The plight of the breastfeeding mother is to always be afraid that her breast milk supply is too low. Whether you are nursing or pumping, at some point you will question whether your milk supply is truly enough to adequately feed your baby. Knowing what causes a low milk supply is the key to combating the issues. You might find that you are actually killing your milk supply without even meaning to.
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What Does it Mean to Have a Low Milk Supply?
A low milk supply is when a woman does not produce enough milk to feed her baby on a daily basis. Some women feel that they have a low supply simply because they do not have a freezer stash. That is not the case.
Producing enough milk to feed your baby AND the freezer actually signifies an oversupply. That isn’t the goal though. The goal is to feed your baby. If you can do that, then you don’t have a low milk supply.
What Causes a Lack of Breast Milk?
About 15% of breastfeeding women do have a true low milk supply. This can be caused by several reasons. Some reasons are easy to fix, while others not so much.
Baby isn’t Latching Correctly
If you are directly nursing and your baby isn’t latched on properly, then that can cause a low supply.
This happens because your baby is not effectively removing the milk from your breast. If too much milk is being left in your breasts, then your body doesn’t feel that it needs to make more. In the end, your overall supply will drop.
Here are some great tips on making sure that your baby is latched correctly. When in doubt, you can always go see your local lactation consultant. She’ll be able to help your baby latch.
Not Emptying Frequently
Breast milk production is all supply and demand. If you aren’t demanding it, then your body will stop supplying it.
Emptying fully and frequently will signal to your body that you need more milk. If you are nursing, then feeding your baby on demand rather than on a schedule will really help with this. Let your baby tell you when he is hungry, and your body will reciprocate.
Supplementing too Much
While it is totally fine to supplement with formula (I know I have), you shouldn’t be supplementing just so you can stop nursing or pumping. Supply and demand, remember?
Supplementing and not nursing or pumping often enough can lead you to start producing less milk. So, if you supplement, you should still stick to your pumping schedule. Always try to pump as often as your baby is eating. In the beginning that can be anywhere from 8-12 times a day. I know it sucks, but it’s the way to build your milk supply and keep it from dropping once your supply regulates.
Wearing the Wrong Bra
Your bra is very important these days. Your breasts are spending a lot of time growing and shrinking as the day goes on due to making milk. You need a bra that can support this.
Wearing a bra that is too tight can cause real problems with your milk supply because if your boobs are squished in your bra, then there is no room for more milk. No room for milk, means no milk gets made. You also run the risk of developing clogs as well, and no one wants that.
Your bra should be comfortable and loose enough to allow for expansion. I personally and a HUGE fan of soft sleeper nursing bras. I wore them constantly when I was breastfeeding, even when I went to sleep. Not only did they keep me more comfortable and my girls supported, but they are made of a soft, stretchy fabric that is perfect for all of the expanding that happened throughout the day.
Not Drinking Enough Water
Breast milk is 88% water. If you aren’t fully hydrated then your milk supply will suffer. It’s best to aim for at least 100 ounces of water a day to keep up milk production, but I’ve gone as far as a gallon.
The extra water also has the added benefit of keeping clogs at bay. I was always more prone to clogs on days when I didn’t drink enough water.
I LOVE my Hydroflask water bottle. I carried it with me everywhere when I was pumping to help me remember to drink my water. It also helps that the thing is basically indestructible, which is really great considering how clumsy I am. I love it!
I know you’re probably worried about losing the baby weight, but right now is not the time to start cutting calories. Your body needs those calories to actually make milk. It takes approximately 20 calories to produce one ounce of milk. If you start cutting calories then you’re more likely to lower your supply before you lower your pant size.
There are some great ways to lose weight while breastfeeding, but cutting calories isn’t it. Stick to whole foods, low carbs, and high fats to help shed some of the extra baby weight. Just don’t stop eating.
Using the Wrong Flange Size
Having the wrong size flange when your pumping can cause some supply problems. Whether the flange is too big or too small, either way you probably will not be getting all of the milk out, which means you aren’t emptying fully. I believe we already discussed the problems with that.
