Strategies to Increase Breast Milk Supply
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Strategies to Increase Breast Milk Supply: How I Pump >1L A Day

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To be clear, I did not start out with grand plans or strategies to increase breast milk supply from the get go. When I first started my journey, I was of the mindset that a fed baby is a happy baby. I refused to put pressure on myself on choosing any particular method of feeding in particular. I was happy to try to breastfeed, but equally alright to go with formula as well.

However, due to my baby’s torticollis, which made latching difficult, she was primarily formula-fed for the first 2-3 weeks. As a result, this unexpected twist led me to pumping as a way to establish my milk supply since I could not latch. What I’m about to share is a recount of what I actually did to significantly increase my breast milk supply during those crucial initial months.

Read on to learn more!

Understanding Breast Milk Supply

Before jumping into the strategies straightaway, I want to take some time to help you understand a little bit about what affects breast milk supply.

Without going too much into detail here, here’s a quick overview of the many factors influencing breast milk supply:

Key Factors influencing breast milk supply include:

Breast Capacity:

Breast capacity refers to the volume of milk that a woman’s breasts can hold at their fullest point before needing to be emptied. This capacity is not related to the size of the breasts, as many might assume. Instead, it’s determined by the amount of functionally active glandular tissue present in the breasts.

Milk Glands:

The milk glands, or alveoli, are the structures within the breasts that produce milk. These glands are grouped together in clusters known as lobules. Each woman has a different number of lobules/milk glands, which can affect her overall milk production capacity. During pregnancy and the initial postpartum period, hormonal changes stimulate the growth and development of these milk-producing structures, preparing the body for breastfeeding.

Demand and Supply Mechanism:

The principle of demand and supply is central to understanding how breast milk production works and is a key factor in managing breast milk supply effectively. This principle is based on a simple biological feedback loop: the more frequently and effectively milk is removed from the breasts, the more milk the breasts will produce.

Hormonal Influences:

Hormones like prolactin and oxytocin play crucial roles in milk production and ejection. Stress and fatigue can negatively affect these hormonal levels, thereby impacting milk supply.

Prolactin is a hormone that plays a significant role in milk production. The level of prolactin in the body increases in response to nipple stimulation, either from breastfeeding or pumping. During the night, prolactin levels are naturally higher, which is why night feeds are particularly important for maintaining milk supply. The repeated stimulation of the nipples and the subsequent removal of milk keep prolactin levels elevated, thereby promoting milk production.

Nutrition and Hydration:

A well-nourished and hydrated body is better equipped to produce milk. Essential nutrients and adequate fluids are crucial for maintaining a healthy milk supply.

Understanding these factors is crucial because it empowers you to adopt strategies that are most likely to be effective for your unique situation, acknowledging that not every approach will work for every mother due to individual physiological differences.

Strategies That Helped Me Increase Breast Milk Supply

100L of frozen breast milk
A full 100L freezer of frozen breastmilk

Now on to the main part of this article! I just wanted to caveat that increasing breast milk supply is a very personalized journey. One that involves a combination of practices tailored to your body’s responses and your baby’s needs. So there’s no need to feel too affected if one strategy doesn’t work for you, there’ll be others that do!

Without further ado, here’s a look at what I did in the initial months that worked for me:

Early and Frequent Latching and Pumping:

Adhering to the demand & supply concept, I found that initiating breastfeeding asap, and maintaining a frequent latching and pumping schedule helped stimulate my milk production from the outset.

I started latching right after I returned from my C-section delivery. And continued to do so every 2-3hourly depending on baby’s cues. At night when baby was in the nursery, I continued to hand express / pump depending on how tired I was. I strongly believe this constant stimulation was key in signalling my body to increase supply.

Mind you, my milk supply DID NOT kick in until the 5th day after delivery. But I still continued all the latching and pumping.

Utilizing Right Confinement Herbs:

Once back home, I started taking my full 28 day plan of confinement herbs. On top of that, my confinement nanny specifically requested for my husband to get me some Tong Cao (Rice Paper Pith 通草).

This particular Chinese herb is believed to help “open milk ducts” and enhance milk flow. While the scientific evidence supporting specific herbs’ effectiveness varies, my personal experience was positive. After taking it for a few days, my initial low milk supply started ramping up.

Can check with your confinement nannies or nearby Chinese medicinal hall on how to prepare it.

Eat Foods to Increase Milk Supply:

Since my confinement nanny was aware that I was trying to breastfeed, she made sure to feed me with nutritious confinement food good for lactation.

This meant a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (found abundantly in salmon and cod fish), proteins (lots of chicken) and lots of carbs. She also made sure I avoided known lactation suppressants like cabbage, peppermint and caffeine.

