Thursday, 3 November 2011

How to increase milk supply?

Tandem breastfeeding - latching two babies at the same time. Photo taken in April 2010, twins Asher & Shawna at 3 months old.
I've been wanting to write this for a long time, but it has always been pushed back, for, afterall, I DID know the answer and I could always tell my friends and family in person. But I did want to write this, so that it forms part of the vast resource the internet is to people who need this info...

How to increase milk supply? This is a question that plagues mothers who wish to breast feed - how to increase their supply of milk - since this is essential to breastfeeding. Before I begin (coz the article is going to end before you know it, and you'd be like "Huh. That's it?"), just wanted to state for the record my breastfeeding credentials (basically, so that you'd believe me, you doubting Thomas /Thomasina?!).

I have three children, Isaac is 4 this year, and the twins Asher & Shawna turn 22 months old in three days time. I breastfed Isaac from when he was about four days old, to when he was 2 years old. He did not start to drink formula milk (he refused at first) until he was almost 3 years old.

Asher & Shawna were also fully breastfed from when they were four days old (seems like my milk tends to take about four days to come in), till they are about 18 months old. For both Isaac's time and the twins' time, I had surplus milk to store in the fridge and freezer. All three of them did not take well to expressed breast milk (EBM) and frozen milk. Thus, both times, I had to resort to giving away milk in order not to waste it.

So would you believe me when I tell you my method of increasing milk supply? I've never read it in any book or magazine, nor on any blog or website... So! You heard it here first! :)

The theory behind my method is well known though. It's DEMAND EQUALS SUPPLY (hmmmmm, do Econs students have better milk supply, you think?). This is what led me to discover this method. I said to myself:"If Demand = Supply, and I need more supply, then I should increase demand!!! Eureka!!!"

Most people do this ("increase demand") by pumping AFTER the baby suckles from the mother - this is also what you sometimes read in books. But there are two problems about this. (1) If you're taking care of the baby on your own, you're likely not to have much time to wash and sterilise the pump before and after use - there's simply not enough time! Not if you wish to sleep and eat at all! I discovered this while on maternity leave. But what's worse is... (2) After the baby has suckled, there is "no milk" left to pump! Nothing comes out! Thus, I concluded, that this "pump after baby drinks" is not a good idea.

Meanwhile, being the new mother that I was with Isaac, I was learning all about "Letdowns". In the context of a lactating mother's "letdown" Merriam-Webster defines it as "a physiological response of a lactating mammal to suckling and allied stimuli whereby previously secreted milk from the acini is expelled into ducts and drawn through the nipple". What this means is, basically, when the baby suckles enough to stimulate the breast into triggering a letdown, the milk will gush out in spurts out of the nipple, instead of say trickling or dripping out (or not at all).

Before I knew what a letdown was, I used to tell hubbs "It's The Bolt. Everytime Isaac starts suckling, I'd pray "God give me milk. God give me milk." And then God answers my prayers! He sends The Bolt of Milk! Look at the milk shooting out!!!"

And this happens to both breasts/nipples. Thus, even though your baby is only suckling one side, the other side will also experience a letdown. We mothers who know the preciousness of every single drop of milk tend to feel an extreme heartache when we feel the milk spurting out of the other side, being wasted... There is the breast shield you can wear in your bra in order to "catch" the milk dripping out. But I thought to myself, what a waste! We should pump during the letdown! That'd get the milk all out!

And so I did. I used an Avent Handpump, stood it in a mug beside where I usually sit to breastfeed Isaac. And when it is time to feed him, I latch him on one breast, carefully position him so that, by using the breastfeeding pillow and any other tiny pillow or towel to prop the baby up where necessary - you can actually free your arms, or at least one arm.

With this free arm and hand, take the manual pump, and stand by... Let the baby suckle, and when you feel the letdown coming ("The Bolt is here!!! Drink Isaac, drink!!!") START PUMPING!!! You'd find that with the letdown, pumping is no problem at all! If your baby can initiate multiple letdowns for you, all the better, you'd be upsizing the bottle attached to your handpump in no time at all. (
Read more about The Bolt here.)

I started doing this with Isaac one month before I went back to work coz I wanted to build up a frozen store before I went back to work. Within a month, my freezer was full. For essentially, I'd built up enough supply to feed two babies! Read this post to see pix and see how I position the baby and pump at the same time.

If you find pumping while feeding a baby difficult to handle, perhaps this La Leche Hands Free Pump Bra may help you. It's a seamless padded bra that features a one-hand drop up for nursing and a second layer for hands free pumping with a breast pump. So, using this bra can help you manage the pump while latching the baby.

