Why Do I Have a Low Milk Supply?
Are you one of the millions of moms who wonder if you are making enough breastmilk for your baby? Being concerned about Low milk supply can keep you up at night and fill you with worry and doubt. In fact, if you actually have a low milk supply in some cases, it is devastating. One thing to keep in mind is that milk supply is not a stable constant amount: our supply ebbs and flows. Within the normal breastfeeding process, there are times at our supply peaks and times when it dips. This is normal and to be expected. On today's episode of Apothecary Wisdom, and in this post, we are exploring the top 11 reasons for low milk supply. Your low supply issue could be a temporary problem that will resolve itself naturally or be something you need to address immediately! Watch this video or read this post to find out!
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Of course, you are the one who ultimately has the responsibility to feed your baby. Yes, you can do this! But please don't feel like you have to figure all of this out on your own. I'm making this video to help you sort through your situation. Please also connect with your local La Leche League Leader or a lactation consultant for help. This video is not a replacement for midwifery care. And if you are really concerned, seek support from a breastfeeding expert!
Top 11 Reasons for Low Milk Supply
Low milk supply has many causes and is often a multifactorial issue that needs to be addressed promptly. There is not a one size fits all answer here. I am breaking this list into normal temporary problems and issues that need to be resolved.
3 Anticipated Problems That Are Normal And Temporary
1- The first perceived problem with low milk supply might actually be that your milk supply is regulating. For example, during the first 12 weeks of breastfeeding, your body makes an overabundant supply of milk to make sure your baby gets enough. After 12 weeks, you and your baby start to harmonize and regulate. There is no need for your body to produce extra milk. Instead, your body wants to be efficient and make what your baby needs. An exclusively breastfeeding mom might not notice this dip as much as a pumping mom will. A pumping mom might see that they were pumping 4 ounces, and now they are pumping 2 or 3 ounces. Seeing this dip makes them concerned about a low supply, when in fact, it's part of the normal regulatory process.
2- Another perceived problem is that the mom started her menstruation, and her hormones are fluctuating and causing her supply to dip temporally. This is also normal and will recover in a few days. We have a blog post and video about breastfeeding and menstruation that I'll link below for you.
3-Another perceived problem happens when your baby is going through a growth spurt. During growth spurts, babies nurse and nurse to help them grow. Check out our blog post about How To Know If Your Baby is in a Growth Spurt.
8 Reasons for a Low Milk Supply That Need To Be Addressed
There, of course, are some more serious reasons for a low milk supply that needs to be addressed.
1- Poor Latch
The number one reason is the baby has a poor latch. It might be from and not having a good position; it can be caused by tongue or lip ties that need to be revised. Or, they might have birth trauma that needs to be addressed with bodywork such as chiropractic or cranial sacral therapy. These lead to sore nipples, clogged ducts, and low supply. We have several resources for you. I'll link to them below: We have blogs about how to heal sore cracked nipples, mastitis, lip and tongue ties, and how to increase your supply quickly.
2- Skin to Skin
Moms might not have enough skin to skin time with their baby, or their pumping schedule needs to be revised because they are going back to work. Again below, I have another post for you to check out about how to pump and go back to work.
3- Supply and Demand
If there's one thing to learn about breastfeeding, your milk flows based on your baby's demand for it. That's why a poor latch is so problematic – it doesn't stimulate the milk glands enough to trigger more milk production.
Scheduled feedings interfere with supply & demand. When we prioritize arbitrary times or unrealistic sleep expectations on our babies, we miss their feeding cues and signs of growth spurts, and we don't respond to our babies' needs for extra comfort. Baby lead nursing makes us aware of our babies' needs, and we offer the breast so many more times than the schedule recommends. These extra sessions maintain and increase our milk supply. Your baby is good at knowing what she needs. Listening and responding to your baby's needs is not spoiling her. It's helping her thrive and become an effective communicator.
Topping a nursing session with formula is devastating to your supply. When you feel like you don't have enough milk and start giving the bottle the baby gets full, her stomach stretches out, and she sleeps longer. This causes her to miss a feeding session and spends less time at the breast. This perpetuates the cycle of the mom making less milk and the baby getting fussy at the breast. Before you know it, your milk supply has tanked, and you really don't have enough milk and you become reliant on the formula that you thought was helping you.
4- Lack of Support
Lac of support leads to stress, postpartum depression, fewer nursing sessions, which leads to supply and demand issues. There is a difference in the quality of support. Some people are being "supportive" when they're nice and but they don't understand what it takes to be successful at breastfeeding. And there is actual real help that keeps you breastfeeding. If friends and family members tell you your baby doesn't have enough milk, you need only look to the baby to confirm or deny it. If your baby is relatively content, gaining weight as expected for their own unique normal, and having regular wet and poopy diapers, they are doing just fine, and your supply is enough for your baby.
5-Lack of Nourishment and Hydration
New moms notoriously go long periods without eating or drinking enough water. Our bodies teach us that we cannot give something that we don't have. When we don't fill our bodies with nourishment and (most importantly) hydration, we will struggle to produce the hydration and nutrition that our babies need.
Try filling a gallon of water and pouring your glasses or water bottles from it to track your intake. Also, remember that nourishing herbal teas breastfeeding teas "count" for hydration and boost nutrition as well. I linked a blog about Breastfeeding Nutrition and a blog about Healthy Breastfeeding snacks.
The implications and damage of chronic stress is not something to be ignored. Stress changes our hormonal patterns leaving a negative impact on our supply. Self-care is non-negotiable at this point, practice deep breaths, gentle stretches like yoga, qigong, guided meditations, and herbal stress relief. The benefits of entering a parasympathetic state will help you improve your milk production, and your milk let down and help you feel calm and actually enjoy nursing your baby! The benefits of relaxation go far beyond milk production.
When our bodies fight off sickness, other bodily functions take a lower place on the priority list. During illness, particularly one with a risk of dehydration, you might see a dip in your milk supply. It is important to continue nursing to share your antibodies with your baby preventing them from getting sick too. Plus, as we discussed earlier, we don't want to miss nursing sessions to cause an issue with supply and demand. Expect to see a dip in your supply and trust that it will come back to normal when you are recovered.
You must stay hydrated! Work extra hard at getting the fluids you need, and know the signs of dehydration. If you have some breastmilk on hand from pumping, it might be time to use it when you cannot stay hydrated or are severely ill. Your baby okay and will be there when you get better. In most cases, you'll be able to nurse through minor illness and increase your supply quickly when you are well again. I'll link to our video about increasing your supply down below and at the end.
8- Hormonal Imbalances
Any imbalance with sleep, stress, food, emotions, illness, etc. can be enough to shift your supply. Hormone imbalances are particularly linked to low supply. Anyone with thyroid issues, PCOS, and blood sugar imbalances can all affect your supply. These are underlying medical concerns that need medical evaluation and possible treatment. I'll link our PCOS blog/ and video below for your reference.
Alright rock star, I hope this post helped you understand why you have a low supply and pointed you in the right direction! Read my next post about how to increase your milk supply quickly and safely.
Hug your sweet baby, and remember to let your love and your milk flow!
Click here to purchase herbal supplements to increase breastmilk supply.