4 Ways to support your milk supply

From the desk of
Nicki Violetti
Science4 Ways to support your milk supply

Many years ago, before giving birth to my first daughter, Zoe, I immersed myself in childbirth books. I tried to prepare for everything I could. But no matter how much you prepare to be a mom, surprises have a way of finding you. One surprise I didn’t see coming? Zoe wouldn’t latch.

I spent the next 11 months exclusively pumping her milk supply. And like other new moms who rely on the pump, I became acutely aware of my milk production. When I wasn’t producing enough, it really affected me emotionally. And the stress (surely) wasn’t helping my production.

That’s why I wrote this article: to hopefully help new moms who are now navigating their own journeys with breastfeeding and milk supply. There are several ways you can support increased milk production. One lesser-known factor I wish I knew about while nursing Zoe? Electrolytes.

Thousands of new moms have shared with us how hydrating with electrolytes, especially sodium, has helped them nurse their little ones. Anecdotal, I know, but these reports make sense given the importance of sodium in the formation of breast milk.

Being a new mom is challenging enough without having to worry about producing enough milk. That’s why I’m grateful to share this knowledge with moms today. I’ll start with the basics of milk production and nutrition, and then cover 4 ways to support your milk supply.

How Milk Production Works

The changes that occur in a woman’s body around childbirth are absolutely fascinating. For instance, unlike most other organs, the breasts wait to fully develop until pregnancy and childbirth.

During pregnancy, the mammary glands (which produce milk) significantly expand, preparing a woman to provide for their baby. There are actually two stages of milk production, or lactogenesis, signaled by three hormones: progesterone, prolactin, and placental lactogen.

Stage 1 occurs around mid-pregnancy, and is characterized by high levels of progesterone. Toward the end of pregnancy and soon after childbirth, women begin to secrete small amounts of milk, including colostrum — an antibody-rich form of milk that helps develop the infant’s gut and immune system. In stage 2, progesterone decreases rapidly and prolactin levels increase. A few days after childbirth, milk production tends to increase significantly — but may be delayed or lessened for women having their first child or those who had a C-section.

Now, what about diet and nutrition while nursing?

Proper Nutrition While Nursing

Producing breast milk raises your nutrition requirements. After all, you’re now feeding two people, so you need more calories than you normally would. How much? About a 500 calorie surplus is a good starting point, but your mileage may vary based on your height, weight, age, activity levels, and other factors.

A nice chunk of these calories should come from protein because your protein needs rise while breastfeeding. Start with 20 extra grams of protein and see how you feel. Work your way up from there as needed to optimize your intake.

Outside the context of nursing, Robb and I often recommend a Paleo-style low-carb diet full of protein. Assuming it’s rich in leafy greens, this way of eating also contains plenty of folate — a B vitamin essential for fetal development. So that may not be a bad idea postpartum.

That said, I’m not sure about going completely keto. Insulin is an important hormone for growth, and so it may not be best to minimize carbohydrate intake (which stimulates the release of insulin) while nursing. Some moms navigate breastfeeding while keto without any issue; it just may not be the best fit for all moms in all situations.

While breastfeeding, in addition to protein and calories, you also need more:

  • Vitamin A and Vitamin D
  • Vitamins B2, B3, B6, B12
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Taking prenatal and postnatal vitamins makes a lot of sense, in my opinion. For an in-depth guide on prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal nutrition, I recommend checking out Chris Kresser’s The Healthy Baby Code. It’s time to highlight an underappreciated mineral: sodium.

The Importance of Sodium In Breast Milk

Sodium is an essential nutrient for the existence of life itself, and unsurprisingly also during both pregnancy and breastfeeding.

On the topic of breastfeeding, one study allocated premature babies to one of two diets between the 4th–14th days of their lives. The first diet contained a regular amount of sodium, and the second diet was sodium-supplemented.

Ten to thirteen years later, as adolescents, researchers studied how well these kids’ brains developed. They tested motor function, IQ, memory and learning, language and executive skills, and behavior. The children who supplemented sodium performed better in all categories.

Where does the baby get its sodium? Mostly, from breast milk. Breast milk is naturally high in sodium, especially during phase 1 lactogenesis (during which milk takes the form of colostrum). And research suggests that when electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and chloride are low in breast milk, it could impair the child’s development.

But does getting more sodium actually boost milk supply?

Does Sodium Increase Milk Supply?

In animals, more sodium means more lactation. It’s an old trick used by dairy farmers for decades — cows fed more salt produce more milk. I haven’t seen clinical data in humans regarding sodium for breast milk production, but anecdotally the evidence is pretty promising.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a front-row seat to these beautiful stories. We’ve heard from thousands of moms who have seen remarkable increases in milk supply while using LMNT. One of these new moms is Kelsey Albers, and she’s been kind enough to share her story.

After her daughter was born, Kelsey began to eat a low-carb diet to lose her baby weight. Low-carb diets, if you didn’t know, make you pee out significantly more sodium.

To Kelsey’s surprise, her daughter completely refused the bottle. Since breastfeeding was the only option, Kelsey knew she needed to keep her supply up in the midst of eating a low-carb diet. After doing some research, she started making electrolyte homebrews. Eventually, Kelsey switched to LMNT — but no matter the source, electrolyte did the trick.

I mean they really did. Over the next six months, Kelsey donated over 1,000 ounces of breastmilk to a friend in need, all on a low-carb diet. What an incredible feat! Now, let’s cover four ways you can support your milk production at home.

4 Ways to Support Your Milk Supply

I put together a list of steps new moms can take to naturally increase milk production. If you’re a new mom — or know a new mom — I think you’ll find this helpful.

#1: Nurse more frequently

Interestingly, milk volume depends on how much milk sits in the breasts at any given time. Why? Because breast milk contains a protein called feedback inhibitor of lactation. This protein does as its name suggests: it inhibits lactation. It’s about time scientists started using descriptive names!

The takeaway is that when the breasts are full of milk, milk production slows. When they’re empty or being emptied, the hormones prolactin and oxytocin stimulate more milk production. So the more frequently you nurse or pump, the greater your overall milk supply. About eight times per day seems to be a decent target.

If your baby doesn’t want to nurse that often, go to the pump. You can oscillate nursing and pumping sessions. And if your baby doesn’t want to latch (like Zoe), use the pump exclusively. The important thing is to get the milk out.

#2: Empty the breasts fully

To signal the mammary glands to produce more milk, you want to empty the breasts fully. A few things that can help: make sure the baby is feeding properly, try compression or massage, and offer both breasts at each nursing. If the baby finishes and you still have milk left, simply pump out the rest.

#3: Consider galactagogues

You may have heard of herbal supplements — like fenugreek and milk thistle — that may increase milk production. These are categorically called galactagogues. I’m a big fan of natural remedies, but unfortunately the research on these herbs remains unconvincing. Try the other steps first, and be sure to talk with your OB-GYN before trying any herbs or medications.

#4: Get enough sodium

Experiment with your sodium intake, and take note of how you feel and perform. Keep in mind that you lose a significant amount of sodium in your sweat, and that needs to be replaced in addition to your baseline needs. You’ll feel the difference when you get it right.

Many new moms in our community have found that consuming more sodium supports their breast milk production. I wish I knew this tip when I was nursing Zoe. My milk supply was a frequent source of frustration, and the extra sodium may have helped.

That’s why I’m thrilled to hear from all the moms increasing their supply with LMNT. It’s one less problem for new moms to worry about, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.

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