There are many reasons for low milk supply. Formula feeding, low nutrition, insufficient glandular tissue and pre-existing medical conditions are just a few of them. But there is no need to worry.
The good news is that with the right information and support, you can increase your breast milk supply. Although in some cases, new mothers might need medical assistance to increase breastmilk production or even to relactate.
In this article, we will explore the reasons for low milk supply, discover the amount you should ideally produce and find ways to increase milk supply.
What is Low Milk Supply
Low milk supply, my friend, is when it feels like your boobs have gone on strike and aren’t producing enough liquid gold for your little one.
Picture this: you’ve got a hungry baby, eagerly rooting around, but it seems like the milk factory is running on low power. It can be frustrating and worrisome, but hey, you’re not alone in this milk-making journey.
According to Medela, a renowned breastfeeding resource, low milk supply is when your breasts aren’t producing enough milk to meet your baby’s needs. So, if you’re experiencing this hiccup, take a deep breath and know that there are solutions and support out there to help you get those milk jugs flowing!
Common Factors That Lead to Low Milk Supply
Your low milk supply could be the result of a combination of things you might be doing. You could be managing breastfeeding incorrectly, or perhaps your baby is not able to latch properly. Giving your baby formula, or a medical condition in the mother can also affect milk supply.
These are just a few of the reasons. Let’s take a look at some of the most common issues that lead to low milk supply.
1. Delayed lactation
For many new mothers, breast milk may take more than three days to come in. So when milk comes in slowly or late, it is medically called a delayed onset of milk or delayed lactation.
But just because it is late, it doesn’t mean you will always have low milk supply or no milk supply at all. However, it is one of the primary reasons for low milk supply.
Most of the time when milk comes in late, it worries the new mother. This stress may reduce the flow and speed of milk let down. And the cycle continues.
With the help of a lactation expert and the inclusion of food that increases breast milk production in your diet, you can get back on track.
Sometimes a baby might not be able to latch on to your breasts, and that could lead to low milk supply. | Image courtesy: Dreamstime
2. Supplement feeding
If you have been topping your feed with formula, chances are you are slowing down your milk supply. Every time you give your baby a supplement, your breasts reduce milk production.
In some cases, your baby might need supplements. This could happen if the baby has jaundice or if your milk comes in very late post-delivery. Or your milk supply has gone down and your baby has stopped gaining weight.
In cases such as these, try hand expressing or pumping to increase your milk supply.
3. Baby is not drinking
Sometimes, even though your little one is on your breast, it may not mean that he is actually drinking. Babies often fall asleep at their mummy’s breast with the nipple still in their mouth.
The best way to figure out if he is drinking or not is by analysing his swallowing sounds. Watch his jaw for active suckling. Also, make sure to monitor his poop and his weight gain.
Other reasons for baby not drinking milk could be illness, a change in the taste of your breastmilk, or a condition in the baby such as tongue tie.
4. Baby has a poor latch
Be sure to try different breastfeeding postures to help your baby get a proper latch.
As mentioned in our previous article, “Check with your lactation consultant to see which nursing position allows your baby to get a deep latch. Try different positions to know which is preferable for your baby. Is it the cradle hold, or the rugby hold or if he is comfortable lying down or in a cross cradle hold.”
You could also try a sleep latch, where the baby latches on while still asleep. For this purpose, you can bring him close to your full breast and let him suckle. It’s better if you initiate a letdown (of milk) beforehand by hand expressing.
5. Unusual breast anatomy
As mentioned before, one of the reasons for low milk supply may be because of your own anatomy. You could have inverted nipples, flat nipples, or very long, large and differently-shaped nipples. Or you could have a skin tag or double nipples that are hindering your baby’s latch.
If you had nipple piercing, you might have been left with scarring. Or your nipple pores might have closed. Any anatomical change that causes a mismatch between the breast and the baby’s mouth can lead to a low milk supply.
Usually, mothers and babies can overcome this problem with continued help and pumping.
6. Insufficient glandular tissue
Another probable cause for low milk supply is insufficient glandular tissue (IGT). This happens when the milk does not come even after you’ve tried various lactation methods.
IGT is sometimes called primary lactation failure, hypoplastic breasts, or failed lactogenesis. This condition might be present if you have very small and widely placed breasts or you’ve had a breast reduction.
