Although most mothers are able to produce enough milk for their babies’ needs, you may have concerns about your own milk production. Perhaps you and your baby had a difficult start, or were not given the support you needed to establish breastfeeding. Or maybe things were going well until your baby’s weight gain faltered.
If others question your milk production and your baby is fussy, wants to feed much of the time, seems small, or gains weight slowly, you may be wondering whether you have enough milk.
Young babies need to nurse frequently to get enough milk and establish their mother’s milk production. Following feeding schedules, using regular supplements, nipple shields, or a dummy can really reduce your milk production.
Breastmilk is also a drink and frequent nursing is normal. Adults rarely go longer than two hours without a drink, snack or meal. Your baby’s tummy is tiny and breastmilk is quickly digested, so they need frequent feeds to help them grow. It is recommended that your baby is weighed no more than once a month for the first six months, unless there are concerns.
A baby who sleeps a lot rather than waking to feed every 2–3 hours may need to be woken up to nurse, particularly if they have jaundice or aren’t gaining enough weight. If this is difficult or your baby is lethargic, ask your midwife, health visitor or GP to check that all is well.
See our article Sleepy Baby – why and what to do for more information.
It is normal for newborns to lose up to 7% of their birth weight in the first few days. Once your milk production increases, usually on day 3–4, expect your baby to begin gaining weight. Most babies regain their birth weight by the age of 10–14 days. You may also find it helpful to see Is my baby getting enough milk?
Plot your baby’s weight gain on a UK–WHO growth chart based on the growth rates of breastfed babies (see examples below and Further Reading). Although they will be growing at their own individual rate, it will give you an indication of how they are doing.
Monitor your baby’s weight over a period of time rather than week by week. Your baby’s weight may generally follow the chart, or climb up, crossing the percentile lines. A gradual drop from one percentile line to the next (or the equivalent distance) is unlikely to be a problem unless their weight is low for their age. Heavier newborns often show ‘catch-down’ growth – they gain weight steadily but drop gradually against the chart lines.
Dropping against the chart is more of a worry for lower weight babies
If your baby’s growth curve drops across two lines of the chart (or the equivalent distance), or if their weight is below the lowest line of the chart:
- Follow the suggestions here to ensure they get more milk.
- Seek help from your GP to rule out an underlying medical reason for your baby’s slow weight gain.
If you have doubts about your baby’s growth, you may find it reassuring to talk to an LLL Leader.
Wet and dirty nappies
If your baby receives enough milk, the thick and sticky black meconium poos will be passed within three days of birth, followed by at least 6–8 wet and 3–5 dirty nappies in each 24 hours. Expect yellow, loose, unformed poos at least the size of a 2p coin. From about six weeks, some babies have abundant poos once every few days. This isn’t a problem when a baby has plenty of wet nappies.
Look at your baby
You may instinctively know how your baby is doing. Are they nursing vigorously? Is their skin firm? Do they look healthy and seem active and alert? Are they meeting developmental milestones?
Even if your breasts feel empty, there’s always some milk there. Full breasts and engorgement slow milk production – you may need to nurse more often. Removing even small amounts of milk from soft breasts increases milk production.
Babies nurse for comfort as well as for food. Those little ‘snack’ comfort feeds can really increase your milk production and their calorie intake.
Expect your baby to want to breastfeed very often from time to time. Your breasts will quickly adjust to making more milk if you follow your baby’s cues.
Every baby has a unique feeding pattern. If your baby is gaining weight adequately, following their own feeding pattern is the best way of ensuring you are meeting their needs. It’s rare that a mother cannot produce enough milk for her baby, and there are lots of ways to increase the amount of breastmilk your baby gets.
After the first few weeks, supply and demand drives milk production. To increase your milk supply, focus on feeding more often and getting more milk out at each feed. For more information about how breasts make milk, see our article How milk production works and also How to increase your milk supply.
- Breastfeed as often as possible – at least 10 times in 24 hours. Wake your baby if necessary.
- Switch sides when your baby’s suck-swallow pattern starts to slow. Continue to switch sides (four times or more) until they reject the breast.
- Use breast compression (see below).
- Instead of breastfeeding at set intervals, encourage ‘cluster feeding’ – breastfeeding very often at times when your baby is willing to.
- Encourage breastfeeding for comfort as well as for food. It can really help your milk production. Stop using dummies – breastfeed instead.
