A low supply is frustrating at best and devastating at worst. Having a low milk supply at some point is relatively normal, though, and fluctuations can be attributed to a number of causes. Before throwing in the towel, read this guide to an abundant supply of breastmilk and consider some of the reasons why you might have a low milk supply. It could be a temporary problem to move past or something specific that you can remedy.
Top 7 Reasons for Low Milk Supply
Work through this list if you are concerned about your milk supply. You can check most of these factors on your own if you must, but if you don’t already have a good support system to help you identify potential causes, I highly recommend reaching out to your local La Leche League leader for help. You can do this – but don’t try to do it alone when you don’t have to.
The changes in our mind and body that stress can set into motion are remarkable and dangerous. Because stress changes our hormonal patterns, and because the production and letdown of breastmilk are so deeply connected to our ability to calm ourselves and enjoy time with our little ones, stress can absolutely have an impact on milk supply.
If you have been particularly stressed and are noticing signs of low milk supply, it’s time to make some room for self-care. Even if you cannot change your circumstances, giving yourself some mental space to breathe and experience gratitude can help to shift stress levels. Try tapping back into that heart word, and meditating a bit while nursing. The benefits of decreased stress levels will extend far beyond milk supply.
Another impact on hormone levels – as well as nutrient levels – is menstruation. Typically, a breastfeeding mother in the first six months is not likely to menstruate. But as you near the recurrence of your period, your hormones will be in major flux. Estrogen in particular is a hormone partly responsible for both milk suppression and ovulation. So when estrogen peaks, you may see a bit of a decrease in your milk supply.
Your baby can usually grow accustomed to this ebb and flow, but added nutrients and hydration (perhaps through a good herbal tea) can help during these times.
When our bodies fight off sickness, other functions take a lower place on the priority list. During illness, particularly one where you have a risk of dehydration, you might see a low milk supply. Continuing to nurse can help share your antibodies with your baby to keep them from getting sick, and can keep your supply ready to come back to normal when you are well.
However, it is absolutely vital to stay fully 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 will be there when you get better.
In most cases, you’ll be able to nurse through the minor illness and increase your supply quickly when you are well again.
Supply & Demand
If there’s one thing to learn about breastfeeding, it’s that your milk flows based on the demand the baby has for it. That’s why a poor latch is so problematic – it doesn’t stimulate the milk glands enough to tell them to make more milk.
Another factor that can cause a break in the supply & demand chain is that of scheduled feeding. When we prioritize arbitrary times or unrealistic sleep expectations on our babies, we miss their feeding cues. This can leave us unaware of growth spurts or needs for extra comfort that would have otherwise increased milk supply. Your baby is good at knowing what she needs. Listen to her.
Think of it this way: in nature, fruit only “spoils” when it’s left all alone. You cannot love or respond to a baby too much.
Hydration & Nutrition
Our bodies teach us something that we should apply to our minds and spirits as well: we cannot give something that we don’t have. When we don’t fill our bodies with nutrition 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 so you can track your intake. Also remember that herbal teas “count” for hydration, and boost nutrition as well.
Lack of Support
Without some kind of support around you, stress and postpartum depression are more likely to set in, which could lead to low milk supply. We can only do so much, though as mothers we often try to do it all. It’s more important than ever to find someone to reach out to in order to lighten your load and give your body the support it needs to function.
Other problems that might arise from a lack of support include nursing less frequently (thus affecting supply and demand) when avoiding confronting friends or family members, or being told you have a low milk supply when really they just don’t understand.
If someone is telling you your baby doesn’t have enough milk, you need only look to the baby to confirm or deny it. If they are relatively content, gaining weight as expected for their own unique normal, and having regular wet and poopy diapers, they are doing just fine.
Finally, an umbrella cause of low milk supply is any condition that might affect your body’s sense of balance. Hormones are particularly suspect, affected by thyroid issues and PCOS. Blood sugar imbalances can also have an affect, including both diabetes and hypoglycemia. In these cases, you may be able to overcome it with normal methods of increasing your supply or regulating the originating cause, but you’ll certainly want to work with a lactation consultant or other professional to help you along the way.