The body usually produces milk in response to the baby’s demand. However, ways to naturally produce more milk include frequent expression, adapting routines, and following a healthy lifestyle.

The causes of a low milk supply range from differences in feeding times and smoking to medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Healthcare professionals recommend exclusively breastfeeding until babies are 6 months old and supplementary breastfeeding until at least 1–2 years old. However, many Americans stop breastfeeding earlier over concerns they are not producing enough milk.

Research suggests that modifying feeding practices and lifestyle changes can help people feel more confident about breastfeeding and caring for newborns.

This article discusses tips on how to produce more milk and the causes of a low supply. We also examine a baby’s symptoms if the milk supply is low and when people should consult a medical professional.

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The body typically produces milk according to the baby’s “demand”. As milk leaves the breasts, the body receives signals to make more. As a result, frequent and thorough emptying of the breasts can lead to quicker milk production.

The following methods may help people to produce more milk:

  1. Consulting a nurse or lactation expert to learn about latching and the best way to hold a baby.
  2. Feeding the baby any time they show hunger signs, such as licking their lips or putting their hands to their mouth.
  3. Attempting regular and frequent feeds if possible, such as 8–12 times in 24 hours.
  4. Switching between both breasts during a feeding session.
  5. Expressing extra milk after breastfeeding.
  6. Applying warm compresses to the breasts, especially before a feeding or pumping session.
  7. Massaging breasts before, during, and after breastfeeding.
  8. Avoiding bottles and pacifiers until breastfeeding is well-established and the baby is gaining weight as expected.
  9. Expressing milk regularly if away from the baby – try pumping the breasts every 2–3 hours or roughly as frequently as the baby would eat.
  10. Trying an hour-long power pumping session — pumping the breasts for 10 minutes, resting for 10 minutes, pumping for another 10, resting again, and so on.

Do galactagogues help increase milk production?

Galactagogues are herbs or medications that people can take to increase breast milk production.

Doctors can prescribe pharmaceutical galactagogues, such as domperidone and metoclopramide. A 2015 study identified that domperidone made a significant difference in milk production.

However, participants noted mild-to-moderate side effects, including dry mouth and headaches. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve these drugs to increase milk supply. Overall, there is limited data to support how effective prescription drugs are at increasing milk production.

Researchers have also used herbal galactagogues in studies to explore the benefits of natural milk production. Fenugreek is one of the more popular herbal galactagogues.

However, research shows that the baby and the person breastfeeding may experience side effects with herbal galactagogues, such as diarrhea. More scientific evidence is required to support the use of herbal compounds by clinicians.

Other factors can impact a person’s milk production. Resting and following nutrition recommendations can help a person to maintain a consistent milk supply.

The following lifestyle and routine changes may help a person to produce more milk:

  • reducing stress
  • practicing frequent skin-to-skin contact with the baby, especially during the first few days
  • drinking at least 2 liters of water per day
  • consuming caffeine moderately
  • avoiding smoking
  • staying well-rested
  • eating three nutritious meals per day

Some people suggest that certain foods help to increase milk production. These anecdotal claims include oatmeal, Gatorade, and lactation cookies, often made from whole grains, flaxseed meal, brewer’s yeast, and chocolate chips. Although there is not much evidence showing that consuming these foods is how to produce more milk, they are generally not harmful and can be a helpful addition to the diet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that well-nourished breastfeeding people need an additional 330–400 calories per day, increasing the overall recommended amount to 2,000–2,800 calories per day.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommend that people also need 290 micrograms (mcg) of iodine and 550 mcg of choline per day when breastfeeding. Eggs and seafood also contain iodine. Choline is in dairy and protein food groups, such as cheese and meats. People should consult a healthcare professional to determine if an individual requires additional supplements while breastfeeding.

Experts also recommend vitamin B12 supplements for vegetarians or vegans while they are pregnant and breastfeeding.

The potential causes of a low milk supply include:

  • infrequent feedings — babies should feed at least every 1–3 hours
  • short feedings — babies should feed long enough for breasts to soften
  • certain medications, such as cold and flu treatments
  • previous breast surgeries
  • supplemental feedings away from the breast, as the body does not receive signals to produce more milk
  • smoking
  • high intake of alcohol or caffeine
  • starting a hormonal birth control method before a newborn is 6–8 weeks old, or using estrogen-containing contraception any time while breastfeeding

Medical conditions and other risk factors can also contribute to low milk production, such as:

Signs that suggest a baby is not getting enough milk include:

  • appearing sleepy and having low energy
  • not gaining the typical 5.5–8.5 ounces per week until they are 4 months old
  • not passing three to four stools per day by 4 days old
  • stools not showing seedy texture by 5 days old
  • not needing diapers changed six or more times every 24 hours after 5 days old
  • not waking up for night needs
  • short feeds, falling asleep during feeds, or both
  • feeding times last longer than 30–40 minutes

A person may also have a low milk supply if latching is painful or appears shallow.

Medical professionals recommend routine checkups for newborns. However, if caregivers sense that something is not right with the baby before a scheduled appointment, they should seek medical help.

Specific symptoms that a person should consult with a healthcare professional include:

  • the baby appearing more lethargic than usual
  • a lack of appropriate weight gain
  • infrequent stools
  • infrequent wet diapers

Healthcare professionals recommend exclusively breastfeeding babies for the first 6 months of their lives and supplemental breastfeeding for at least 1 year.

However, many people stop breastfeeding over concerns they are not producing enough breast milk. Some signs a baby is not receiving enough milk include appearing sleepy and lethargic and changes in stools and feeding times.

People who breastfeed can increase milk supply by feeding their baby on demand, frequently expressing their milk, adapting their breastfeeding practices, and following a healthy lifestyle. It is also helpful for people to speak with lactation consultants for direct advice on naturally producing more milk.