Low Milk Supply: Causes and Remedies

Many breastfeeding moms are anxious that they’re not producing enough milk for their babies, and low milk supply can be a frustrating problem. But how can you tell if your supply is low, and what can you do about it? Let’s break down the facts on low milk supply, and what it means for Moms and babies alike.

Low milk supply is actually rare

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When you’re breastfeeding, it seems like everyone has an opinion on it. Amid all the life-changes and hormonal tumult of breastfeeding, it’s easy to doubt yourself. But don’t give up on nursing just yet. “Not having enough milk” is the most common reason for moms to wean early, but the reality is that insufficient milk supply is actually uncommon. Our milk supply naturally adjusts itself to suit our baby’s demands.

Your baby fussing between feeds is not necessarily a sign of low milk supply. The real indications of whether your baby is getting enough milk include:

  • Soaking 6 to 8 diapers (or 4 to 5 heavy-duty disposable ones) in 24 hours
  • Passing at least 1 soft, yellow bowel movement in a day

These “goalposts” can also change as your baby grows. If you’re not sure whether your baby is getting enough, speak to your doctor, midwife, or certified lactation counselor.

What causes low milk supply?

Most moms are able to produce enough milk for their little ones. But there’s no denying that low supply can happen, and it’s real challenge for moms. There are a number of factors that can lead to a lower milk supply, including:

  • Less frequent feedings, or not feeding enough
  • Poor latch-on when the baby suckles
  • Medical factors like high blood pressure or poorly-controlled diabetes
  • Side effects of medications, including herbal remedies or hormonal birth control
  • Poor balance of breast milk and formula milk if you’re supplementing
  • Stress and tension
  • Cool body temperature
  • Breast problems like mastitis
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Obesity
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Calorie deficiency
  • Dehydration

The good news is that even if you do have low supply, it’s usually temporary and fixable once you can identify the underlying cause.

Remedies for low milk supply

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Boosting a genuinely low milk supply can take a little patience and ingenuity, but the benefits of breast milk for your baby make it worth trying.

1. Feed more frequently

Breast milk production works on the principle of supply and demand. The more often your baby suckles, the more milk your body produces to meet their needs. For at least the first few weeks, breastfeed 8 to 12 times each day: that works out to once every 2 to 3 hours. Frequent feeding helps your body get the hint to ramp up milk production.

2. Get enough food and liquids

If you’re running low on calories or you’re dehydrated, it could temporarily drag down your milk supply. Eating to satisfy your hunger and drinking to satisfy your thirst will help make sure you’re supporting healthy milk supply.

3. Get enough sleep

Your levels of the milk-producing hormone prolactin rise when you’re asleep. Getting enough shut-eye can be easier said than done for new moms, but don’t be afraid to take naps, and try to avoid all-nighters. The more sleep you can squeeze in, the better.

4. Adjust the breastmilk-to-formula ratio

If you’re supplementing breastfeeding with formula bottle-feeding, the lack of nursing could cause your milk supply to wind down production. Rather than making a sudden switch to formula, gradually decrease breastfeeds to introduce formula – and increase breast milk feeds if it seems like you’re not making enough.

Before you introduce formula, ask your doctor, midwife or lactation counselor how to go about this. You may want to consider milk pumping and storage to maintain production, too.

5. Stress less

Emotional stress can take a toll on your body, and unfortunately when your milk supply is low, you can wind up in a vicious cycle of self doubt. Take the time to relax with something you enjoy, and remind yourself what a great job you’re doing.

6. Stay cozy

Low body temperature can cause your blood vessels to constrict, making it hard to get the circulation flowing and supporting milk production. In the chillier months, make sure you’re rugged up nice and comfortable when you and your baby are nursing. This will also help you relax.

7. Try breast massage

Even if you’re producing plenty of milk, blockages in the milk ducts can make it hard for it to reach your baby. Support good flow through the breasts by gentle massage at times like before breastfeeding or when you take a warm shower.

For low milk supply, help is available

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Breast milk is one of the most precious gifts you can give your baby in the earliest stages of their life, but if you’re worried about low milk supply, you’re definitely not alone.

Don’t let fears of low milk supply lead you to give up on nursing early. Insufficient milk supply is actually rare, and with the right support from your doctor or lactational counselor, it can be overcome.