BIGGEST Questions about Milk Supply
Biggest questions about milk supply??
- Do I have enough milk?
- Do I have too much milk?
- How do I get the milk out?
It’s just a lot! If you’re questioning your milk supply, know that you’re not alone! Many breastfeeding mothers have big questions about milk supply.
Your milk supply will look different depending on your health history, how you choose to feed your baby and how you manage your supply. So, in this post, let’s talk about several different scenarios. We’ll cover what you can expect from your milk supply based on how you’re feeding and the variables that come into play.
Having a really solid understanding of milk supply is how to end up with a good milk supply! When you know how it works, you know what you’re doing.
(This post was originally a video. Check it out, here!)
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Exclusively Breastfeeding Moms
If you are exclusively breastfeeding, your milk supply is managed by the baby. Baby’s latch and efficiency in removing milk are the most important things to maintaining your milk supply as an exclusive breastfeeding mom.
First, you’ve got to get a good latch. The baby has to get milk out or you will leave milk behind and your supply will decrease. Milk supply for exclusively breastfeeding moms is a type of milk supply that relies heavily on supply and demand. (All milk supplies rely on supply and demand to some extent.)
Next, when you’re talking about the supply and demand cycle for an exclusively breastfeeding mother you have to realize that it’s based on feeding on demand. This means that you are feeding the baby whenever they’re hungry, no matter the schedule.
Does Feeding on Demand Cause Low Supply? Oversupply?
Sometimes, when you’re feeding on demand, you might have low supply. This can be happen if a baby isn’t latching well or if the mother has other risk factors for low supply in her health history.
Usually, when you’re feeding on demand, you don’t have an oversupply. Exclusively breastfeeding mothers with an underlying health condition, or who have added extra demand by pumping might have an oversupply. Oversupply is something we will cover later in this post.
Exclusively Pumping Moms
Now, the next category of biggest questions about milk supply is for those exclusively pumping. Your milk supply is managed by your pump if you are exclusively pumping. So, creating and sticking to a good schedule is one of the key factors in establishing a good and healthy milk supply.
You also need to have a good pump. Having a pump that is reliable and efficient in removing milk is a really important factor to manage your milk supply appropriately. Most moms who are exclusively pumping do have more than one pump. Usually one for convenience, like a wearable pump, and then another more sturdy tabletop type.
Remember, exclusive pumpers do have to manage all of the aspects of pumping like flange size, letdowns, schedules etc. When you are exclusively pumping, you’re more aware and in control of your letdowns, the time you spend pumping, not only the schedule that you’re on, but also the length per session. It can be a lot!
Exclusively pumping is not feeding on demand. Here, your pump is not demanding any milk. It doesn’t tell you when your baby’s hungry. So, you really have to rely on a schedule and a pump to make your milk supply work as an exclusive pumper.
Does Exclusively Pumping Cause Low Supply? Oversupply?
Low supply can happen when you’re exclusively pumping but it’s usually a result of inefficient pumping. Inefficient pumping might look like:
- A poor flange fit
- Inconsistent pumping
- Not sticking to a schedule
- Not pumping soon enough postpartum
If you plan to exclusively pump, you should start right away. Your milk supply will be better the earlier you start pumping.
However, oversupply happens pretty often with exclusive pumping. Usually, an oversupply for an exclusive pumper isn’t a huge deal because you store, freeze and then use the extra milk when you need it. If you feel like your oversupply is a problem, use the idea of supply and demand. Skip or shorten a pumping session or two and stop asking your body to overproduce milk.
Moms who combine breastfeeding an pumping may have more of an issue with oversupply, which leads to the next category of combination feeding.
Combination Feeding: Moms who Pump and Breastfeed
Combination feeding is exactly what it sounds like. It’s combining some breastfeeding and pumping. This is our focus at New Little Life! We love helping working moms figure out the best way to balance pumping while at work and breastfeeding while at home.
With combination feeding, your supply is dependent on both the baby and the pump which makes it really tricky. You have the best and worst of both worlds. Baby is feeding on demand and managing the supply that way, but you’re also adding a pump into the mix and altering the natural flow of things.
If you’re using the pump to help meet your breastfeeding goals, it gets tricky because sometimes you can see the numbers (like measuring your expressed milk from pumping) and sometimes you can’t (like when you’re feeding at the breast you can’t measure what baby already drank). Your milk supply is being managed by the baby on nights and weekends and by the pump while you’re at work so you have to make sure that both areas are lined up appropriately.
Does Combination Feeding Cause Low Supply? Oversupply?
Don’t forget, you’ll have to manage all of the stuff that comes with breastfeeding and all of the stuff that comes with pumping if you’re combination feeding. Remember, if any part of that puzzle is out of whack you could see some low supply.
You might not know why you have low supply until you figure out which part of the the jigsaw puzzle is is not working right. For example, is your low supply due to baby’s latch? Or is it because you’re not pumping efficiently? These are the kinds of questions we dive into in our Pumping for Working Moms Program.
