Learn how to establish a great milk supply from the start. It’s true, there are things you can do to increase your odds of breastfeeding before you even leave the hospital, and during the first few weeks home with your newborn.
One of the top things new mothers search for is help with breastfeeding. This is due, in part, to the assumption that breastfeeding will just happen naturally once baby is here. Does that sound familiar?
You’ve read that breast milk is great for baby, the preferred choice for at least the first few months of life, but you’re not really sure how it all works.
The very best thing you can do to increase the likelihood that breastfeeding will be successful for you, is arming yourself with knowledge. Having a solid understanding of how to establish and maintain milk supply is super helpful.
Unfortunately there are a few things that are out of our hands when it comes to breastfeeding. Your baby may or may not have a great latch. You may or may not be able to produce an adequate amount of milk to support your baby’s needs. But before you get bummed out or decide to throw in the towel, know that it’s a very small percentage of women that truly are not able to produce enough milk. Aside from your baby’s latch, the odds are in your favor!
Before we dig into the meat and potatoes of what you can do to establish a great milk supply once your newborn is here, let’s go over the things you can do while you’re still pregnant.
As always, please understand that breastfeeding is not a “one-size-fits-all” deal. Some women simply aren’t able to produce as much milk as others. Your baby’s latch is vital to establish a good supply as well. Always keep your newborn’s health as the top priority and follow your doctor’s orders. I say it all the time, and I’ll keep on saying it: Formula is not poison.
Some links found on this site may be affiliate links. See sidebar for more information, or visit my Policies & Disclosures page.
Things You Can Do Before Baby Is Born
Thinking of ways you can prepare for breastfeeding before your baby is even born? While you’re pretty limited when it comes to actually making and storing milk (I totally don’t recommend pumping or hand expressing during pregnancy unless your doctor tells you it’s okay, that’s just me), there are a few things you can do to prepare.
Get A Dual Electric Pump
One of the things you should do when you’re still pregnant is order a quality double electric breast pump. You can have a manual pump as well! Those are generally cheap, so it won’t be a big deal to add it to your baby checklist. Seriously, I’ve bought baby blankets more expensive than my favorite manual breast pump.
Usually insurance companies will cover the cost of your breast pump. Feel free to ask around about which pump is best, but I promise you, the top two contenders are the Medela Pump in Style, and the Spectra s2.
Milkology is a wonderful resource for new moms or anyone who really wants to dig in deep into understanding the ins and outs of breastfeeding. It’s a collection of courses about breastfeeding and pumping, created by the knowledgeable Stacey Stewart.
Maintaining a healthy milk supply is infinitely harder when you don’t fully understand why and how it works. There are many women who truly believe their bodies failed them, and that they weren’t able to produce enough for their babies, when they were really just misinformed on the basics of milk supply.
I can’t recommend Milkology enough. And for $19, you really can’t beat it! Each course is jam-packed with a ton of information, and you can work through the “lessons” at your own pace. There are 3 courses available:
- The Ultimate Breastfeeding Course
- The Ultimate Back to Work Pumping Class
- The Ultimate Exclusive Pumping Class
Create a Breastfeeding Basket
Another thing that will make a huge impact on your success during those first few weeks home with baby, is setting yourself up to have an easy time. Breastfeeding is extremely hard for many mothers, especially those who feel overwhelmed with a messy, cluttered home. And no matter how clean and tidy you are, if you’re breastfeeding, your dishes will likely stack on a few occasions.
One thing that will make you feel at ease while you’re learning how to breastfeed or pump, is having all of your breastfeeding essentials in one convenient location. I use a diaper caddy because it’s easy to pick up and carry from room to room.
Watch My Instagram Stories
I do a weekly Q&A over on Instagram on Wednesdays! The topics range from preparing your home for a newborn, to toddler nutrition, and sometimes even more personal discussions. We talk about breastfeeding frequently, and I answer any questions people may have about maintaining and establishing milk supply, and making sure that your baby is getting enough milk.
Things To Know About Establishing Milk Supply
During The First 6 Weeks, Your Body is Learning What Your Baby Needs
“The first weeks with your baby are vital for establishing a good breast milk supply in the long term. The more frequently your baby breastfeeds, the more milk you’ll make, through a process of supply and demand. Each time milk is removed from your breasts, either by your baby feeding or by you expressing, they will make more.” – Medela
This may not sound significant. In fact, you may have heard this before without it truly sinking in. One day it just clicked for me.
