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The most common reason women say they give up on breastfeeding is that they didn’t make enough milk. In fact, if you talk to a random handful of mothers, you’ll hear at least one say that she tried, but her milk supply was too low. That’s a lot of women who have a low milk supply! What’s going on?
There are a few different factors at play. Low milk supply happens for a variety of reasons, such as bad breastfeeding habits. And it’s really REALLY common for moms to think they have a low milk supply – even if they don’t. In fact, it happens so often that there’s a name for it – Perceived Low Milk Supply.
Now, all breastfeeding moms wonder from time to time if they’re producing enough milk. That’s probably because we can’t look inside these boobs to see how much is actually in there! So how do we know for sure our milk production is adequate?
How to get it wrong
Before we discuss getting it right, let’s talk about how to be totally off base about the strength of your milk supply. Here are the most unreliable indicators that a lot of moms pay attention to:
- Milk doesn’t come out when I squeeze (especially in the first few days). You can’t count on this because the amount that comes out is nowhere near the amount in there. Oh, and the first few days – hold on, this is scary – there isn’t any milk! Instead, there’s a thick, yellow miracle liquid called colostrum. It’s so nutritious that all it takes to nourish your baby is a few drops! As your baby nurses and drinks the colostrum, he gets major nutrition until your breastmilk comes in.
- My breasts don’t feel full any more. That’s a tricky one, and it’s a scary feeling to go from full breasts to empty ones. But they’re not actually empty! Feeling full is kind of comforting for a new mom because you can feel the milk. But once your milk supply is well-established, you’ll rarely feel full – unless you’re late for a feeding.
- I can’t pump much milk. The amount of breastmilk you’re able to pump isn’t the same as the amount of milk your baby is able to drink from the breast. Some women just don’t release very much milk when they’re pumping. And babies are so much better at getting breastmilk to come out than pumps are. Plus, a mom will usually have a stronger letdown reflex for her baby than she will for a pump. Pumping is helpful and convenient… but not reliable as an indicator of your milk supply.
Know for sure if you have a low milk supply
Even though you can’t see inside your boobs (how neat would that be!) you can absolutely know for sure whether your milk supply is strong.
I call this the easy way, but it’s actually a 3-step process. If you can say yes to all of these, then your milk supply is just fine. Keep up the good work!
If you say no to #1 or #3, call your pediatrician.
1 Plenty of wet and dirty diapers
You need to be keeping track of the diapers your baby is going through because it’s the fastest way to tell if he’s healthy. There’s a whole science behind decoding what’s in the diaper, but let’s hit the highlights, shall we?
- First 6 days of life – 1 wet diaper for each day of age (i.e. 3 wet diapers for a 3 day old, 5 wets for a 5 day old)
- At least 6 wet diapers a day from that point on. The pee will be clear or light yellow if he’s well hydrated.
- 1 dirty diaper on day 1, and it will be black
- 2-3 dirties on each of days 2-4, the poo will start to get lighter in color around day 3
- From day 5 to 4 weeks old, poop will be mustard colored and look like it has seeds. It won’t have a foul odor if the baby is getting breastmilk only.
- Around week 4, babies drinking only breastmilk will begin to poop less frequently and may go several days without pooping. This isn’t constipation! It’s totally normal. Constipation happens when baby hasn’t pooped in over a week or has hard poop.
- By week 6, your baby’s bowel habits should be regular. Any major changes could signal a problem.
If you know for a fact that your baby is producing enough wet and dirty diapers, then he is definitely getting enough milk. Use this breastfeeding log to help you track those diapers and stay confident that your milk supply is where it should be.
2 Is he happy?
Another easy way to tell that your baby is getting enough milk is to pay attention to how satisfied he is after a feeding. If your baby is usually content after nursing, then he’s getting enough to eat. If your baby seems to want more after every nursing session, your supply is probably low.
Related post: How to increase milk supply quickly
For some babies though, they’re content during the day, and then become bottomless pits at night. They never act satisfied after an evening feeding and they’ll happily keep nursing for 3 – 4 hours!!