So, make sure you get fitted properly. You can do this either by seeing a licensed lactation consultant or by printing out the printable sizing guide. Your choice.
Birth controls high in estrogen can decrease your supply. I found this out first-hand. It’s best to use a progesterone-based birth control while you’re breastfeeding such as the mini pill or even an IUD. You’ll be able to go back to your normal birth control once you stop breastfeeding.
Underlying issues like hypothyroidism, PCOS, even certain medications that you’re taking can affect your supply. If you’re worried about your health, then it is always better to talk to your doctor rather than consulting the internet. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Things that do NOT Mean a Low Supply
Your baby feeds frequently.
Breast milk breaks down faster than formula does, so breast fed babies will generally eat more frequently than their formula fed counterparts. I know I always felt like I was feeding J all the flipping time when he was a newborn. It’s normal. Just follow your baby’s cues and feed him when he’s hungry. Don’t worry about the clock.
Your baby feeds more that he used to.
If your baby is nursing more frequently or begging for another bottle soon after the last, it could be that he is going through a growth spurt. He will go through many of these during the first few months and he will typically want more milk while it’s happening. Just feed the baby and know that growth spurts don’t last forever. It’s exhausting, but hang in there.
If you feel like your baby is drinking too much or too quickly out of a bottle though, then you may want to consider trying paced bottle-feeding to slow him down. It might not be a supply issue after all, but rather that your baby is simply overeating.
Your baby is fussy at night and feeds more often.
The time before bed can lovingly be referred to as the “witching hour”, though it can definitely last longer than that. Babies are notoriously more irritable during this time and they will want to feed more often during it. It’s called cluster feeding.
The thought is that they are trying to get really full in order to sleep for a longer stretch. That sounds like a good thing to me! Though it will suck for a while. Just like growth spurts though, cluster feeding doesn’t last forever.
Your breasts feel softer than they used to.
As your body gets used to making milk, your breasts will stop getting as full and engorged. That doesn’t mean there’s less milk, it just means that your body is used to the milk. It’s a sign that your supply is regulating.
Your milk supply will regulate sometime around 12 weeks postpartum. Though some women may regulate earlier and some later. Each woman is different.
Regulation just means that your milk supply is no longer primarily hormone based, but rather supply and demand based. Just keep demanding the milk and your body will keep supplying it. Simple as that.
You don’t feel a letdown sensation.
Not all women feel their letdowns. And some women feel them for a while and then the sensation goes away over time. Everyone is different and there really isn’t a way to change your letdowns. Sorry.
If you’re wondering what a letdown can feel like, to me it was always kind of a prickling sensation. Like there was electricity running through my nipples, though not in a bad and painful way. Then I would get this fullness and sometimes start to leak. Some women also get really thirsty and/or hungry when they’re having a letdown. Just one more reason to keep a water bottle and some snacks nearby.
Your breasts don’t leak, or leak less, or have stopped leaking.
This can be another sign of your supply regulating. I stopped sporadically leaking milk around four months (I think), but there are some women I know that never leaked at all and still others that are still leaking a year later. It’s the luck of the draw really.
Signs of a Low Milk Supply
The best way to tell if you are having a milk supply issue, is to watch your baby for signs
Poor Weight Gain
One of the biggest signs of a low milk supply, is your baby not gaining weight appropriately. Though your baby will lose some weight immediately following birth, he should be back up to birth weight by his second week of life. If he isn’t, or he begins to drop weight later on, then this could be a sign of a problem with your milk supply.
Not Enough Wet and Dirty Diapers
In addition to losing weight, your baby will also not be having enough wet and dirty diapers if he isn’t getting enough milk. For the first week, your newborn should have one wet and dirty diaper for each day of life. One diaper on day one, two diapers on day two, and etc. Babies will eventually get to a point where they will have 5-6 (or more) wet diapers and dirty diapers a day.
After about a month though, don’t be surprised if your breastfed baby goes a few days without pooping. It is normal for a breastfed baby to go 7-10 days without pooping. As long as he is still having wet diapers and gaining weight appropriately, then you don’t need to worry.