It may also be because you have tubular-shaped breasts, hormonal issues, or your breasts didn’t enlarge after puberty or during pregnancy.
Image source: iStock
7. Breast surgery
Low milk supply can also happen if you’ve had breast surgery that damaged your glandular tissue. For instance, a breast augmentation or reduction, breast implants, a biopsy or a lumpectomy (surgical removal of a lump).
It can also be due to the draining of an abscess, a history of trauma to the chest, burns or infection in the chest. In addition, any issues resulting in breast development, or surgeries that affect the pituitary gland and the brain can lead to low milk supply as well.
9. Hormonal disorders
Any endocrine or hormonal disorders can also cause low milk supply. Also, if you needed fertility treatment to get pregnant or you have suffered from hormonal issues, it can lead to problems in milk production.
You might want to check for the following hormonal imbalances:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It is a metabolic condition in which women have polycystic ovaries, where the ovaries produce more than normal androgens (male) hormones. High levels of these hormones affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation and milk production.
- Luteal phase defect. In this condition, the woman produces insufficient progesterone after the ovulation phase. This is related to IGT in women.
- Thyroid issues. Another common issue that leads to low milk supply is caused by the thyroid (dysfunction of thyroid gland). It affects both oxytocin and prolactin (the breastfeeding hormones). Ideally, you should get yourself checked for thyroid issues before pregnancy.
- Gestational diabetes or diabetes. If a woman has diabetes or developed it during her pregnancy, it can affect her breast milk supply. You should monitor your blood sugar levels as well as insulin on a regular basis – pre, during and post-pregnancy.
- Overweight. Being overweight with a Body Mass Index of more than 26 can be dangerous for an expecting mum. This automatically causes many problems in the body including low milk supply after delivery.
10. Being on medications
Hormonal medications and vitamins and minerals can do more harm than good. This is especially true when you are breastfeeding.
Oral contraceptives and inserting intrauterine devices, for instance, can weaken your milk supply. Some studies also suggest that postpartum tubal ligation (getting the tubes tied) can also lower milk supply. Also, excess consumption of herbs such as sage, mint or parsley during confinement can also reduce breast milk supply.
In addition, low iron levels as well as hypertension during pregnancy (that increases blood pressure) can also lower the milk supply.
11. Other factors
There are a few other factors that can lead to low milk supply. These include the age of the mother (if she is in her late 30s or over 40), drinking too much alcohol, smoking, marijuana use, and postpartum depression.
Also, support from your family — especially your partner — is important for breastfeeding success. If you are not getting this, then you might feel discouraged to continue.
All of these factors taken individually or combined can lower your breast milk supply. So make sure to avoid what you can and concentrate on increasing your breast milk supply.
The Downfalls of Low Milk Supply – How It Affects Mum and Baby
While it’s frustrating, it’s important to understand the potential effects it can have on both mum and baby.
Hangry Baby Syndrome
We all know the grumpy feeling when we’re hungry, right? Well, babies can experience the same, if not worse. Low milk supply may leave your little one unsatisfied, resulting in a perpetually hangry (hungry and angry, not a good combo) baby. They might become fussy, cry more often, and have trouble gaining weight. Poor baby!
Breastfeeding releases hormones that create a beautiful bond between mum and baby. However, when your milk supply is low, this connection can be compromised. Mothers might experience feelings of guilt, frustration, and even sadness.
Low milk supply often leads to mums becoming pumping machines. Trust me, spending hours with suction cups attached to your chest is not how you envisioned your days. Pumping around the clock to stimulate milk production can be exhausting and time-consuming. It’s like having a part-time job you never applied for!
When the milk supply is low, mums might resort to supplementing with formula. While this is perfectly fine and healthy for babies, it can be a downer for women who had their hearts set on exclusive breastfeeding. The constant dance between breast and bottle feeding can be a logistical nightmare. So much for keeping it simple, huh?
Bye-Bye, Boob Confidence
Having a low milk supply can deal a severe blow to a mum’s confidence. Feeling like your body isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do can leave you questioning your abilities as a mother. Remember, momma, it’s not your fault, and you’re doing an amazing job, regardless of how many ounces your milk supply measures.
We all know babies come with expenses, but a low milk supply can take that to a whole new level. Supplementing with formula can quickly drain your bank account, making you wonder if your little one is sucking milk or dollar bills. Financial stress is the last thing new parents need.
