Dealing with a low breastmilk supply

What to Know

  • Concerns about milk supply are normal
  • Understanding your changing body and your growing baby
  • When to contact a healthcare provider

As a breastfeeding mama, you may find yourself worrying about whether you’re making enough milk for your little one. It’s completely normal to have concerns, but if your baby has several wet and dirty diapers each day and is gaining weight, you’re making exactly what she needs.

Baby reaching up to mom while being breastfed

Without an accurate way to measure the amount of milk in your breasts (they don’t come equipped with measuring cups!), you’ll have to rely on your instincts and your baby’s cues to ensure she is getting enough.

Certain signals can sometimes mean a drop in milk supply, but know that these are often false alarms:

  • Baby wants to feed more often, or is giving hunger cues shortly after feeding.
    A hungry baby doesn’t necessarily mean you are low on milk, rather many babies “cluster feed” when they hit growth spurts (which, for their tiny bodies, is quite often). You can expect growth spurts at around two or three weeks old, again at six weeks and then at three months. Breastfeeding frequently when your baby signals for milk, will help your supply catch up with your little one’s new and growing needs.
  • Baby seems fussy.
    Many infants have a “witching hour” (which may be less or more than an hour!) where they are fussier than usual, but it’s not necessarily related to hunger. Depending on your babe’s personality, she may need to be soothed, she may need sleep or perhaps she’s in need of stimulation – you’ll learn what works best for your little one. If your baby does settle down once you offer the breast, it’s ok to feed her, however, it isn’t a sign that your baby isn’t getting enough milk.
  • Baby starts nursing for shorter periods of time.
    As babies get the hang of nursing, they become more efficient. What used to take them 10 to 20 minutes per breast, could take them closer to 5 minutes on each side. This change doesn’t mean you have less milk, rather, it means your baby’s eating skills are developing – a normal and positive sign!
  • Your breasts feel different.
    As your baby gets older, you may find that your breasts become softer or leak less often (or not at all). This change is good news as it means your supply has adjusted to your baby’s needs.
  • You have an illness.
    If you are sick or have a health complication, your milk supply may dip until you are back in good health. Many mothers are able to breastfeed straight through an illness to maintain their supply and be back on track when the dust settles. Consider contacting a lactation consultant to devise a nursing game plan while you are sick (especially if you are taking medications).

If you do in fact have a low milk supply, the remedy begins with finding the source of the problem (perhaps your baby needs more practice with a proper latch or you’re taking a medication that is impacting your supply). A lactation counselor (available to chat live at HappyFamilyOrganics.com) may be able to help improve your and your baby’s breastfeeding experience and ease any fears about milk supply issues.

What to Do

Relax

It’s certainly easier said than done, but try to take it easy. Breastfeeding works best when you’re relaxed because stress can inhibit your “let-down”, which is the reflex allowing milk to flow from breast to baby.

Do your best to nurse your baby in a place where you feel comfortable and try to just focus on your little one during feeds (instead of your to-do list or your smart phone, as tempting as they can be). If you need help clearing your mind, appeal to the senses – notice how your baby feels, smells, and looks – try singing (your baby will enjoy hearing your voice), or use visualization techniques to picture a place where you feel totally at ease.

Feed your baby frequently

Your body makes milk based on how much is removed from the breast. In other words, the more your baby nurses (or, the more you pump), the more milk you will produce. Pay attention to your baby’s hunger cues (like lip smacking, finger sucking, and rooting) and feed your babe as often as he needs.

In the first few weeks after birth, your goal should be 8 to 12 nursing sessions in a 24-hour period. This number will gradually reduce, once your baby becomes more efficient and can drink more milk at each feeding.

If you have a sleepy baby, you may need to wake him to nurse. Other babies like to “cluster feed” and then sleep for longer periods of time, and that’s ok too.

Notice your baby’s weight changes

It is completely normal for newborns to lose weight in the first three to four days of life, but your babe should regain her birth weight in approximately 10 to 14 days. If your baby is not re-gaining weight or not producing 6-7 wet and 2 or more dirty diapers each day, contact your healthcare provider.

Offer both breasts

Be sure to offer both breasts at each nursing session. This will help your baby get enough milk and ensure that both breasts are stimulated frequently to produce more milk.

Remember, your body makes milk based on how much is removed from the breast.

Try breast compression

When nursing, try squeezing your breast firmly (but not to the point of pain) with your thumb on one side and fingers on the other (like you’re holding a sandwich) to help increase milk flow.

Wait until your baby is not actively sucking, release her from your nipple, and rotate your fingers around your breast and squeeze again. Switch breasts and repeat twice on each breast.

Schedule a nursing vacation

Cuddle up in bed with your baby and do nothing but rest and nurse – and, of course, feed yourself as well. This will give your baby the opportunity to nurse as often as he would like and help you get some R&R – both of which aid in milk production.

This plan is easiest with your first child, but if arrangements can be made, it’s definitely worth a shot – even for a little while.

Eat well

On average, breastfeeding moms need an extra 450-500 calories each day. Choose nutrient-rich foods to help keep you feeling energized and healthy. Your best bets are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, dairy, eggs, meat, fish, and poultry.

You can add a little extra to each of your meals or enjoy a couple healthy snacks in your day – like hummus and vegetables, or fruit and yogurt.

Read How much should I eat while breastfeeding for all the details.

Drink plenty of fluids

While drinking extra water won’t directly increase your milk supply, it’s important to consume enough fluids to prevent dehydration and keep your body in tip top milk-making shape.

Aim for a total of 13 to 16 cups of fluids per day. Keep a water bottle handy, but know that other liquids like milk, milk alternatives, coffee, tea, and juice count toward your daily needs. However, try to stick with beverages that do not contain added sugars (like soda and sweetened teas) or alcohol.

And see Dos and Don’ts of caffeine in beverages and foods for more guidance.

Contact a healthcare professional

If you’re concerned about your milk supply, contact our Happy Family coaches, for assistance. They can ask questions about your baby’s positioning and latch, and potentially suggest ways to improve nursing sessions so you and your baby both get what you need.

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