Oversupply Doesn’t Take the Weekends Off
Occasionally, moms who are combination feeding might see an oversupply. Because you are adding in that pump to the natural flow of breastfeeding, your body might not be perfect at balancing your supply. You might want to have an oversupply with pumping during the week so you can have back up milk in the fridge. But an oversupply doesn’t take the weekends off. The tricky thing is once you have an actual oversupply, you always have to deal with it.
You don’t get to take a day off because your breasts will become engorged and very uncomfortable if you skip pumping. Oversupply can lead to clogged ducts, which can lead to infections so creating an oversupply on purpose isn’t a great idea. You can do manage an oversupply if it helps you meet your goals for whatever you’re doing, but you probably don’t want to do it just for fun.
The Biggest Questions about Milk Supply: Oversupply vs Low Supply??
To answer the biggest questions about milk supply, how to tell if you have an oversupply or low supply, let’s start with some definitions.
Oversupply can happen naturally, like with hyper-lactation syndrome, or it can be caused by over pumping.
Women who have hyper-lactation syndrome make so much milk. Their body does it naturally. Hyper-lactation is not that common but it does happen.
A more common cause of oversupply is that you created it. You asked for so much demand that your body gave you the supply and it was actually more than your infant needs. This can be a good or a bad thing like mentioned above. You’ll have to decide for yourself or with the help of a lactation consultant if this is appropriate in helping you meet your goals.
A couple reasons moms choose to cause oversupply might be:
- They want to stop pumping before a year but really want to give their baby breast milk for a year
- They’re scared of low supply so they go crazy overboard and create an oversupply
Remember, oversupply is something you’ll to deal with every day so create it at your own risk of discomfort.
Switching gears, the opposite of oversupply is low supply.
Low supply can happen naturally or it can be caused, or even just misinterpreted. Natural low milk supply might happen to you if you have some risk factors. These risk factors are very numerous, you can find them in this separate blog post, here.
Here’s a few of those reasons for naturally occurring low milk supply:
- Underlying health conditions
- Previous breast surgery
- Family history (though just because your sister or your mother had low milk supply doesn’t necessarily mean you will too)
Low Milk Supply Causes
Low supply can also be caused. Causes might include: breastfeeding struggles like either latch problems or tongue ties, breastfeeding mismanagement like only allowing baby to eat at certain times, or supplementing with formula more than is necessary.
If you start supplementing with formula that can be a downward spiral of low milk supply because you’re supplementing instead of using the milk at the breast or stimulating the breast. Then, it goes down and down with the more supplementing. Supplementing is not a bad thing but that can contribute to low milk supply.
Poor pumping practices can also leave milk behind in the breast. Things like using the wrong flange size, using an uncomfortable suction setting, or not replacing your pumping valves will slow down your supply if you’re not removing all the milk that you can. Your body’s gonna think you don’t need the milk it has stored so it will produce less, causing a low milk supply. So pumping efficiently is very important.
Pumping efficiently is a big focus of New Little Life’s Pumping for Working Moms program. Working moms who are feeding at the breast and pumping need to know how to pump efficiently. You have to pull all the milk out that you can while you’re away from your baby. Your supply is managed by both a baby and a pump so you have a lot less control than moms who are just using a pump or just breastfeeding.
Perceived Low Milk Supply
Low supply can also be perceived low milk supply. Honestly, perceived low milk supply is probably the most common milk supply issue.
Often, moms who are making just enough for their baby (which honestly is what biology designed you to do) sometimes feel like this isn’t enough.
Milk supply worry is so real! Many moms experience it. One of the things we work on in the Pumping for Working Moms Program is making a chart together so you track your pumps and your output and how much your baby’s needs. We sit down and look at it together to help you realize there’s actually not a milk supply problem.
Having a professional tell you that things are going well and to just trust the process can be really beneficial and help get you out of that scarcity mindset. Remember, more than likely your body is producing just the right amount of milk for your baby. Just because you don’t have a lot of extra doesn’t mean that you don’t have enough.
Perceived low milk supply can turn into actual low milk supply. If you think you might have low milk supply you might start supplementing with formula. Supplementing decreases the demand in breast milk which is going to naturally decrease the supply. Now you’ve entered this downward spiral of supplementation
But, perceived low milk supply can turn into oversupply as well. If you didn’t have low milk supply to start, although you thought you did, and you started adding extra pumping into your schedule, you could end up with an oversupply.
Just About Everybody Can Make Enough Milk!
To leave you on a positive note, just about everybody can make enough milk for their babies. Biology is on your side! The best thing you can do is to really understand milk supply and the supply and demand cycle in and out and then find the help that you need.
If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, it’s really helpful to find a lactation consultant that you trust and that can help you navigate breastfeeding. On the other hand, if you’re pumping, find a lactation consultant or someone who is very experienced in pumping to help you navigate that and get some validation when you’re struggling.
Allison, New Little Life founder and IBCLC, specializes in helping mothers that are combining breastfeeding and pump. If that’s you, check out our Pumping for Working Moms Program! We can work more together.
Hopefully you have a better understanding of milk supply! We’ve got other posts here about managing milk supply. But, if you want extensive help and information, you can find that in our courses and program.