Things that can affect your milk supply

Generally speaking, the more your baby feeds – the more breast milk you will produce. However, if you're worried that your baby isn't getting enough milk, talk to your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist as soon as possible. With their help and advice, you'll be able to identify any issues and work out the best way to resolve it.

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Things that can affect your milk supply include:

Sore nipples

If breastfeeding hurts and you have sore nipples it's likely that your baby is not latching on well. When your baby latches, make sure they start with a wide mouth (like a yawn) to allow your breast to reach the back of the roof of the mouth. Have a look at our step-by-step guide to latching on.

Feeding by the clock

Let your baby guide you as to how often to feed, especially in the early days, rather than sticking to set times. This is known as ‘feeding on demand' and will ensure you maintain a good milk supply. Breast milk is produced on a supply and demand system, so if you're feeding hours apart, you may start producing less milk.

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Topping up with formula milk

Your baby will want to feed less if you are topping up with formula milk (as their tummy is fuller for longer), the less often you feed, the less breast milk you produce. If you are planning on topping up with formula, it's best to wait until breastfeeding is well established.

Tongue tie

Tongue tie can make it harder for babies to breastfeed. It's when the strip of tissue, called 'the frenulum', under your baby's tongue (attaching the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is shorter than normal. Tongue tie can prevent your baby from latching on properly.

Dummies

If possible, avoid using a dummy until you and your baby are happy with breastfeeding (usually after your baby is at least one month old). If your baby gets used to having a dummy before breastfeeding is well established, it may interfere with learning how to properly latch on. This is because babies suck dummies in a different way to how they breastfeed. Also, if your baby has a dummy in between feeds, this may reduce how frequently your baby wants to feed (if your baby is feeding less often, you'll produce less milk).

Being apart from your baby

If you have to spend time apart from your baby, and you're unable to breastfeed, this will impact the amount of breastmilk you produce. Regularly expressing your milk will help maintain your milk supply.

Medication

Most medicine, including medication for postnatal depression, common painkillers and most antibiotics, can be taken while breastfeeding without harming your baby. But if you need to take medication that is not advised during breastfeeding, talk to your midwife, health visitor, pharmacist or GP. They will be able to best advise you.

Is my baby getting enough milk?

This is a very common question, especially when you first start breastfeeding. While you can't always tell exactly how much your baby is drinking, there are positive signs that they're feeding well, including:

Tip: It can be hard to tell if disposable nappies are wet. To get an idea, take a nappy and add two to four tablespoons of water – this will give you a better idea of what to look and feel for.

  • your baby starts feeds with a few rapid sucks followed by long, rhythmic sucks and swallows with occasional pauses

  • you can hear and see your baby swallowing

  • your baby’s cheeks stay rounded, not hollow, during sucking

  • they seem calm and relaxed during feeds

  • your baby comes off the breast on their own at the end of feeds

  • their mouth looks moist after feeds

  • your baby appears content and satisfied after most feeds

  • your breasts feel softer after feeds

  • your nipple looks more or less the same after feeds – not flattened, pinched or white

  • you may feel sleepy and relaxed after feeds

Other signs to look out for include:

  • your baby should start gaining weight steadily after the first two weeks (it's normal for babies to lose some of their birth weight in the first two weeks)

  • in the first 48 hours, your baby is likely to have only two or three wet nappies. Wet nappies should then become more frequent, with at least six every 24 hours from day five onwards

  • at the beginning, your baby will produce a black tar-like poo called meconium. After about five or six days, they should pass at least two soft yellow poos. Breastfed babies' poo is runny and doesn't smell

  • your baby will be content and satisfied after most feeds

Is my baby latching on properly?

You may be wondering if your baby is latching on properly. If you're comfortable while breastfeeding and you're baby seems content, they are probably doing fine. Signs that your baby is latching on properly include:

  • your baby has a large mouthful of breast

  • breastfeeding doesn't hurt you (although the first few sucks may feel strong). Your breasts and nipples shouldn't feel sore – if they are, ask for help

  • your baby takes long sucks, with pauses from time to time. You should be able to see (and possibly hear) them swallowing

  • your baby finishes the feed and comes off your breast by themselves

If you're worried that your baby isn't latching on well, check their breastfeeding position. If you're not sure it's right, have a look at our step-by-step latching on images below.

Step-by-step latching on

Hold your baby's whole body close with their nose level with your nipple.

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Let your baby's head tip back a little so that their top lip can brush against your nipple. This should help your baby to make a wide, open mouth.

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When your baby's mouth opens wide, their chin should be able to touch your breast first, with their head tipped back so that their tongue can reach as much breast as possible.

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With your baby's chin firmly touching your breast and their nose clear, their mouth should be wide open. You should see much more of the darker nipple skin above your baby's top lip than below their bottom lip. Your baby's cheeks will look full and rounded as they feed.

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How to increase your breast milk

If you feel you need to boost your milk supply, there are a few ways you can do this:

  • try not to give your baby anything other than breast milk. The more you breast feed your baby, the more you'll produce

  • if you want to give your baby a dummy, try to wait a few weeks – or until you are both comfortable and confident with breastfeeding

  • let your baby feed when they want to, for as long as they need to

  • when you're feeding, offer both breasts – remember to switch breasts each feed

  • holding your baby close, especially skin-to-skin, will help increase your milk supply

  • avoid weaning until your baby is ready – this is usually around six months

If you are doing all these things already but you're still concerned you have a low milk supply, ask your midwife to refer you to a breastfeeding specialist. Feeding specialists are very understanding and will be able to have a look at how your baby's feeding and offer practical advice, help and support.

If you feel like getting out and about, you could pop along to your local breastfeeding support group. You'll be most welcome and it's a great way to meet other mums.