If your baby eats more than you produce, it can be stressful! Many breastfeeding websites will recommend things like staying in bed and doing nothing but nursing when there are issues with supply so that a breastfeeding mother can get plenty of nipple stimulation and rest at the same time. While this is great advice, it won’t help women that are exclusively pumping. If you are making less than your baby is eating – or even if you just want the peace of mind of a freezer stash – here are six ways that you can increase your milk supply as an exclusive pumper.
1. Take Fenugreek and Other Lactation-Promoting Herbs
Many women use herbal galactagogues to increase supply, and I personally have had a lot of success with them. Fenugreek is probably the most popular of these, and some mothers see an increase in pumping output after 24-72 hours of starting it. A detailed overview of fenugreek is available here, but the short version is that you can buy it online or in the grocery store, and generally, you can start with 2 capsules 3 times per day, and wait to see if you start to smell like maple syrup. If you don’t, you may need to increase your dosage, with the upper cap being 4 capsules 4 times per day. Smelling like maple syrup is key – that means its working! Once your output has gone up, fenugreek can typically be discontinued and the increased supply will stay (as long as you keep pumping).
Another option is “nursing teas.” These teas contain a mixture of herbs (like fenugreek, blessed thistle, and fennel seed) and are intended to be used continuously, because the dosage is much lower than herbs such as fenugreek in capsule form.
2. Eat Oatmeal
Although there is no scientific research on this, enough women have noticed an increase in pumping output when they eat oatmeal that many lactation consultants recommend it as a way of increasing supply. Your can have a bowl of old-fashioned oats for breakfast, cook with them (i.e., oatmeal cookies, pancakes, etc.), or try some lactation bars (these Oat Mama bars in particular are delicious – I really like the Peanut Butter Chocolate).
With baby #2, I did an unscientific experiment to see if it would work for me, with some success. Currently, I’m nursing and pumping for baby #3, and I notice about an 1-2 oz increase in the amount I pump on days when I eat oatmeal or have a bar for breakfast.
3. Pump More Often or For Longer Periods of Time
It’s really important to pump enough in order to remove as much milk as possible from your breasts (which encourages your body to make more) and to provide nipple stimulation. You can try adding an extra pumping session or adding time to your existing sessions. At first, the amount of milk you pump will probably stay the same, just spread out across the extra sessions/time. However, after a few days, you will hopefully notice an increase in output. Make sure that you get the most out of your pumping sessions by doing breast compressions and setting your pump to the right speed.
I would caution, however, to be careful not to overdo it. Ideally, if you are exclusively pumping, you should spend two hours per day pumping. If you need to up that to get more milk, personally, I would not recommend going any higher than three hours per day. At some point, it’s just too much and will become exhausting. Plus, you have other things to do and a baby to care for and snuggle.
Before you start ramping up your pumping session, consider replacing your the membranes on your pump parts (here are the Pump in Style replacement membranes and here are the Freestyle parts) – especially if you’ve been using them for over two months. I have replaced my membranes on the Pump in Style and been shocked at what a difference it made.
4. Power Pump
“Power pumping” simulates cluster feeding. When a baby is cluster feeding, they are constantly on and off the breast, trying to get more milk. Many newborns – whether nursed or fed from a bottle – will have fussy evenings where they are hard to soothe and eat a great deal on and off over the course of a few hours. Cluster feeding in babies that are nursed signals the mother’s body to make more milk. This will also help you get more letdowns.
To mimic cluster feeding, hook yourself up to the pump (hands-free, of course) and pump on and off for an hour (say, 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off) while you watch TV or read something. Try to make it as fun and easy as you can by doing something that you enjoy while you pump, as relaxation should have a positive impact on your output. (Nothing tells your body to make more milk like pumping your way through a Making a Murderer marathon.)
5. Try Domperidone or Reglan
There are two medications that are not intended for increasing milk supply, but have the side effect of doing so. These are Domperidone and Reglan, and they work by by blocking dopamine receptors, which results in an increase in prolactin levels. These drugs will not work in women that already have normal prolactin levels. Both of these medications normally work within 3-4 days.
A few cautions about these drugs – Reglan is contraindicated in women with a history of depression, as one of its side effects is severe depression. Domperidone has fewer side effects, and is widely used in Canada and other countries; however, the FDA issued a much-criticized warning against it in 2004, which can make getting it somewhat complicated, but possible. Your doctor can prescribe it for you and you’ll need to get it from a compounding pharmacy.
6. Drink Beer
Beer – by which I mean “real” beer, like Guinness, not so much Miller Light (and I say this as a die-hard lover of Miller Lite) – may stimulate milk production.
Now, this one is a bit controversial. Some moms swear by it, most major websites (babycenter, kellymom) say that it doesn’t help. One thing that I noticed when reading those sites, though, is that they are all talking about nursing infants and the amount they take in, versus pumping output. It seems to me – and I am admittedly no expert – that nursing infants might take in less milk for any number of reasons that don’t apply to pumping: they don’t like the taste, the very small amount of alcohol relaxes them and they are less hungry, etc. (Your breast pump doesn’t get tired when you’ve had a Guinness.) In any case, I think this one falls into the “worth a shot if you like beer” category.
Obviously, be careful not to overdo it while you’re nursing. You can also drink non-alcoholic beer if you are concerned about drinking and nursing, or you can test the alcohol level of your milk with milkscreen.
If you find you do need to supplement with formula, here are some tips on how to do it while exclusively pumping.
Note: About a year after I wrote this post, I did a survey of exclusive pumpers that asked about the effectiveness of all of these strategies for increasing milk supply. I wrote up the results (along with additional detail about each of these methods) in an e-book, which you can find out more about here. Thanks for reading!