Encouraging milk to come in & milk production

Tips for moms if too little milk is flowing when breastfeeding

There can be times when the mother’s body does not produce enough milk when breastfeeding. Don’t worry if this is happening to you. Find out more about the possible causes in the article below, where we also give you some tips and guidance on stimulating milk production and encouraging milk to come in when breastfeeding.

What does milk coming in mean – and why is it important?

Milk coming in describes the moment when mature breast milk is formed in the mother’s breasts. The milk produced when milk comes in is then made available for the entire breastfeeding period, and supplies the baby with food and energy. Milk generally comes in about two to five days after childbirth, often on the third day. The following signs become noticeable when milk comes in:

  • Swelling in the breasts
  • A sensation of warmth, sometimes accompanied by redness
  • Breasts become painful and are sensitive to pressure

The interaction of two hormones causes milk to come in: Prolactin, which is responsible for milk production, and oxytocin that ensures milk output by constricting the milk ducts in the breast. Another name for oxytocin is the “cuddle hormone”, and it is one of the happiness hormones. As its name suggests, it is released especially when giving cuddles, or establishing physical closeness.
Interesting fact: Before the milk comes in, the baby gets the precious first milk, also known as colostrum. This is available in smaller quantities than mature breast milk, and by contrast, is slightly yellowish and thicker. The colostrum contains an abundance of nutrients to support you baby’s growth and development.

Breastfeeding: Too little milk coming in, or none at all?

It can be worrying as a nursing mother if, up to five days after birth, the amount of milk you are producing has still not noticeably increased. At times like this, it is important to identify the causes and seek help. Your midwife and your doctor are the best points of contact for identifying medical reasons for milk not coming in.
Medical triggers and inhibitors for milk production can include metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus, or an underactive thyroid. A disorder of the pituitary gland, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or an acute lack of nutrients can also be the reason for milk not coming in.

No milk, or only a little coming in: Possibly caused by breastfeeding mistakes

In the vast majority of cases, there is no medical reason for milk not coming in or only coming in slowly, instead the cause is assumed to be challenges when starting breastfeeding. You and your baby first have to work out your relationship, right at the start of breastfeeding. This includes, for example, finding the right rhythm, as well as the right breastfeeding position.

Mother is sitting on a hospital bed nursing her newborn baby.

Encouraging milk production when milk does not come in

The good news: Once illness has been ruled out as the cause of reduced milk production, there is a good chance of encouraging breast milk production, and supporting it. An established breastfeeding routine can also be accompanied by frequent cuddles, warmth, relaxation, and massage, to encourage the milk to come in.

Encouraging milk to come in: Latching on frequently and in the right way

To increase the amount of milk, it is important that your baby suckles at your breast regularly. Frequent breastfeeding empties the breast, and encourages breast milk production. New mammary gland tissue can also form, which leads to increased milk production. This is why your baby should be breastfed every two to three hours, or even more frequently, including at night. But if your little one occasionally sleeps for a few hours without breastfeeding, that is perfectly alright.
The following tips will help you cope successfully with breastfeeding:
  • Latch your baby on immediately after birth, to make the first contact and stimulate the sucking reflex.
  • Use the correct positioning technique and find the breastfeeding position that suits you, to ensure that your baby is well-positioned at your breast. 
  • Let your baby suckle as often as they like, to stimulate milk production and meet the baby’s need.
  • Latch the baby on to both breasts during every feed, to ensure a balanced milk supply.
  • Let your baby have a good long drink, as this stimulates milk flow and ensures a filling meal.

Encouraging milk to come in: Cuddles & closeness

Perhaps the best news of all: Giving your baby frequent cuddles can also encourage milk production! This loving closeness stimulates the production of oxytocin, which – as you now know – controls the milk flow and leads to increased milk production. For you, this means: The more frequently you have contact with your baby, the better. You can take your child with you (almost) everywhere in a sling or carrier – and this also lets you satisfy baby’s curiosity at the same time.

Encouraging milk production through massage

Massage can also help to encourage milk to come in. This is also helpful if you are suffering from blocked milk ducts. Massage loosens the tissue and can also boost oxytocin production. The best way to give your baby enough milk is to gently massage your breast with warm, washed hands immediately before breastfeeding.

Relaxation & warmth mean more breast milk

Relaxation and warmth can help with many problems – including reduced milk production. A calm environment without distractions is particularly helpful when breastfeeding. So go somewhere you can enjoy being together with your baby, undisturbed. Stress, for example, can result in the absence of the let-down reflex, and milk production also suffers.

A warm compress before or during breastfeeding can really work wonders. This is because warmth makes sure that the milk ducts expand and the milk flow is stimulated.

Encouraging breast milk: A balanced diet

Your diet can also have a positive effect on milk production. Important: There is no one particular food that can guarantee the desired milk flow. Instead, it is important that you have a healthy and balanced diet, so that you can feed your baby all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and trace elements in your breast milk. You should also drink around two to three liters of water every day, preferably in the form of water or tea. While you are breastfeeding, your fluid requirement increases, due to milk production.

The following foods are recommended:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables provide vitamin C and folic acid, among others 
  • Dairy products such as yogurt, buttermilk, and cheese 
  • Cooked fish
  • Lean meat (two to three times a week)
  • Wholegrain products (rich in vitamin B and magnesium)
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Unsaturated fatty acids in native vegetable oils

Home remedies for encouraging milk production

If breast milk is in short supply, it is often advisable to drink breastfeeding tea. Breastfeeding tea contains various herbs such as anise, cumin, and fennel, which can support milk production. This has not been scientifically tested, but if you like these teas, there is nothing stopping you enjoying them – after all, you should be making sure you are drinking enough throughout the day.
However, you should be wary of some herbal teas. Peppermint and sage tea in particular are not suitable for stimulating milk production. Quite the opposite: Because these herbs have been shown to inhibit milk production, you should only drink them if you want to stop breastfeeding.