to bed and try to get someone to look after you and your baby.
Sometimes GPs prescribe medicines that might help to increase prolactin levels and increase milk supply. Speak to your GP for advice.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s weight gain or you think that extra feeds aren’t helping to build up your supply, talk to your child and family health nurse or GP, or contact a lactation consultant or ABA counsellor.