While a low milk supply can be discouraging, remember that you’re not alone. Many mums have faced similar challenges and found ways to overcome them.
How to Increase Milk Supply
Image Source: iStock
Remember that milk production often works on the demand and supply principle. When your baby demands milk, your body will produce milk to fulfil his need.
However, sometimes your body needs an extra push in order to produce enough milk to sustain your baby’s demand.
1. Milk boosters
As shared in our previous article, you can increase milk supply naturally by including galactagogues (breast milk boosters) in your diet.
These include the following:
- Fenugreek seeds (methi), available as tea, are commonly used by Indian mums to increase breastmilk supply.
- Tumeric powder and turi leaves (both can be bought at Tekka market).
- Chinese herbs including Dang Gui and dates also improve your milk supply
- Filipina mums swear by malunggay. You can find it in speciality Filipino stores in Singapore.
- Include green papaya and fish head soup as well as fish maw soup in your diet. You can also have pig trotter soup.
- Also include nuts like almonds, walnuts and dried figs as well as lactation cookies (consisting of one of these ingredients: rolled oats, brewers yeast, flaxseeds or fenugreek).
- Drink plenty of water and fluids all day.
Apart from these, you can try hormone therapy and pumping. Both of these might be recommended by your lactation consultant.
2. Nurse Frequently and On-Demand
The golden rule of increasing milk supply is to nurse your baby frequently and on-demand. The more you stimulate your breasts, the more milk your body will produce. Try to feed your baby whenever they show hunger cues, even if it means more frequent sessions. Trust your baby’s instincts—they know how much milk they need.
You may have to start pumping using an electric breast pump. A manual breast pump may not be up for the job. Ideally, you should pump every three hours and even during the night.
Pump for five to six minutes on a low or medium setting on the pump. Then, follow it up with a breast massage. Again, pump for five to six minutes. This entire process should take 15 minutes.
4. Maintain a Healthy Diet and Hydration
What you eat and drink can impact your milk supply. Ensure you’re consuming a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Some lactation-friendly foods, such as oats, fenugreek, and fennel, may also help boost your supply.
5. Relax and Reduce Stress
Stress can hinder milk production, so it’s important to find ways to relax and unwind. Take time for yourself, practice deep breathing exercises, listen to calming music, or try techniques like meditation or yoga. Creating a peaceful environment can work wonders for both your milk supply and your overall well-being.
6. Utilise Breast Compression
Breast compression is a helpful technique during breastfeeding that can increase milk flow and stimulate your supply. While your baby is nursing, gently compress your breast with your hand to encourage a more forceful milk flow. This not only ensures efficient milk transfer but also signals your body to produce more milk.
7. Get Skin-to-Skin Contact
Skin-to-skin contact not only strengthens the bond between you and your baby but also stimulates milk production. Spend quality time with your little one, holding them against your bare chest. This closeness triggers the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for milk ejection. It’s a win-win for both of you!
8. Seek Support from a Lactation Consultant
When it comes to breastfeeding, professional guidance can make a world of difference. If you’re struggling to boost your milk supply, consider reaching out to a lactation consultant. They can provide personalised advice, assess your breastfeeding technique, and offer strategies tailored to your specific situation.
These methods are quite effective and work for most women. However, we suggest you discuss them with your lactation consultant to zero in on the method that will work best for you.
Image Source: iStock
When to Seek Help for Low Milk Supply
Knowing when to seek help for low milk supply is crucial for both mum and baby’s well-being. If you’re experiencing persistent challenges with milk production, it’s essential to reach out to healthcare professionals or lactation consultants for guidance and support.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, seeking help is recommended if your baby is not gaining weight appropriately or shows signs of dehydration, if you’re experiencing extreme breast pain or engorgement, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious about your milk supply.
These experts can provide individualised advice, assess the situation, and help you develop a plan to improve milk production and ensure your baby receives the necessary nourishment. Remember, seeking assistance is a sign of strength and can lead to a more successful breastfeeding experience.
You got this, mum! We’re rooting for you!
Here at theAsianparent Singapore, it’s important for us to give information that is correct, significant, and timely. But this doesn’t serve as an alternative for medical advice or medical treatment. theAsianparent Singapore is not responsible for those that would choose to drink medicines based on information from our website. If you have any doubts, we recommend consulting your doctor for clearer information.