Do I Have a Low Milk Supply?

Breastfeeding is the time-honored and natural way to nourish your baby, but that does not mean that everything will come easy. Nearly all women have some challenges with breastfeeding in the beginning, but many are able to exclusively breastfeed afterward or at least supplement with some breast milk. Many women early in the postpartum period wonder if they are supplying their baby with enough breast milk. Since women do not visually see how much milk the baby is drinking, it can be hard to figure out if enough is being produced. In the majority of cases, women do produce enough breast milk.

However, some women do struggle with what we call a “low milk supply.” Producing too little milk can be due to many factors and can be very discouraging! If you are concerned that you may not be producing enough breast milk for your newborn or baby, please contact your doctor or lactation consultant. They can help you figure out if there are any issues that may be hindering you from producing enough milk or if there is another issue at play. Find a Lactation Consultant in Your Area

How Do I Know If My Baby Is Getting Enough Milk?

Though you cannot necessarily measure how much milk your baby is drinking, there are a few signs that your baby is sufficiently fed:

  • Your baby’s cheeks are full while feeding rather than sucked in
  • Your baby releases on his/her own from your breast or falls asleep & releases
  • Your baby seems happy and content after feeding
  • You may feel sleepy after feedings
  • You can see/hear your baby swallowing during feeding
  • Your breasts feel soft, not hard, after feeding

Keep in mind that babies may request to feed many times throughout each day – this may cause you to feel like you must not be producing enough each feeding. Not to fear, as babies tend to feed 8-12 times per day (24 hours) once the full milk supply comes in. These may seem like signs your milk supply is decreasing, but probably don’t have anything to do with your actual milk supply:

  • Having a fussy baby (this is common aside from getting enough milk)
  • Your baby wants to nurse often (every 1.5 to 2 hours is pretty common for breastfed babies)
  • Your breasts don’t leak any milk or they suddenly stop leaking (doesn’t have to do with milk supply)
  • Your breasts feel softer than they used to (this is pretty natural once full supply comes in)
  • You get very little when pumping after a feeding (babies are more efficient at extracting milk than a pump, and your leftover milk amount isn’t a good indication of milk supply)
  • Your baby suddenly increases his/her frequency of nursing (likely will line up with a growth spurt!)

What Can Cause a Low Milk Supply?

There are quite a few factors that can lower your milk supply, such as:

  • Taking an oral contraceptive
  • Having fewer than normal milk ducts (ex. from surgeries or cancer)
  • Bad positioning during feeding
  • Incomplete latch
  • Tongue or lip tie in baby
  • Supplementation (giving formula or bottled breast milk after baby feeds at the breast)
  • Using pacifiers or nipple shields
  • Mom’s health issues (postpartum reproductive issues such as retained placenta; others such as anemia)
  • Mom’s medications (antihistamines, etc.)
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Cutting feedings short (instead of letting the baby decide when he/she’s done)
  • Scheduling feedings rather than feeding on demand
  • Baby sleeps too much/through the night (lessens the frequency of feeding – wake baby up more often to feed)

How Can I Boost My Milk Supply?

Before you try to take supplements or try different actions to increase your milk supply, we highly suggest to consult with your doctor or breastfeeding professional before self-diagnosing yourself with a low supply. The truth is that most women do not need to do anything extra to enjoy healthy breastfeeding and have a good supply. If you have been diagnosed with a low or declining supply, there are a few things you can try that may help increase your milk supply, such as eating certain foods/herbs and power pumping. Breastfeeding as much as possible also boosts your supply. Increased frequency of pumping and milk draining will let your body know that more milk is needed on a regular basis!

Here are suggestions on how to increase your breastmilk supply:

  • As the mom, get plenty of rest. Lack of sleep is rough on your milk production.
  • Drink plenty of water. If you get dehydrated you’ll make less milk. Eat foods naturally rich in water like vegetables and fruit.
  • Try to eat a balanced diet rich in fruit, veggies and whole grains. When your exclusively breastfeeding you need an additional 300-500 calories per day.
  • Lowering your stress level can help improve your let-down reflex which releases milk into your milk ducts. Ask your partner, family members or friends to help with other things until your milk supply is established.
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking. Studies show even one beer or glass of wine can interfere with your let-down reflex and overall milk supply.
  • Practice hand expressing/breast massage
  • Practice power pumping (pumping in between feeding sessions or continuing to pump after the last drops of milk have been expressed)
  • Promote skin-to-skin with baby
  • Breastfeed on demand (or more if the baby is not very demanding)
  • Offer both breasts for each feeding
  • Switch multiple times from breast to breast if the baby is tired/falls asleep too quickly
  • Make sure the frequency of nursing is enough (8-12 times every 24 hours, at least every 3 hours at night)
  • Check your medications. Some antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics, weight-loss and contraceptives containing estrogen may reduce your milk supply. Talk to your doctor about alternative meds.

Certain foods and herbs may help increase milk supply:

  • Fenugreek
  • Blessed Thistle
  • Sesame seeds
  • Alfalfa
  • Goat’s Rue
  • Oatmeal
  • Vegetables/Leafy greens. But if you’re baby seems gassy after you’ve eatn broccoli, cabbage or beans, back off these foods
  • Garlic, onions and mint may change your breast milk’s taste. Your baby may suckle more which will help boost your supply. Be watchful and reduce these foods if baby doesn’t like the taste.

What If Nothing Is Working?

Before self-diagnosing or choosing to switch to formula, be sure to consult your doctor, pediatrician, and/or a breastfeeding professional (such as a lactation consultant) for an exam. They may be able to help you find ways to produce more milk or show you a better position to breastfeed.

Want to Know More?

Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. Breastfeeding, Inc.: Protocol to Manage Breastmilk Intake.

2. Wambach, Karen & Riordan, Jan. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, Fifth Edition. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC. 2016.

3. National Health Service (NHS) Choices. Breastfeeding: is my baby getting enough milk?

4. Kelly Mom: Parenting, Breastfeeding. Increasing Low Milk Supply.

5. Healthline: 11 Lactation-Boosting Recipes for Breast-Feeding Moms.