- Ensure you are meeting your baby’s needs for milk during the night, feeding at least once every four hours.
- Cut back a little on your baby’s solid foods if your milk production is dropping (see below).
An effective latch
A baby may spend a long time at the breast but not get very much milk if they are not latched on effectively. Check your baby is well attached – watch and listen for swallowing which is frequent at the start and then slows down.
Contact an LLL Leader for one-to-one support and see Further Reading for more information. It’s important to seek skilled help early on if you are finding breastfeeding difficult, uncomfortable or painful.
Take a ‘baby moon’
Get some help with the housework and eat simple, easily-prepared meals for a week or two so you can concentrate on breastfeeding your baby. A couple of days’ bed rest together, feeding your baby on demand can really boost your milk production. Or at least take some time each day to rest with them and concentrate on breastfeeding.
Try laid-back breastfeeding
Many babies instinctively seek the breast and feed frequently if they can snuggle up close to their mother’s chest.
Try letting your baby lie on your body, skin to skin (with a blanket if needed) as you recline, so both their chest and tummy are against you. This close body contact gives your baby lots of opportunity to breastfeed, even in a light sleep, and boosts levels of the hormones that increase your milk. A soft carrier or sling helps to keep your baby close and encourages breastfeeding. (see Positioning and Attachment for more on laid back breastfeeding)
- Support your breast with one hand – thumb on one side, fingers on the other.
- Wait while your baby breastfeeds actively, their jaw moving all the way to their ear. When their swallowing slows, compress your breast firmly to increase milk flow and encourage swallowing. Hold it squeezed while they continue nursing actively, then release your hand.
- Rotate your hand around the breast and repeat step 2 on different areas of the breast.
Go gently – this should not hurt.
Babies need only human milk for the first six months (human milk is higher in calories than many weaning foods). Too much solid food replacing human milk can affect weight gain in older babies. Breastfeed before offering solid foods if your baby is under 12 months old. Even at 12 months, both human milk and solids are equally important. Breastfeed frequently and, rather than spoon-feeding, offer your baby a variety of foods, letting them feed themselves to ensure they take only what they need.
Continued low milk production
If you’ve tried all these suggestions and your milk production has not increased enough, there may be a medical reason. Some medical conditions can lead to low milk production, though appropriate treatment can reduce the impact. These situations are rare, but you can discuss possibilities with an LLL Leader. For more information see our article How to increase your milk supply and Further Reading.
Signs your milk is increasing
Watch for weight gain and an increase in your baby’s wet and dirty nappies. Your breasts may feel fuller before feeds and begin to leak.
Looking after yourself
Don’t forget to be kind to yourself, especially if you’re feeling under pressure. Now is the time to call in favours from friends and relatives so you can concentrate on your baby. If your baby needs more milk, talking to your local LLL Leader will help. You can share your concerns with other mothers at an LLL meeting, who will be able to give you encouragement and support.
It can be a challenge fitting in breastfeeding, supplementing and expressing. You could try the following approach, aiming for at least 8 feeds in 24 hours. At each feed:
- Start with breastfeeding, observing your baby’s swallowing pattern. Use breast compressions to maximise the flow. When swallowing slows, switch sides and repeat. If your baby has enough energy, you can repeat this process (known as ‘switch nursing’). This part of the feed might take 10–30 minutes, but use swallowing as your guide. A baby who is not swallowing isn’t taking in any milk so move to step 2.
- Give your supplement with a spoon, syringe, nursing supplementer, finger feeding tube, or bottle. Give stored breastmilk first, then supplement with other milk. Follow your baby’s lead until they are satisfied. A baby who is underweight may become extra hungry for a while. By giving them extra milk, you will help them gain weight and get the energy they need to breastfeed better. To save time, this step could be done by your support person while you express. For more on ways to give your baby more milk, see our article on Bottles and other tools.
- Express both breasts using a combination of pumping and hand expression, switching back and forth as milk flow slows. Store this milk in the fridge ready for the next feed. By removing the milk your baby couldn’t, you build your future milk production and have milk to supplement the next feed. This is an important step, especially if you are working to eliminate formula supplements.
- Finish at the breast. The whole feed may take 60–90 minutes. If it works for you, you might offer the breast at the end of the feed so your baby associates the breast with being calm, happy and satisfied. Suckling can help them settle to sleep, too.