Your body adjusts to meet your baby’s needs throughout your breastfeeding journey. However, during those first few weeks home with baby, your body is really figuring out what your baby needs. At around 6 weeks postpartum (and yes, it varies, depending on the woman), your milk supply regulates.
Ultimately, what this means is…
You’re In Control!
You have a great deal of control over your supply in the first few weeks. It’s not impossible to build up a supply later on down the road, but you’ll have a much, MUCH easier time if you put the extra work in early to establish a great milk supply.
Feed your baby on demand, and if you want, add in a pumping session or two to really send the message home that your body needs to create a good amount of milk.
That being said, many people discourage new moms from pumping in the first few weeks after baby is born, as it can cause an oversupply of milk. Since an ‘oversupply’ refers to any amount of extra milk you express that goes beyond your baby’s daily needs, this may or may not be a bad thing depending on whether or not you have to go back to work. You should definitely understand the risks and downsides of dealing with an oversupply before making this decision.
It’s also exhausting. Pumping adds on yet another task (well, two if you count washing the pump parts), and new moms tend to be a little overwhelmed as it is. There’s nothing wrong with being too tired or worn out to pump. Besides, if your baby is feeding frequently, it leaves little time in between sessions for pumping.
Your Baby Needs To Be on You ALL The Time at First, And Yes, Sometimes It Sucks
If you’re expecting your first baby, you need to fully understand that it’s okay to not be in love with breastfeeding. It can hurt, it’s time consuming, and it takes over your life almost completely, especially in those first few weeks.
Everyone knows having a baby changes things and leaves little time for a personal life at first, but nothing prepared me for how emotionally draining breastfeeding would be. So please, understand that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, and it’s completely normal to dislike it.
Tips For Establishing Your Milk Supply
The Golden Hour
The Golden Hour refers to the hour immediately after birth (unless you’re a photographer). Studies have shown that mother and baby having skin-to-skin during this time have a great breastfeeding success rate. Regardless, it’s something you should look into because there are numerous benefits, from glucose and respiratory stability, to less crying.
The good news is most hospitals are totally prepared to provide you and your newborn with uninterrupted skin-to-skin time. They’re well aware of the proven benefits and encourage it nowadays!
“Mothers who hold their newborns skin to skin after birth have increased maternal behaviors, show more confidence in caring for their babies and breastfeed for longer durations… Normal babies are born with the instinctive skill and motivation to breastfeed and are able to find the breast and self-attach without assistance when skin-to-skin. When the newborn is placed skin to skin with the mother, nine observable behaviors can be seen that lead to the first breastfeeding, usually within the first hour after birth.” – Medscape
Breastfeed As Soon As Possible
Now, don’t worry about getting your baby to latch minutes after being born. Some do, some don’t. It shouldn’t have any bearing on your milk supply.
What I really mean is, offer the breast as soon as you can. Since you likely will already be doing skin-to-skin during the first hour, the baby typically latches fairly naturally. (Whether they have a good latch is a different issue entirely. And some babies just don’t try. Remember, they’re all unique.)
Some lactation consultants advise new mothers to let the baby find the nipple on their own. Meaning, don’t force the breast in your baby’s face or try to get them to latch like a champ immediately after birth.
Your baby has done a lot of hard work during labor, and they’re tired. Offer the breast and make sure you have an experienced lactation consultant present to guide you through and ease your fears if baby doesn’t latch right away.
Feed on Demand
The whole debate over “feeding on demand” vs. “feeding on a strict schedule” has gotten a little muddy these last few years. Feeding on demand is the preferred method, UNLESS your baby is not waking for feedings appropriately. As a newborn, your baby needs to be fed every 2-3 hours. Once your baby is 4 weeks old, you can start pushing it to 4 hours max.
Both of my babies were great sleepers as soon as they were born. A little too great. They would have slept for 9 hours straight if I let them, I’m sure. I never considered our feeding patterns to be “on demand,” because I had to wake them up and even turn to pumping and offering bottles just to make sure they got the milk they needed. Literally nothing would keep them up long enough to finish a feeding. This usually lasted for the first 2 weeks or so.
