Low Milk Supply or Low Pumping Output

Low milk supply or low pumping output? What’s the difference? If you’re struggling with either of these issues, New Little Life can help! This blog post will define what low milk supply or low pumping output is, and what you can do about it. The focus of this post is for moms who are combining breastfeeding and pumping. If you’re looking for even more info about how to be successful in your pumping journey as a working mom, join our Pumping for Working Moms Program! IBCLC Allison is an pumping expert and through her community you can get personalized pumping help! Sign up for a discovery call to get started, here.

(This post was originally a video. Check it out, here!)

What is Low Milk Supply or Low Pumping Output?

For working moms who usually breastfeed at the breast at home and pump at work when they’re away from their baby, exclusive pumpers or really anyone that’s pumping, it can be really hard to tell if you have low supply or if you are just not getting out the milk that is already there with your pump. So, let’s start out with a couple of definitions to clear things up.

Low milk supply means that you are not making enough milk to meet the needs of your baby.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that you will never meet those needs, but for whatever reason it is not happening right now. That is actual low milk supply.

Low milk output or low pumping output is when you are not able to pump enough milk to meet the needs of your baby.

These things are not the same. And to make things more confusing, low milk supply can be caused by consistently low pumping output, but low pumping output doesn’t necessarily mean that you have low milk supply…

It’s kind of as clear as mud, right? Both issues can go around masquerading as the other one so let’s dive through each of these to figure out what you’re experiencing and how we can fix it. It is important to figure out whether it’s low milk supply or low pumping output because they’re not fixed the same way. These are two different problems and they have two different paths to a solution.

Signs of Low Milk Supply

If you actually have low milk supply, your baby is not getting enough milk. You will see signs in your baby like:

  • Poor weight gain
  • Poor diaper output. Low diaper output for their age means they’re not having enough wet and dirty diapers every day because they’re not taking in enough food.
  • Dehydration is another sign of low milk supply. Dehydration looks like a dry mouth, irritability, dark urine, tearless crying sunken eyes, a divot in their fontanelle (soft spot). Those are signs of severe dehydration and when you definitely need to call your doctor.

Other Signs that May Be Low Milk Supply (Or Not!)

There are also a lot of other indicators that the baby’s not quite getting enough milk but they are much harder to determine whether it’s actually low milk supply, normal infant behavior or just things that make babies mad in general. Some of those things would be:

  • Baby is fussy at the breast consistently
  • They take large bottles after feeding at the breast
  • Your breasts always feel empty

Those things don’t always mean you have low milk supply. If your baby is fussy, taking large bottles of formula after feeding at the breast, or your breasts always feel empty, watch this video to determine if you have low milk supply or not.

Combing Breastfeeding and Pumping

Anyway, milk supply is just crazy! It is one of the hardest things for moms to juggle and figure out, especially when you’re combining breastfeeding and pumping! When you’re feeding at the breast you don’t get to see the numbers, right? And if the baby’s growing well, we don’t really care about the numbers. It’s just working.

But then, when you start pumping, all of a sudden you have numbers and you’re like “is this normal? I only pumped two ounces. Is that what my baby eats or is that not enough??”

Babies vary a lot, too so when you combine breastfeeding and pumping this is where things get really muddy and really confusing for moms. You need some help organizing all that, and figuring out what’s normal, what you should expect, etc. And you don’t have to do that on your own! The Pumping for Working Moms Program has video lessons, an online community, as well as expert advice from IBCLC Allison to point you in the right direction. Learn more about the program, here.

working moms program

Things that May Contribute to Low Milk Supply

Next, we have a long list of things that may contribute to low milk supply. Seriously, it is a very long list!

Baby doesn’t have a good latch or doesn’t remove milk well.

This can be caused by anatomical issues like a lip tie or tongue tie, cleft palate. Or the latch just isn’t good. This happens sometimes if baby doesn’t get enough time at the breast or you’re skipping pumping sessions, etc. If you’re not removing the milk enough times per day (whatever that looks like for you based on the baby’s age and your current milk supply) if that’s not happening, you can have low milk supply. 

You don’t eat enough calories, you’re not taking in enough fluids or you don’t get enough rest.

All of those things can be kind of a joke for a mom because you have a lot of stuff going on! It’s obviously not realistic for you to sleep through the night, but if you not sleeping at all and you’ve got the bags under your eyes and you are struggling, it’s going to be hard to make milk. If you’re eating 500 calories a day because you don’t have time to eat, it’s going to be hard to make milk. If you haven’t had a drink of water in a week, it’s gonna be hard to make milk.

Stress is another big one.

Of course you’re stressed, you’re a new mom! Especially if you’re working also, it’s kind of impossible not to stress, but excessive stress makes it hard for those hormones to let down your milk.

Waiting too long to begin removing milk after birth can affect milk supply.

You’ve got to start right away. If for some reason you don’t, it doesn’t mean you can’t your milk supply back but it does make it harder. Supplementing with formula might mean your baby takes less milk from the breast, which in turn causes you to make less milk and it can kind of be this downward cycle of lowering your milk supply because your body’s just trying to respond to what you’re telling it.

Using pacifiers in place of feeding the baby can be a problem.

Pacifiers are not bad and there’s another video on pacifiers right here but if we’re using that instead of feeding them that can cause low milk supply.

Baby is sleepy at the breast and doesn’t eat.

This is really common in the beginning and some babies are just sleepier at their breasts than others. But if they’re not eating enough because they’re just so sleepy or if they have any kind of health condition that makes them that way (a heart problem or anything else that they just are more sleepy than normal) this can cause low milk supply.