Keep a record of the amounts of each supplement your baby takes at each feed and also what you express. This can help you see your progress and maybe useful for anyone supporting you with breastfeeding.
Cup, spoon and syringe feeding can work when small amounts are needed.
A nursing supplementer can be used to give larger amounts while your baby is at the breast. Another option is finger feeding, using an infant feeding tube. One end of the tube is taped to your finger. As your baby sucks on your finger, milk flows along the tube from a container which can be raised or lowered to change flow. An LLL Leader can help you find out more and choose an option that works best for you.
If using a bottle, paced bottle feeding can help ensure your baby doesn’t take more milk than they need.
- A smaller teat hole prevents a baby taking milk too quickly.
- Hold them in an upright position, using your hand to support their neck and head.
- To encourage your baby to open wide, place the teat across their lips with the tip between the upper lip and nose.
- Allow your baby some control. Let them take the bottle teat into their mouth themself. Avoid pushing the teat into their mouth.
- Tilt the bottle just enough to fill the tip of the teat and give a gentle flow so your baby isn’t overwhelmed with milk. As the bottle empties, gradually tilt the bottle more and lean your baby back.
- Encourage frequent pauses to mimic breastfeeding, and allow your baby to decide when they have had enough.
For more information see Bottles and other tools.
A baby nursing well at the breast is more effective than any pump. But while your baby isn’t breastfeeding well or you’re giving supplements, expressing your milk will stimulate milk production. Give any expressed milk before you give infant formula, so none of your precious breastmilk is wasted.
Nurse your baby frequently so they get the extra milk you make. An increase in the amount you can express is a sign that you can reduce supplements if your baby is nursing well and often.
- Hospital-grade pumps are the most effective for mothers needing to increase their milk, but any pump that works well for you is fine.
- Try hands-on pumping: use breast massage and breast compressions while pumping, then hand express afterwards to get the last few drops of milk. For more on hand expressing see our article: Hand expression
- Pumping on both sides at the same time boosts milk-producing hormones. When pumping one side at a time, switch back and forth several times as milk flow slows.
- Consider power pumping: experiment with pumping very frequently for short periods to mimic cluster feeding.
Wash your pump with hot soapy water, or sterilise it once a day. Pump equipment can be left at room temperature for short periods, or stored in the fridge for longer periods. For more information, see our article Expressing Your Milk.
Good times to express milk
- After feeds while your baby sleeps – ‘putting in an order’ for more milk later. Milk expressed after a feed may be small in quantity, but is high in calories.
- Between feeds if your baby is too sleepy to nurse frequently.
- While holding your baby, or with them nearby. Expressing little and often can be better than long sessions. Try some ‘power pumping’ during the evening, or fit in some extra pumping sessions one day. You should notice an increase in milk production a couple of days later.
Using donor milk and formula to support breastfeeding
The use of donor milk or infant formula is sometimes essential to meet a baby’s nutritional needs. You may need to use donor milk or formula as a short-term measure while you work to increase your milk production. See our article Using donor milk & formula to support breastfeeding for more information.
Supplementing with donor milk or formula without protecting your milk supply may reduce the duration of your breastfeeding journey.
Powdered infant formula is not a sterile product. To reduce health risks associated with using infant formula, carefully follow the NHS guidelines for preparing it. La Leche League does not recommend the use of homemade formula. The NHS guide to bottle feeding is available online (see Further Reading).
Written by Karen Butler and mothers of LLLGB
How to increase your milk supply
How milk production works
Using donor milk and formula to support breastfeeding
Dummies and Breastfeeding
Hand expressing of breastmilk
Is my baby getting enough milk?
Positioning & Attachment
Rhythms and Routines
Safe sleep and the Breastfed Baby
Sleep baby – why and what to do
Storing your milk
After a difficult start
Natural (laid-back) breastfeeding naturalbreastfeeding.com
Biological nurturing™ www.biologicalnurturing.com
Maximising milk production when expressing https://med.stanford.edu/newborns/professional-education/breastfeeding/maximizing-milk-production.html
UK–WHO Growth Charts These charts are based on the growth rates of breastfed babies and can be found in your baby’s Personal Child Health Record (red book). Further copies, the more detailed hospital 0–4 charts and specialised charts for low weight babies can all be downloaded from: www.rcpch.ac.uk/growthcharts
NHS guide to bottle feeding
This information is available to buy in printed form from our shop.
Copyright LLLGB 2022