So what if he doesn’t seem satisfied??
If your baby never ever seems satisfied, call a lactation consultant or breastfeeding hotline. But if your baby only seems unsatisfied during a certain time of the day, then it may be a fussy period or cluster feeding.
Quick tip: Milk supply stays consistent all day. It doesn’t drop in the evenings – even if your baby can’t seem to get enough to eat during that part of the day.
A fussy period is a specific time of day – usually evenings – when your baby is fussy and nothing seems to make him happy. It’s easily confused with colic, but colic happens at any time, not just in the evenings. For fussy periods, try changing it up. Go for a walk, wear your baby in a baby sling or wrap, or let someone else hold him.
If your little one just suddenly became a bottomless pit and he wants to nurse for hours and hours, he’s cluster feeding. This also usually happens in the evenings. Although it seems like your baby is never going to stop nursing, and even though it feels like he’s just using you as a pacifier, the cluster feeding does serve a purpose.
Believe it or not, your baby is likely getting ready for a longer sleep period. These cluster feedings tank up his little belly so he’ll sleep a bit longer at night. Not necessarily all night long, but longer than he usually goes between feedings.Milk supply stays consistent all day. It doesn't drop in the evenings - even if your baby can't seem to get enough to eat at night.
Cluster feedings also increase your milk supply. When babies start cluster feeding this way, it tells your brilliant boobs to ramp up their milk production. Babies begin cluster feeding right before a growth spurt – and they have a LOT of growth spurts in the first six months of life!
Related Post: Growing pains: A quick guide to baby’s growth spurts
Cluster feedings will straight up wear you out! You get tired of being in one spot. And you get touched-out. If you’re trying to survive, here are a few tips to make it easier:
- Binge-watch a tv show
- Go to bed and snooze while your baby has unlimited access to the boobs
- Read a book
- Avoid giving a bottle! (If you do, pump for a while) The point of the cluster feeding is to increase your milk supply for baby’s growth spurt. Giving a bottle instead of nursing will set you back and might make the cluster feedings last longer.
- Let your baby nurse while you carry him in a baby sling or wrap. This way, you’re not stuck in one spot and you can go for a walk or get some housework done.
- Don’t hold him one single second longer than you have to. When he’s (FINALLY) done nursing, put him in a seat or crib and get some alone time.
3 Monitor your baby’s weight
If your baby is content after nursing, (with the possible exception of fussy evenings or daily cluster feedings) but you’re still unsure about the strength of your milk supply, then keep an eye on his weight.
Weigh your little one each week and see if he’s gaining weight. If he is, he’s getting enough milk. If your baby isn’t gaining weight or loses weight, call your pediatrician right away!
Related post: What causes low milk supply
Don’t weigh your baby every day. His weight will fluctuate every day just like yours does, and it’ll make you crazy. As long as your baby has enough wet & dirty diapers, then checking once a week is sufficient.
Don’t assume anything
The worst thing you can do is just assume. Don’t assume you have a low milk supply and
Taking the time to be sure will give you peace of mind and ensure your baby stays as healthy and happy as possible.
Have you ever worried your milk supply was low? How did you cope? Please comment below and share your experience!
Gatti, L. (2008). Maternal Perceptions of Insufficient Milk Supply in Breastfeeding. Journal of Nursing Scholarship : An Official Publication of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing / Sigma Theta Tau, 40(4), 355–363. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1547-5069.2008.00234.x (accessed October 25, 2018)
Novak, S. (2019, January 28). Breastfeeding and Low Milk Supply. Retrieved from https://www.whattoexpect.com/poor-milk-supply-breastfeeding.aspx
Savenije, O. E., & Brand, P. L. (2006). Accuracy and precision of test weighing to assess milk intake in newborn infants. Archives of disease in childhood. Fetal and neonatal edition, 91(5), F330-2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672832/ (accessed October 25, 2018)