Well, if you have only one baby, it's not necessary to build up so much supply, that's true. But this is one fantastic way to get your supply up, especially if you're a new mother who just delivered your baby. For that's the greatest fear of the mother who wants to breastfeed - that she has not enough milk. It also doesn't help that our parents' generation is the one that doesn't breastfeed, and grew us up on formula. So we've all heard about how discouraging our mother/mother-in-law can be with their constant questioning on whether we have enough milk for the baby to drink.

So let me teach you want to do. Since birth, you should start breastfeeding. Each session, latch baby half an hour on one side (say the Left side), while you pump the other side (the Right side). After half an hour of latching and pumping, stop. Then, take whatever you have just pumped on your right side, and feed it to the baby straight away.

In the first few days of their birth, when your milk isn't fully in yet (like mine only came in on the fourth day), you can even top up with a bit of formula milk - but only after the half hour of latching, and drinking the expressed milk, then if baby is still hungry, top up with some formula. We did this with Asher & Shawna for the first two weeks after they were born. After two weeks, we did not have to top up with formula at all coz my supply was strong enough to fully cater to their demands. That was one proud day for me, I can tell you that :)

Feeding back whatever you just pumped to the baby also serves another purpose: it puts yourself and the elders' hearts at ease to know that, minimally, the baby has that amount of milk to drink (what they see in the bottle). So, you can tell them, "See, they suckle for half an hour, then drink THIS some more! Sure enough!" Well, if not enough, then you top up with a bit of formula milk, like 20ml or something. This will all go a long way to set the elders' hearts at ease, and reduce the number of "Have enough milk or not?" comments that you will get.

So... try it out. It works, trust me. Using this method, I fully breastfed my twins for 18 months. As they preferred to have uber fresh milk - wanted to latch rather than drink from the bottle - I had loads of frozen milk spare and could afford to give them all away to feed a third child. And the size of your breasts have absolutely no bearing on the amount of milk you can produce. Yes, really :)

Now you know how I did it. How I built up my supply in order to feed my twins Asher & Shawna. It is tedious and tiring (I even pumped for night feeds), but oh my, it IS worth it. So, mothers, take heart, KNOW that you CAN breastfeed your baby, if you want to. It is hard work, but if you set your hearts and be determined, and persevere all the way, YOU CAN DO IT! :)

If this article has helped you, let me know! I welcome comments! And ask your questions too! :)


  1. Bravo! I've been doing the pump after feed and supply is okay so far. Tot about doing the pump during feed cos of all the milk waste but have been too lazy. :) More motivated to give it a go now. Excellent write up.

  2. Excellent! Yes, do give it a try! It's tough at first, but with practice it gets easier and easier. Persevere! :) Thanks for the compliment!

  3. You are superb Pamela! I only have one kid and I was already so elated to bf her for 16 months. Can't imagine having twins and doing the same! And I'm so lazy when it comes to pumping cos latching is so much easier. Lol. =) Nice pics here on your blog btw!

    1. Thanks Summer! It's a lot of work to be sure! :) Now you have two kids, you have a refresher on breastfeeding eh :)

  4. Horry to you and your power boobs, Pamela! I am so going to do this!

    1. Do what, Adora? Have twins? kekekkee... :)

    2. Poppy and Calla need more playmates - have twins!!! hahahaha

  5. Hi Pamela, someone referred me to your blog as I was looking for mummies who BF twins. Can I ask you, when you pump the other side while feeding one side, how will you have enough to feed the other twin? I thought that we should feed one twin to one breast so that there will be enough supply?

    1. Hi Chloe, Demand = Supply remember? So what I did was that while I breastfeed (latch) Twin1 say left breast, I pump right breast at the same time to take advantage of the letdown. Whatever that is pumped, I feed back to Twin 1 after he unlatches. Then latch Twin 2 on the right breast, and pump the left breast at the same time, taking advantage of the letdown. What ever that is pumped I feed to Twin 2 after she unlatches. KEEP DOING THIS and your supply WILL GO UP. So long as you latch, there will definitely be milk. In the beginning it will be as though you are constantly breastfeeding one child after the other. This is normal. You just need to make sure you unlatch them properly (by sticking in your clean pinkie) so that you don't end up with sore nipples. Make sure you drink lots and lots of fluids since you are supposed to produce fluids.

    2. Thanks for the reply. I am worried about pumping and emptying the breast because my boys get impatient and cry if the milk stops flowing from the breast. I will give it a try. =)


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