Feedings are scheduled rather than on demand.

This doesn’t apply to pumping really, because you do have to stick to a schedule. Though when you’re feeding at the breast if you’re scheduling feedings and you’re like nope baby it’s not been two hours yet you can’t eat, that can cause a lot of milk supply issues. It’s best to let them eat whenever they want. Limiting the length of feeds like setting a timer and saying you get 15 minutes and then you are done, that can negatively affect your milk supply.

Certain medications/medical conditions can affect milk supply.

Birth controls, especially ones with estrogen, antihistamines, cold medicines meant to dry you up those will affect your milk supply.

Medical conditions like obesity, if your baby was born premature, high blood pressure, anemia, diabetes, excessive blood loss during birth, retained placenta, history of thyroid or hormone disorders, previous breast surgeries (specifically breast reduction) can contribute to low milk supply.

If you’re not breastfeeding or pumping correctly that can cause low milk supply.

Your body’s only going to replace to the milk that you remove so understanding pumping and doing it correctly is very important.

Decreasing the number of times you feed or pump prematurely.

Dropping that night time pump is everybody’s favorite thing to do, but if you drop it too early, it can have a negative effect on your milk supply.

Illness, especially if you have a fever, can drop your supply.

Drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco can cause low milk supply.

Being pregnant or starting your period can dip your supply.

Difference Between Low Milk Supply or Low Pumping Output

Low milk supply is when you are not making enough for your baby, your breasts physically are not producing enough milk. On the other hand, low pumping output is when you aren’t fully emptying your breast after pumping.

A couple of signs of low pumping output include:

  • Your breasts still feel full after pumping. They should feel softer and empty. If you can tell there’s still milk in there, that’s a problem. Try hand expressing after a pumping session. While you’ll always be able to get a little bit, if you can easily get sprays of milk or steady streams out there is still milk in there that you did not get out with the pump. That’s a really good indication that something isn’t happening right.
  • Baby is breastfeeding well on the weekends, nights and when you’re together but when you’re pumping at work you only get a few ounces per session. If baby’s growing well and breastfeeding is good, they don’t seem extra hungry, etc. but then you get to work and you’re pumping one or two ounces per session combined? That’s low pumping output.

working moms program

Realistic Expectations

It’s important to have realistic expectations and not think that you can pump tons and tons of milk, especially if you’re combining breastfeeding and pumping. Your milk supply is being controlled not only by the pump, but also the baby, which can sometimes be hard to measure.

This is something we talk about extensively in the Pumping for Working Moms Program because this is a really important part of managing your supply and figuring out how to find normal. It’s important to understand what’s a problem and what’s not a problem.

If you’re pumping one ounce per session combined in place of a feeding, that’s not enough. Your baby’s eating more than an ounce if it’s been two hours since your last feed. An ounce is significantly lower than what we would expect from both breasts from a feeding session.

Things that May Contribute to Low Pumping Output

A few things that might contribute to low pumping. This is another long list!

A Poor Performing Pump

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s the pump. You might have a low performing pump, it happens sometimes. But don’t keep buying breast pumps! Watch this video to decide whether you actually need a new pump, because usually it’s not the pump that’s the problem.

Inappropriate Flange Size

Flange sizing can make a big difference in your pumping output. There is a huge module in flange sizing in the Pumping for Working Moms Program. You can probably get milk out with a flange that’s too big and you don’t think to change because if it doesn’t hurt and you can get milk out, why bother? But when moms are they’re like, “oh my gosh why did I not do this earlier?? This is so much better! I’m getting so much more milk, it’s so much more comfortable!” Flange sizing is important to pumping output.

Using the Wrong Pump Settings

Pumping is not a plug and play situation. It’s really an art. You have to make sure that everything is falling into place. Make sure your settings are just right so that you are getting a letdown of milk, as well as pumping all the milk out of your breasts.

The Products You Use to Pump With Can Affect Pumping Output

The products that you’re using along with your pump, specifically cups or your wearable pump or different a flange style, can affect the pump’s performance because they affect how milk is removed.

Your Comfort Level

Look at your comfort level. Are you stressed out while pumping? This is particularly applicable to the workplace, are you able to relax while pumping at work? How’s your mental condition? Anything else that’s going on in your body physically, like your period, or being exhausted, can affect your pumping output.

A lot of things that impacted milk supply can also impact pumping output.

You Don’t Have to Figure this Out on Your Own!

If you were overwhelmed by that whole list and you’re like, “Okay, I’ve heard these things before. I’ve heard about flange sizing and power pumping and all this stuff but I don’t know what to do for myself.”

That’s exactly why the Pumping for Working Moms Program was created! It’s a step-by-step guide to give you all the information that you need as well as easy access to IBCLC Allison. Having easy access to a professional helps when you have the little questions so you can have help before they turn into big problems.

The Pumping for Working Moms Program is self-paced. You’ve got to be your own advocate. If you need help, Allison is there, but she can’t come do the work for you. But you don’t have to do it alone! Join the program, ask the questions, get the help you need!

So, Is It Low Milk Supply or Low Pumping Output??

Hopefully, breaking down low milk supply or low pumping output throughout this post helps you! Both of these things are problems that need fixed if you want to continue towards your breastfeeding goals. You don’t have to do it alone! Use this post as a resource, or better yet, join our Pumping for Working Moms Program!

Low Milk Supply or Low Pumping Output