Reasons for Low Milk Supply
Reasons for low milk supply can be many. Low milk supply can be caused by a bad latch, a sleepy baby, underlying health conditions for mom or baby, lack of consistency in pumping. Even supplements claiming to help milk supply can actually hurt it.
That’s a lot of different things! How do you determine what’s affecting your milk supply? This blog post will break down the typical causes into four categories: baby, mother, breastfeeding mismanagement, or accidents. As always, this info shared here shouldn’t replace medical advice, so be sure to check in with your doctor if you have questions about your milk supply.
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Is Baby Causing your Low Milk Supply?
Breastfeeding is a team effort. You can study breastfeeding techniques for hours but a lot of breastfeeding success is dependent on the baby. Here are some ways that baby might be causing your low milk supply:
- Baby doesn’t have a good latch and doesn’t remove milk well
(Could be anatomical issues like tongue-tie, lip tie, cleft palate, etc.)
- Baby is sleepy at the breast
Baby Doesn’t Have a Good Latch
Latch is hugely important in your breastfeeding journey. The most important thing to remember about latch is that you can improve it. Just because baby has had a bad latch doesn’t mean they will always have a bad latch. This video from the New Little Life archives is a great place to start to learn how to have a good latch!
How does latch effect milk supply? If baby has a shallow latch (not taking in the areola, or just sucking on the end of your nipple) they will not be removing milk efficiently. Removing milk is essential in building your milk supply. Your body will only replace what was removed, so if baby isn’t removing milk efficiently because of a bad latch, this will effect your milk supply.
Make sure to rule out anatomical issues like tongue ties, lip ties, or a cleft palate when baby isn’t latching well. It might be hurting baby, or they might just be unable to latch if they have a tongue or lip tie.
Baby is Sleepy at the Breast
Some babies are just sleepy at the breast, especially newborns. They love their sleep! If baby is falling asleep while feeding, they are probably not removing much milk.
Again, if baby isn’t removing milk, your body won’t replace it, and that will cause a low milk supply.
There are various reasons why baby might be sleepy at the breast. Lip ties and tongue ties can make breastfeeding hard and tiresome for a baby. Jaundice or other infections can make a newborn sleepy. Sometimes babies will conserve their energy if they’re not getting enough food, and perpetuate the cycle by being sleepy at the breast and not eating enough.
Here are a few things to try for a sleepy baby at the breast.
- Change their diaper right before a feeding to wake them up
- Take off their clothes and try some skin to skin
- Switch breasts
Is Mom the Reason for Low Milk Supply?
First of all, we’re calling this the “mom” category but please don’t feel guilty about any of these potential causes of low milk supply! You may not have even realized that some of these things could impact your supply.
Here are some things that might affect mom and also milk supply:
- Certain medical conditions (ex: maternal obesity, premature birth, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, hypoplasia, anemia, diabetes, excessive blood less during birth, retained placenta, history of thyroid or hormone disorders, previous breast surgeries or breast trauma)
- Becoming pregnant (your milk supply may decrease when you get to be around 20 weeks pregnant)
- The return of your period
- Drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco
- You are not eating enough calories
- You don’t drink enough fluids
- You don’t get enough rest
- You are stressed
Medical conditions might also affect milk supply. Some of those conditions include: maternal obesity, premature birth, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, hypoplasia, anemia, diabetes, excessive blood less during birth, retained placenta, history of thyroid or hormone disorders, previous breast surgeries or breast trauma.
If you become pregnant again, this can affect your milk supply, especially starting in the second trimester. Starting your period can also cause a dip in your supply.
Alcohol and Smoking
You’ve probably heard a bunch of different things about drinking alcohol and breastfeeding. Maybe you’ve heard that a having a certain diet or drinking a certain color of Gatorade can impact your milk supply. Let’s set the record straight.
Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol shouldn’t affect your milk supply, or your baby. It’s up to you whether or not wait to feed your baby after drinking, or whether or not you pump and dump. Excessive drinking, on the other hand, most likely will cause low milk supply because alcohol impedes the production of oxytocin, the hormone needed to let milk down.
Smoking also can cause low milk supply because nicotine lowers prolactin levels.
Not Eating Enough or Being Dehydrated
It is important to eat enough calories every day to maintain your milk supply. If you’re body is conserving its energy because it doesn’t have enough food, that can cause low milk supply. Having a healthy diet is great and definitely benefits both you and your baby. But a following a certain diet isn’t going to improve your milk supply. Don’t obsess over it! Just make sure that you’re eating enough to feel energized and able to take care of your baby.
Being dehydrated can cause low milk supply. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, but, again, don’t obsess over it! Just drink a normal amount of water and you will stay hydrated. You can try blue Gatorade if you want to, but no promises on whether or not that will actually increase your milk supply.
Not Getting Enough Sleep and Feeling Stressed
It’s kind of impossible for a new mom to get enough sleep and to not feel stressed but both of these things can also cause low milk supply. Do your best to get as much rest as possible. Sleep might help with the stress, too.
Is the Way You’re Breastfeeding the Reason for Low Milk Supply?
Low supply might be caused by the way you’re breastfeeding. Here are a few examples:
- Waiting too long to begin removing milk after birth
- Not removing milk from the breast often enough
- Supplementing with formula (Your baby may take less milk from your breasts, which in turn could cause your breasts to produce less milk)
- Scheduled feedings rather than feeding on demand
- Limiting the length of feeds instead of letting the baby decide when they’re done
- Not breastfeeding or pumping at night. Prolactin levels (the hormone responsible for signaling the breasts to make milk) is highest at night and breastfeeding at night is essential for keeping milk production high
- Decreasing the number of times you feed or pump
Other Reasons for Low Milk Supply
Similar to pregnancy, you will want to watch out for potential side effects of medications and milk supply. Some common medications that can affect milk supply are birth control, antihistamines, decongestants and other cold medicines.
Cold medicines are meant to dry up mucus and that in turn can dry up milk supply. Taking one or two does is probably fine, but if you’re worried about milk supply, it’s probably better to avoid them. Always consult with your doctor to determine what medicines are safe for you and your baby (and milk supply!)
And be mindful of supplements or herbal remedies that claim they will increase your milk supply. More often than not these “remedies” are expensive and not effective. And if used incorrectly some of these supplements can actually decrease your milk supply.
Reasons for low milk supply can vary, and it can be hard to narrow down the exact cause of your low milk supply. Hopefully this list has given you some ideas into where you can look for underlying supply issues. Remember, the most important thing for milk supply is frequent milk removal. If anything is preventing frequent milk removal from happening, start looking there for milk supply issues!