“Am I producing enough milk?” This is a very common question and often baffles mothers who are breastfeeding. This often leads to tension in mothers and some even panic that they are not being a good mother. Well, first of all, it’s not your fault, secondly it is a very common issue and lastly; it is an issue which has solutions. Most often, this worry arises when mothers feel that their breasts ‘do not feel full’ or the milk is not leaking. However, both these observations imply that your milk supply has adjusted itself to the baby’s needs. So, stop blaming yourself, relax and try to find out the causes and what you can do to overcome the problem instead of stressing yourself out which can also result in low secretion of milk.
What Causes Low Milk Supply In Breastfeeding Mothers?
For most women, it is the delivery of the milk that is the actual issue and not the production. However, if your baby is not gaining enough weight, feels hungry, you could be on the other side. There are quite a few low milk supply causes and we are listing the below for you:
- Under-developed Breasts: If your breasts were not developed properly due to insufficient glandular tissue, your breasts may not have sufficient milk-producing ducts. Your doctor will suggest you various options to increase your milk supply
- Hormonal Imbalance: Health conditions like Diabetes, Thyroid, PCOS can lead to low production of milk. You can consult with your doctor and learn about supplements
- Breast Surgery: If you have undergone any kind of breast surgery be it for medical or cosmetic surgery, there are chances that your milk ducts have been damaged and you have to go for supplements. Even nipple piercing can be dangerous
- Hormonal Birth Control: Birth control pills are not that harmful but if you have taken hormonal injections or patches for birth control before you baby is 4 months old, there are chances your milk production will drop
- Intake of excess herbs: Peppermint or Parsley and medications which contain Pseudoephredine can reduce milk production.
- Sucking Difficulties: There are chances the baby is not able to suck properly
- Feeding patterns: The milk production is more when the breasts are empty and less milk if they are already filled up. If you are frequently feeding your baby then your milk production will also increase and vice versa
- Supplementing: If you are supplementing with formula, your body will get the signal that this milk is not required and hence the supply would diminish
- Pacifiers or soothers: Giving babies pacifiers or soothers early can interfere with the baby’s latch to the breast, and this can reduce the time the baby spends on the breast
- Scheduled Feedings: A baby should have unlimited access to the breast – if you are feeding as per the clock and not as per the baby’s demand, your breast milk supply can get affected
- Nipple-shields: Though useful when new moms have nipple pains and infection, nipple shields can reduce nipple stimulation and cause milk supply to dwindle
- Length of nursing: If you stop a baby from feeding before she actually leaves the breast, you will likely have milk-production and supply issues
- Missed feedings: If a baby is sleepy and tends to miss feedings in the earlier stages, it can very well signal the body to produce less milk and hence diminish the supply. Read more on newborn feeding here
Apart from these, waiting too long to start breastfeeding or not breastfeeding enough can also impact breast milk supply/ Women who supplement breastfeeding in earlier stages can also see some effect on breast milk production. Though many women worry about low breast milk supply, insufficient breast milk production is rare. Research has it that most women make breast milk which is greater by about 1/3rd of the milk their babies drink.
How Do You Know If The Baby Is Getting Enough Milk?
If you are worried about producing less than required milk, the biggest indications would be given by your baby.
- Keep a tab on the weight: New-borns lose some of the birth weight and then gain the same after about 10 to 14 days. Your baby should keep on gaining about 28 grams everyday till he is 3 months and about 14 grams from the age of 3 to 6 months. This is a sure indicator that the baby is getting enough milk, implying you are producing enough
- Stools: A well-nursed baby should pass atleast 3 stools a day in the first month of life. Now, this frequency will go down to once in two days after the first month
- Wet Diapers: Though wet diapers is not a very good indicator of being well fed, yet your baby should typically wet 7-8 cloth diapers and 5-6 disposable ones
- Frequent nursing: A baby typically has a small stomach, so he feels hungry every 2-3 hours. This means the baby takes in atleast 8 feedings a day. This is again an indicator that the baby is nursing well and you are producing enough
- Latching techniques: The baby gets latched on properly and you can notice him swallowing the milk
You can read more about signs that your baby is getting enough milk here.
Low Milk Supply At Night
Often mothers complain about low milk supply at night. Well, this is because your hormones work its best in the morning and towards the evening they tend to slow down and absolutely drop down by night. It is expected that your doctor will make you aware of this situation and guide you to use breast pump during this time.
Many women complain that a low milk supply during breastfeeding makes your baby a little bit irritated because he is not getting enough to fill his stomach. The situation is also bound to put you under stress. However, you should know that babies do have something like a ‘cluster feed’, which is they feed frequently for some hours in a day, and that generally happens in late evenings and nights. This will render your letdown reflex a bit slower owing to a slower hormonal response.
To avoid low milk supply at night, try taking some rest in the afternoon when the baby is sleeping and have a nutritious lunch followed by a healthy snack in the evening. Cuddle your baby to increase the breast milk supply as well.
Low Milk Supply: How Often to Pump
The experts will say that pump as much as you can. If you are solely dependent on pump then you will be advised to pump often. At the same time it is important that you keep in mind not to overdo it. Pumping in the middle of the feeding and after feeding even for smaller durations can help to boost breast milk supply. 2 hours or so should be ideal. If you feel the need you can maximum push it for another hour but not more than that. Here are some tried and tested tips on pumping breast milk.
Most importantly, keep in mind that low milk supply is not no let down. Studies say that every one in three women go through this and they raise healthy babies. Moreover, there are numerous options to cope with this crisis which are medically safe both for you and you baby.
10 Ways to Increase Low Milk Supply In Breastfeeding Mothers
You have to know that the glands secrete milk when there is demand, the more the baby feeds, the more milk your breasts produce. Frequent nursing sessions stimulate milk supply, so it is important to keep feeding your baby so that your body identifies the need and produces milk. Every bottle of juice, formula or water sends the signal to the body that the milk is not required, and then the body gradually decreases the milk production. Here are few important tips to help you increase the breast milk supply:
- Breast feed as soon as possible after the baby’s birth
- Breast-feeding sessions should never be skipped. If you have to, then make sure you pump out the milk so that skipping does not translate into ‘not required’ signal for the body
- Avoid bottle feeding – sucking from the bottle is fairly easier and then the baby is in no mood to work hard and suck from the breast. Bottle should be avoided till the baby is completely comfortable with breast-sucking
- Make sure that the baby gets latched on properly. If you cannot find a comfortable position, seek the help of a lactation consultant
- Trust your baby to show signs that he is hungry and wants to breastfeed
- Do not give formulas to your baby unless absolutely necessary. The more you breastfeed the more milk you will produce
- You can boost your milk supply by eating a balanced and healthy diet. Read about the top foods that boost breast milk here
- Feed your baby even at nights, preferably every 3 hours or as the baby demands so. Infrequent nursing because the baby is sleeping can be a problem
- Offer both breasts at each feeding until your supply is well established
- You can also try to have galactagogues in the form of herbs, foods and medications to increase breast milk supply
The important thing is to identify the signs that you are producing less milk, if the delivery is not the issue. You baby will not gain weight as expected and he will be hard to soothe because he will be irritated of not getting enough milk. Once you identify them, consult your doctor. Improved breastfeeding skills generally work for a majority of the mothers but if nothing seems to work, there could be some serious health problem. Always remember, nursing is a simple demand and supply job!