Experts consider breast milk the gold standard in infant nutrition.
A mother’s milk production works on a supply-and-demand system—the more breast milk a baby drinks, the more mom’s body produces.
A breastfeeding mother can do a lot to increase her breast milk supply, including eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, feeding frequently, and pumping.
A lactation consultant can provide expert instruction and can help moms with any breastfeeding questions, issues, or concerns.
Now that you’ve decided to breastfeed your infant instead of using infant formula, you’re probably eager to get started! Rest assured, experts consider mother’s milk the gold standard in infant nutrition. Not only does breast milk contain all the nutrients a baby needs in the first six months of life but breastfeeding also offers many benefits for both baby and mom—including reduced risk of certain illnesses.
However, you might be concerned about having a low milk supply and how to increase breast milk supply to meet your growing baby’s needs.
It might help to understand how your body produces milk in the first place. A woman’s breasts contain alveoli (cells that make breastmilk), which produce milk in response to the hormone prolactin. Every time a baby suckles, it increases mom’s levels of prolactin as well as oxytocin (a hormone that causes small breast muscles to contract and move milk through the milk ducts).1
A mother’s milk production really works on a supply-and-demand system, where the more breast milk your newborn drinks, the more your body makes. This natural rhythm will be dictated by your baby, especially in the first hours, days, and weeks after childbirth. Typically, your newborn will eat 8-12 times every 24 hours.2 By supplying breastmilk in response to a baby’s demand (a.k.a. hunger cues) on a regular basis, you’ll help establish and maintain an adequate milk supply.
Read on to learn more about how to boost milk supply quickly and naturally.
How Can I Increase My Milk Supply Naturally?
Your milk production enables you to feed your newborn immediately after birth and continue no matter how long you decide to breastfeed. If you’re wondering how to increase breast milk supply—quickly and naturally—follow these tips.2,3,4,5,6
Cuddle with your newborn immediately after giving birth. Skin-to-skin contact stimulates hormones that help produce breast milk and keep it flowing.
Nurse as soon as possible after giving birth, preferably within the first hour.
If you have any questions, concerns, or problems, ask a lactation specialist to help you. Many hospitals have these breastfeeding experts on hand to help new moms.
Make sure the hospital staff does not give your newborn any formula, sugar water, or pacifiers, unless medically necessary.
Before you give your infant any pacifiers or artificial nipples, make sure your baby’s latch on your breast is good. This typically happens at around three to four weeks old.
Exclusively breastfeed for as long as possible, giving your baby only breast milk. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend breastfeeding exclusively for baby’s first six months.7,8
Daytime feeding intervals range between one to three hours the first few months and then may lengthen to four hours. Follow your baby's hunger cues and spread out the feedings to sustain an adequate breast milk supply as your baby grows and develops.
Don’t wait for your baby to cry to breastfeed him, as that’s a late hunger sign. Look for feeding cues such as smacking lips, making suckling motions, moving head around to search for your breast (called rooting), kicking, squirming, or looking more alert.
Alternate between the left breast and right breast as you begin each feeding.
If possible, empty the breast at each feeding to produce more milk.
Practice self-care by getting plenty of rest, eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and taking some “me time” every day.
If you see the baby sucking but not swallowing, milk might not be flowing. To promote milk flow, do gentle breast
If you notice you’re producing less milk than usual, try more frequent feedings.
After each feeding, if both breasts feel comfortable, you don't need to pump. But if either breast feels full and uncomfortable, pump or hand express until you’re comfortable.
What Foods Help Produce Breast Milk?
As a breastfeeding mom, you want to make sure that your milk supply is packed with the nutrients to meet baby’s needs for healthy growth and development. In fact, you’ll probably need roughly 330 to 400 extra calories a day to provide the energy and nutrition to produce and sustain an adequate breast milk supply.9
Just like when you were pregnant, you want to continue to eat healthy. To help fuel your milk production, a breastfeeding diet should focus on a variety of healthy, nutrient-dense foods, including: 9,10,11
Fruits and vegetables
Seafood low in mercury (such as grouper, halibut, and albacore/white tuna)
Lean meat and eggs
Low-fat and fat-free dairy
Beans, peas, and lentils
Nuts and seeds
Fortified cereals (cereals with added iron and folic acid)
Research shows that breastfeeding mothers may need to increase their water intake to 13 cups (104 ounces) a day to stay hydrated, which can help maintain a healthy milk supply.12 Tip: Every time you breastfeed (or pump), drink at least one cup of water to help rehydrate. Then drink the rest of your water quota throughout the day.
A healthy, balanced diet is all breastfeeding mothers need to maintain an adequate milk supply to nourish babies. However, certain components of this healthy diet play an especially important role in helping mom’s produce milk, including calcium, vitamin D, protein, iron, and folic acid.13 To make sure you’re covering any nutritional gaps, you might want to continue taking your daily prenatal multivitamin or start taking a postnatal multivitamin.
Although breastfeeding moms generally don’t need to limit the foods they eat, there are a few foods to limit or avoid altogether: 11,14,15
Seafood high in mercury seafood (such as bigeye tuna, king mackerel, and swordfish)
Does Pumping Increase Milk Supply?
In a word, yes! Pumping can help with increasing milk supply similarly to the way that breastfeeding does. The more you breastfeed (or express milk through pumping), the more your body will produce. By using a breast pump, the pumping action stimulates more milk production.6
Pumping comes in handy in a variety of situations, such as when mom:16
wants to boost her milk supply
needs to relieve engorgement
wants to stockpile milk in the fridge or freezer for later use
wants to share feeding duties with a partner
is going back to work
is out of the house for a few hours (perhaps for some much-needed “me time”!)
Tip: If you’re specifically trying to maintain your milk supply, pump breast milk at the same rate (or on a similar schedule) that your baby would be feeding directly from you, draining your breasts at each feeding session.16
Breast milk provides the optimal nutrition for your baby, and experts recommend breastfeeding exclusively for baby’s first six months. Many new moms wonder how to increase breast milk supply, and it starts with understanding that the more breast milk a baby drinks, the more mom’s body produces. A breastfeeding mom can do a lot to maintain an adequate milk supply, starting with eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and nursing frequently.
Part of the breastfeeding journey is learning to take cues from your baby, including when to feed and how long the feeding session should be. If you’re struggling with any nursing issues or concerned about meeting your baby’s nutrition needs, talk to a breastfeeding expert from International Board Certified Lactation consultants (IBCLC) or your baby’s pediatrician.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information.
1 OASH Office on Women’s Health. “Making breastmilk.” May 25, 2018. Accessed on: Accessed on: October 20, 2021.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.