In between meals, I enjoyed lactation cookies as snacks! I only took those from this particular brand which worked well for me. Apart from that, I did not take any other breastfeeding supplements to help boost supply but only health supplements which my gynae prescribed.

Hydrate Non-Stop:

Keeping well-hydrated is essential for milk production. I made sure to drink at least 3-4 litres of fluid daily. My number 1 fluid was red date tea -popular in traditional confinement practices for its supposed health benefits. When I was tired of it, I would alternate with warm boiled water or Australian milo.

As my routine, I would just drink a full cup of water before every pumping session. And since I pumped about 8 times a day, that would be a minimum of 8 cups of water already. On top of that I would also drink at least 1-2 bowls of confinement soups a day.

Choosing and Using the Right Pumping Equipment:

Investing in a high-quality breast pump and ensuring the flanges fit correctly significantly impacted my ability to efficiently clear my breasts. I cannot emphasize how important it is to get the right equipment. With a lousy or weak pump, or wrongly sized flanges, your breasts won’t clear well, and supply will not increase.

Check out my choice of pumping equipment in my other article that covers Breastfeeding Essentials here.

Regular & Power Pumping:

For exclusive pumping mothers like me, a regular pump routine is critical. By sticking to a regular 3 hourly frequency, your body will receive the signal that you need this much milk to feed your baby and produce accordingly. While it is tiring, it is necessary in the early months to do so to send your body the right signals. If you space out your pumping frequency too much too early on, your body will respond accordingly and produce less.

My regular pumping session every 3 hours takes about 20-30 mins. I googled and searched for many pump settings until I settled on one that worked for me (see picture below).

As you can see below, I always start with massage/stimulation mode (70) to get a let-down first. Once the milk starts gushing, I’ll switch over to expression mode (54-38). Within the expression mode, whenever milk flow starts to slow down, I’ll increase suction level (from 4 to 5 to 6), while reducing frequency of suction (from 54 to 50 to 46). When the milk flow is very very slow even with the increase in suction, I’ll go back to massage/ stimulation mode to get another round of let-down. The repeat the steps again.

Tip: Don’t need to follow my settings exactly. Just follow the concept above. Stop suction at one level below what starts to hurt. For example if it starts hurting at level 6, then stop at level 5. Do not go further or it could hurt your nipple.

Spectra S1 Pump Settings To Increase Breast Milk Supply
My Spectra S1 pump settings which helped me increase breast milk supply

However within the 8 pumps a day, I extend one of the sessions (usually early in the morning or late at night) to 1 hour long. That is what is known as a power pump. What does power pumping do? It mimics baby’s cluster feeding by pumping in intervals for an hour.

Here’s what my 1-hour power pumping schedule looks like:

Pump 20 minutes. Rest 10 minutes. Pump 10 minutes. Rest 10 minutes. Pump 10 minutes.

Stress-Free Mindset & Rest:

When people say stress is a milk supply killer, they are absolutely right. When a mother experiences stress, her body reacts by releasing stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can interfere with the production of prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production, and oxytocin, the hormone that triggers the milk ejection reflex, also known as the “let-down” reflex. Combined, these results in a lower milk supply.

In my case ,I had plenty of rest so my body recuperated well, and did not fixate on the supply. I was prepared to continue formula feeding if my supply happened not to ramp up, even had two cans on standby.

Lactation Massages:

While I mostly got lactation to clear my clogged ducts and relief engorgement issues, the act of clearing my breasts regularly I believe also helped to stimulate milk production.

Overall, these things I did, tailored to my body’s responses and my baby’s needs, were instrumental in me achieving an oversupply of breast milk. However, it’s important to note that what worked for me may not work for everyone! Should you need more help, do try consulting with lactation experts for personalized guidance.

Main Challenges When Increasing Breast Milk Supply

Just to be clear, the journey wasn’t without its hurdles. Because of my regular stimulation and clearing of breasts, my supply ramped up quite quickly. This resulted in recurring clogged ducts and engorgement issues for weekly for 2-3 months. And if you’ve experienced it once, you know how freaking painful they are.

In the initial phase, it was extremely challenging – so much so that I almost gave up on breastfeeding altogether. However, over time I managed to resolve them with the help of lactation massages, and various self-help techniques at home.

A more detailed discussion on these solutions will be shared in a forthcoming article.

Have More Strategies To Increase Breast Milk Supply?

Ultimately, the essence of increasing breast milk supply lies in stimulating demand, allowing supply to adjust accordingly. BUT it’s important to recognize the physical limitations, such as breast capacity, that can influence this process.

My greatest tips to new mums looking forward to their breastfeeding journey? Embrace your efforts, knowing they are sufficient, and remember that a relaxed attitude can be your greatest ally in this journey.

Have more strategies on increasing breast milk supply? Share them with us in the comments below!

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