Everything a Supportive Dad Needs to Know About Milk Production

There are no shortcuts or magic elixirs to help your partner with her milk production. Instead, a good diet and some simple guidance will do the trick.

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A mother in a white shirt breastfeeds her baby who is wearing pajamas with blue dots

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It’s easy to worry about your partner producing enough milk for your little one, but do your best to relax. If your baby is pooping, peeing, and growing, your bundle of joy is likely getting the milk they need.

Milk production is based on supply and demand: The more milk your baby consumes, the more your partner’s body makes. Allowing your little one to nurse often, and at both breasts during each feeding, should adequately stimulate the nipple and breast to produce milk.

Frequent feedings during the first few weeks are particularly important to kick off the milk supply. The act of nursing triggers the brain to secrete two major hormones that aid in breastmilk production: prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin stimulates milk production while oxytocin signals the breasts to release the milk, known as the let-down reflex.

Your baby’s sucking cues the let-down, and the reflex works best when your partner is relaxed. Feelings of stress or pain, therefore, may impede the flow of milk, making it important to help your partner relax during feedings.

The same mental state applies while your partner is pumping, so bond over photos of your little guy and send happy thoughts to get the milk flowing. And don’t fret if your partner thinks she’s not pumping enough. Your baby is more efficient than a pump, so the amount of milk extracted is likely to be less than the amount your little one is consuming.

Once baby has finished feeding (or your partner has emptied her breasts using a pump), prolactin signals the milk-producing cells in the breasts to make more milk for the next nursing (or pumping) session, and the process begins anew.

Producing breastmilk (along with taking care of the baby) requires a tremendous amount of energy. So, it is not uncommon that your partner will feel extra hungry while exclusively breastfeeding, as breastfeeding women experience increased calorie and nutrient needs.

Studies show that most healthy breastfeeding women produce abundant milk while eating 1,800-2,200 calories a day. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists recommends that exclusively breastfeeding women who were at a healthy pre-pregnancy weight consume 450-500 calories per day on top of their pre-pregnancy calorie needs. This means she may need to eat about as many calories as she did during her third trimester of pregnancy.

If your partner is concerned about meeting nutrient needs, consider talking to a doctor, registered dietitian or other healthcare provider about taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Many women choose to continue taking their prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding. Although it will not replace a healthy diet, it can certainly help, especially if she has a nutrient deficiency.

Many foods, herbs, and spices like oatmeal, spinach, fenugreek, garlic, onion, and mint (just to name a few) are believed to aid breastfeeding mamas. However, scientific evidence is limited as to whether these foods truly have milk-boosting powers. With that being said, most of these potential galactagogues (any food or drug that increases milk production) are items you may be cooking with already and are good for your partner in other ways.

If your partner is considering an herbal supplement, always speak with a health care provider first. And read “How Much Should You Eat While Breastfeeding?” for even more details.

What to Do

5 tips to share with your breastfeeding partner:

1. Feed baby on demand

Her body makes milk based on how much is removed from the breast. In other words, the more baby nurses, the more milk she will produce. Pay attention to baby’s hunger cues (like lip smacking, finger sucking, and rooting) and feed your babe as often as he or she needs.

In the first few weeks after birth, her goal should be 8 to 12 nursing sessions in a 24-hour period. This number will gradually reduce, once baby becomes more efficient and can drink more milk at each feeding.

If you have a sleepy baby, she may need to wake them to nurse. Other babies like to “cluster feed” and then sleep for longer periods of time, and that’s okay too.

2. Relax

It’s certainly easier said than done but try to take it easy. Breastfeeding works best when she’s relaxed because stress can inhibit “let-down” — the reflex that allows milk to flow from breast to baby.

Do your best to help your partner nurse baby in a place where she feels comfortable and have her try to just focus on baby during feeds (instead of her to-do list or smart phone, as tempting as these can be). If she needs help clearing her mind, appeal to the senses — notice how baby feels, smells, and looks — try singing (baby will enjoy hearing your voice), or use visualization techniques to help her picture a place where she feels totally at ease.

3. Eat well

On average, breastfeeding moms need an extra 450–500 calories each day. Support her in choosing nutrient-rich foods, to help keep her feeling energized and healthy. Best bets are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, dairy, eggs, meat, fish, and poultry.

She can add a little extra to each of her meals or enjoy a couple healthy snacks in her day — like hummus and vegetables, or fruit and yogurt.

4. Drink plenty of fluids

While drinking extra water won’t directly increase her milk supply, it’s important to consume enough fluids to prevent dehydration and keep her body in tip-top milk-making shape.

Aim for 13 to 16 (8 oz.) cups of fluids per day. Keep a water bottle handy, but know that other liquids like milk, coffee, tea, and juice count toward her daily needs. However, try to stick with beverages that do not contain added sugars (like soda and sweetened teas) or alcohol.

5. Contact a lactation consultant

If you’re concerned about milk supply, contact your healthcare provider. Also, Happy Mama Mentors can help check baby’s latch, and suggest ways to improve nursing sessions so both your partner and baby get what they need.

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