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Every nursing mom is gonna worry now and then about having a low milk supply. Even if you’ve got more than enough milk to go around, it’s good to know (and avoid) whatever causes low milk supply. After all, we can’t just glance down and see how much milk we have. Wouldn’t that be nice?!?
Fortunately, a low milk supply can be increased quickly if you know what’s causing it. The culprit is usually a matter not removing enough milk from the breast because of poor nursing habits, but that’s not always the case.
How can you tell if you have a low milk supply? And how on earth do you figure out what’s causing it?
But first, is it really low?
There could be lots of reasons why a mom would suspect she has a low milk supply. Here are a few commonly cited reasons:
- my breasts don’t feel full
- my breasts don’t leak as much as they did
- I don’t feel the letdown reflex anymore
- baby eats too often
- baby is fussy
- baby seems hungry a lot
- baby isn’t gaining weight very fast
- I’m not able to express much milk
While any of these could be due to a low milk supply, none of these reasons actually proves a low milk supply. Let me tell you a few not-so-secret secrets that you don’t often hear:
- Breasts with an established strong milk supply won’t feel full and may not leak.
- Some mothers never feel the letdown reflex.
- Some breasts with lots of milk just don’t respond well to hand expression or breast pumps.
- Babies who are exclusively breastfed will eat frequently.
- Baby temperament or discomfort can contribute to fussiness and a baby who “seems hungry.”
- Not all babies gain weight quickly.
I don’t know why this information isn’t easier to find. Perhaps it’s a fear that moms will take it too far and accidentally harm their babies. But I trust you. You know yourself and your baby, so you’ll be smart in how you handle this ninja knowledge.
Disclaimer: If your baby loses weight, has less than 5-6 wet diapers in a day, or seems to be in pain, call your pediatrician for an appointment immediately! There could be a life-threatening problem.
Mom issues that can cause low milk supply
When you’re trying to diagnose the cause of your low milk supply, it’s important to take a look at yourself. Are you mostly healthy? Do you have any health issues that could be hurting your milk supply?
Here are the top contributing “mom issues” that cause low milk supply:
- flat or inverted nipples causing a bad latch
- poor health (serious illness or chronic illnesses such as anemia or thyroid issues)
- hormonal problems (PCOS is common)
- medications the mother is taking
- breast surgery or breast trauma
Baby issues that can cause low milk supply
If you’re pretty sure you don’t have trouble with your own body that’s causing your low milk supply, the next step is to take a look at your baby. I’ve listed below some baby issues that can cause low milk supply. The first will be obvious, but the others not so much.
- Cleft palate or cleft lip
- tongue tie
- weak suckling because of illness
- bad latch
- lazy nursing because of a preference for the bottle
If you have a question or suspect your baby may not be well, please call your pediatrician.
Feeding habits that can cause low milk supply
Far and away the most common cause of low milk supply is bad or misguided feeding habits. You may think you’re doing everything right, but one little bad habit is all it takes to throw a wrench in gears. These are the most common contributors to a low milk supply:
- Scheduling feedings
- Supplementing with formula or solid food
- Using nipple shields (they provide less nipple stimulation)
- Only offering one breast per feeding
Now, what do I do about it?
Since your baby’s life literally depends on the nutrition you provide, having a low milk supply can be nerve-wracking. This may be easier said than done, but don’t worry! If you noticed an issue with either your baby or yourself, get a doctor or lactation consultant to help you fix the problem. If you need to correct a feeding habit, then give yourself and your baby time and patience to get used to a new way of feeding.
Once you’ve taken steps to correct any issues you’ve uncovered, make an effort to remove as much milk as possible from your breasts. And do it as often as possible! Your amazing body will realize there’s a stronger demand for milk and then will give you a stronger supply in response. Be sure and read my article that tells exactly how to quickly increase your milk supply! It’s full of useful tips to help you achieve an abundance of the good stuff!
Do you have a low milk supply story? Please share it below!