Signs of Dehydration
If your baby stops having wet and dirty diapers, and you are worried about dehydration, be on the lookout for any of these signs.
- Being lethargic
- Sunken fontanel
- Dark circles around eyes
If at any time you are worried that your baby may be dehydrated and is not getting enough milk, go to the doctor immediately!
Can Pumping Cause a Low Milk Supply?
If you are pumping, whether exclusively or only at work, you may hear people say that pumping will lower your milk supply. That is FALSE! It is true that a baby will always be more effective at getting the milk out of your breast than a breast pump will ever be, but that does not mean that you will not be able to produce enough milk for your baby if you pump.
I personally exclusively pumped milk for my baby for an entire year. Sure, I had my ups and downs with my supply, but mastitis caused an issue with my milk supply, not pumping.
I also know many, many women that have exclusively pumped for two or even three years for their little ones, and even women that had MASSIVE oversupplies when they pumped. As long as you are emptying your breasts each time you pump, pumping will not negatively affect your supply.
What if There is a Sudden Drop in Milk Supply?
There are a few things that can cause a sudden drop.
- Not drinking or eating enough
- Your period starting
- Being pregnant
If the drop is due to your eating and water habits, then those are easy fixes. If it drops because of your period, then throw in an extra pumping session and start taking some calcium and magnesium supplements to help counteract the extra hormones. Also know that your supply will bounce back after your period is over if you don’t get lazy with your pumping and/or nursing sessions.
If you’re pregnant, there isn’t a whole lot you can do to keep up your supply. Talk to your doctor about whether he or she feels that it is safe for you to continue breastfeeding, but don’t be surprised if you have to start supplementing with formula.
Your baby may also start refusing your milk since the pregnancy hormones can change the flavor of the milk. That doesn’t always happen, but don’t be alarmed if it does.
Can You Lose Your Supply in 1 Day?
No, you cannot lose your milk supply in a day. If you have a bad day today and either supplement an extra bottle or drop an extra pump session, your supply will not be affected. Just get back on your schedule tomorrow and your milk supply will bounce back.
I’ve actually heard that it takes 45 days for your milk to actually dry up, but I’m not sure how much truth there is to that. All I know is I weaned from pumping months ago and I can still squeeze out some milk. One bad day isn’t going to ruin your breastfeeding journey.
What if You Triggered Weaning?
Triggering weaning is when you send the signal to your body that you are ready to be done breastfeeding and your body starts rapidly dropping ounces. Triggering weaning seems to be more of an issue for pumping moms since nursing moms are still letting the baby decide how much and how often they need milk.
Most women will trigger weaning when they drop down to three pumps a day, though for others it could be two or even five pumps a day. Every woman is different. If you feel that your body is trying to wean, add pumping and/or nursing sessions back in to counteract the signals.
You can even throw in a power pumping session or two a day to help with this. Once you let your body know that that was a mistake, your supply will bounce back. You just have to put in the work.
What to do if You Suspect a Low Milk Supply
If you’re concerned with your milk supply, especially if you have checked to make sure none of the previous causes are the culprit, then it is always best to go see a professional.
Get in touch with a board-certified lactation consultant to help you with possible issues. If your baby is not gaining weight, or if he is not having enough wet and dirty diapers, then contacting your pediatrician would be the best option. Your pediatrician will want to monitor your baby and possibly suggest supplementing if there is a problem with your supply.
Ways to Increase Your Milk Supply
Thankfully a low milk supply does not have to be the end-all-be-all of you breastfeeding journey. There are some great ways to increase your milk supply including:
- Emptying fully and frequently
- Drinking plenty of water
- Getting adequate rest
- Using breastfeeding supplements
The biggest thing to remember is simply to relax. Stressing out over how much milk you’re making is only going to make your supply drop even lower. So, go drink some water, snuggle your baby, and get some rest. Your milk supply will be fine.
Are you having trouble with your milk supply? Leave me a comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook group.
Until next time!