Really, the point is this: Feed as often as your baby wants to. He/she will go through periods of cluster feeding, and you should let them be at the breast as often as possible because it’s what’s telling your body to make more milk.
Always seek the guidance of a doctor if you believe your baby may not be getting enough breast milk.
Use A Haakaa
If you’ve chosen not to pump during the first few weeks after your baby is born, you might still consider using a Haakaa during nursing sessions. Yes, it’s expressing extra milk as your baby feeds through suction, so the risk of creating an oversupply is still present. But it’s not as effective as a full on electric pump. Besides, part of the Haakaa‘s job is to collect the milk that leaks from your opposite breast during feedings, so some of that milk would have come out regardless. Instead of it being wasted on a nursing pad, it’s now been collected for your freezer stash!
Use Nipple Butter and Breast Therapy Packs
These two items were listed in my breastfeeding basket essentials, but it’s worth bringing up again. Earth Mama’s Nipple Butter and these Breast Therapy Packs were absolute lifesavers during my first few weeks of breastfeeding.
When I was engorged, I absolutely loved warming the therapy packs up in the microwave and attaching them to the outside of the flanges of my pump, or simply keeping them in my bra in between feedings. When you’re dealing with clogged ducts, freezing them can provide so much relief. I don’t know what I would have done without them, seriously.
Let Baby Comfort Nurse
View this post on Instagram
I have an entire article about comfort nursing, but the bottom line is this: comfort nursing is completely normal, and an important part of establishing and maintaining your milk supply. The more often your baby is at the breast, the more milk you’ll make!
Get on a Pumping Schedule
If you’re wanting to create a freezer stash, you might consider getting on a pumping schedule. As mentioned above, different lactation consultants will tell you different things about pumping in the first few weeks. Personally, I’ve always started right away. Just don’t go too crazy, and don’t stress yourself out over it. Getting your body in sync with your newborn is more important.
You might also try hand expression if pumping doesn’t work well for you. Some women don’t respond well to pumps.
Follow Baby’s Lead
Following your baby’s lead is crucial, within reason of course. Again, don’t let your baby go too long without feeding. And it’s not just about putting baby at the breast every time you think they’re hungry or they need to eat. If you’re an exclusive pumper, you still need to follow your baby’s cues to a certain degree.
If you see that your newborn seems fussy and would be cluster feeding, maybe add in an extra pumping session if you’re not currently overproducing.
Continue Skin To Skin
Continue skin to skin time even once you’re back home! It’s not just for the first hour after birth. It’s beneficial for months after that, and certainly during the first few weeks. It will promote a healthy milk supply and increase the bond you have with your baby.
Stay Hydrated and Nourished
Drinking plenty of water and eating enough calories is vital to maintaining your supply. It takes a lot for your body to create all of that liquid gold, so make sure you fuel it! It’s hard to say exactly how much, but many doctors recommend roughly 500 extra calories. My advice is to simply listen to your body. If you’re still feeling hungry after eating a regular-sized portion of dinner, add a little extra to your plate.
Wake Baby Up or Pump!
Don’t skip nighttime feedings! Trust me, I know from experience. I’m not perfect, people. I’ve absolutely made the decision to sleep through pumping sessions while my husband feeds the baby a bottle for some well-needed extra rest. Sometimes it’s affected my supply, and other times it hasn’t.
The thing is, it’s not worth the risk. And when your baby is brand spanking new, you definitely don’t want to skip these feedings. You want your body to expect your baby to need milk throughout the night. And don’t forget, your baby shouldn’t go longer than 3 hours in between feedings as a newborn.
Stay Relaxed and Comfortable
Your stress levels absolutely play a huge role in your milk output. This isn’t to say that your supply is destined to tank if you’re a naturally stressed out person. But certainly, staying relaxed and pumping or nursing in a comfortable, calm environment usually yields a higher output.
Sometimes you’ll have to feed in less than ideal conditions, particularly if you have other children. There have been plenty of times I’m nursing or pumping with a crazy toddler screaming in my ear. You do what you gotta do, right? But whenever possible, try to relax, Mama! Put on some calm music, or your favorite tv show. Relax your shoulders and take it easy! You’d be surprised just how much it can affect your milk output!
Do you have any questions about establishing your milk supply? Ask away in the comments, or reach out to me on Instagram! I’d love to help you.
If you liked this post, don’t forget to pin it for later: