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.
Are you making any of these common mistakes in regards to your breast milk supply?
Is Your Milk Supply Actually Low?
Finding out if your milk supply is really low is the first step in dealing with a possible low supply issue. Many women think that their milk supply is low when it really isn’t.
If your breast fed baby is gaining weight well, then you do not, I repeat, do NOT have a problem with a low supply. You should also pay attention to the amount of wet and dirty diapers he is having each day. If he is having plenty of wet diapers then he isn’t dehydrated, which means that he is getting enough milk.
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.
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.
Your baby is fussy at night and feeds more often. The time before bed is 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.
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.
You don’t feel a let down sensation. Not all women feel their let downs. 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 let downs. Sorry.
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
Your baby is the best guide to tell whether you have a low milk supply or not. You just need to look for the signs.
Dehydration. If your baby isn’t getting enough milk, then he will begin showing signs of dehydration. Things like decreased urine output, dry mouth, and lethargy are all signs of dehydration. If you suspect any of these things then call your doctor immediately.
Weight Loss. If your baby is losing weight, or if he isn’t gaining weight on his curve, then you could have a low milk supply. When determining the growth curve, keep in mind that there is a different chart for breast fed babies and formula fed babies. Make sure your doctor is using the correct chart. It was common practice for a very long time to use the formula fed chart for all babies and breast fed babies do not gain weight as quickly as formula fed babies.
Possible Causes of a Low Milk Supply
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.
Supplementing. 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 pumping often enough can cause you to start producing less milk. So if you supplement, you should still stick to your pumping schedule.
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. Your bra should be comfortable and loose enough to allow for expansion.
Not drinking enough water. Breast milk is 88% water. If you aren’t fully hydrated then your milk supply will suffer. Aim for 100 ounces of water a day to keep up milk production.
Cutting calories. 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. Cutting too many calories will lower your supply before it lowers your pant size. Stick to whole foods, low carbs, and high fats to help shed some of the extra baby weight. Just don’t stop eating.
Wrong flange size. Having the wrong size flange when your pumping can cause some supply problems. Whether it’s 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 Breastshield Selection Guide by Maymom. Your choice.
Birth control. Birth controls high in estrogen can decrease your supply. It’s best to use a progesterone based birth control while you’re breastfeeding.
Your health. Underlying issues like hypothyroidism, PCOS, even certain medications that you’re taking can affect your supply.
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 an problem with your supply.
Sudden Drop in Milk Supply
A sudden drop in your milk supply could mean a few things:
Your period is returning. If that’s the case, then keep with your pumping and/or nursing schedule and it should come back once your period is finished. Either supplement or use your freezer stash if you aren’t making enough until that happens.
Stress and Sickness. Added stress like going back to work or dealing with an illness can definitely affect your supply. Just stick to your schedule as much as possible and make sure you’re eating and drinking enough and things should level back out.
You’re Pregnant. Though breastfeeding can hinder pregnancy, it it’s guaranteed. You can absolutely still get pregnant even if you haven’t had a period. If your supply suddenly tanks out of the blue and nothing else has changed, you may want to go take a test just to be sure.
How 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 supply including: emptying fully and frequently, drinking plenty of water, eating enough calories, getting adequate rest, and even using supplements such as Fenugreek and Moringa.
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.
Until next time!
- 10 Ways to Pump More Breast Milk
- Tips to Survive Exclusive Pumping
- Must Have Items to Make Breastfeeding Easier