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Of women who stopped breastfeeding before they wanted, almost half of them said low milk supply was the reason. That’s not surprising. The signs of low milk supply aren’t always obvious. Many, many mamas believe their milk supply is – when actually, it isn’t.
In fact, it’s so common that doctors have a name for it: Perceived Low Milk Supply.
It’s not that moms are dumdums, it’s just really really easy to assume your supply is low. I mean, after all, you can’t see how much milk is in there and your baby can’t use words yet. There’s no way for her to tell you there’s a problem, so have to figure it out based on clues. And some of those clues are tricky!
Boobs feel less full? Baby seems fussy? Milk stopped leaking out? Baby wants to nurse ALL the time? After nursing, your baby still takes a bottle? Any sane person would look at those “signs” and think there’s a problem with milk supply.
The self-fulfilling prophecy
Unfortunately, a lot of moms end up with low milk supply because of their fear that they have a low milk supply! It happens like this:
Boobs feel softer (this is where worry begins),
the baby starts to fuss more (uh-oh),
and suddenly all she wants to do is stay on the breast!
So mama gets concerned that her milk supply is low. But since she doesn’t want to stop breastfeeding, she just supplements with formula.
A lot of times, since breasts feel empty late in
But that’s one of the worst things you can do if you think your milk supply is low!!!!
Since breastfeeding is a supply and demand business, the less demand you put on your boobies, the less supply they’re going to have. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy where you’re scared you don’t make enough milk, so you supplement – and as a result, you make less milk.
What is normal in breastfeeding?
Everyone has a different breastfeeding experience, but the patterns of healthy nursing are the same.
In the beginning, your breasts have no idea how much to make, so they start cranking it out. You have engorgement. Your boobs frequently feel hard and full. They leak milk on everything. It sucks, but it’s also kinda nice because you KNOW you have milk.
Related Post: Engorgement Sucks! Here’s what to do about it
And newborns eat a lot. A WHOLE lot. It’s very common for new babies to eat every hour and a half to two hours.
In the first couple of months, babies have 3 or 4 small growth spurts that usually come with fussiness, extra feedings, and neediness. So if your baby wants to nurse all the time, never seems satisfied, or just wants to be held constantly, that’s probably why.
Babywearing helps. Get a baby wrap or baby carrier and go about life with your little one on your chest. That makes it easier for you to do those things you gotta get done, while still letting your baby soak up your nearness and feel loved.
Related Post: Growing pains: A quick guide to baby’s growth spurts
There will be times your baby “cluster feeds” several feedings all back to back. With no time, or almost no time, between them. And evenings where she just can’t seem to get enough. It may even be every evening for a few weeks.
All of that is very normal. And hard as it is to believe, it’s not a sign of low milk supply.
After about 3 months, things calm down. Growth spurts happen less often (about every 3 months), your milk supply is established, and your baby is developing independence. Your breasts will probably stop leaking and feeling full unless you miss a feeding. In fact, they’ll feel so normal that you’d almost forget you’re breastfeeding. Almost.
Are there confusing fake “signs”?
Sometimes it seems like all we mamas do is try to interpret our baby’s signals. Is she hungry or sleepy? Is that a smile or gas? (Side note, why on earth would gas make a baby smile? I think people who say that are just haters who don’t want us to be happy that our baby is smiling at us. Seriously. Has gas ever made you smile? Me either.)
With all the different cues our babies give us, and all the worries we have, is it any wonder that we get it wrong from time to time?
These common scenarios do NOT indicate a problem, but they’re often confused as signs of low milk supply:
- Length of feedings changes (shorter or longer feedings have no bearing on how much your baby takes in)
- Breasts feel softer or stopped leaking milk (this just means your supply is well established)
- Baby wakes in the night to feed (could also be because of age, growth spurt, habit, or for comfort)
- Baby will take a bottle after feeding (totally normal and not a sign that she’s still hungry – babies will overfill their tummies, so be careful with this!)
- Unable to pump a lot of milk (babies are much better at getting milk than pumps are)
- Baby wants to nurse and/or be held all the time (this could be for comfort or it may be a precursor to a growth spurt)
- Feeling – or not feeling – a letdown reflex (there may be times you feel it and times you don’t, but a change in the sensation doesn’t indicate a change in your milk supply)
- Baby is getting hungry more often than usual (babies do this from time to time as they grow. It stimulates your breasts to increase their supply as baby gets bigger)
- Breasts don’t feel full anymore (they’re not supposed to feel full – your milk supply has very little to do with the size or fullness of your breasts)
When you have a good, steady milk supply, your breasts feel completely normal unless you miss a feeding.
So what are the real signs of low milk supply?
The real signs of a low milk supply are a bit more sinister than full breasts or a fussy baby. If you notice any of these signs, get serious about fixing it as quickly as possible. Call a lactation consultant or your pediatrician if you feel worried.
- Pee is darker than usual
- Skin or eyes begin to look yellow (also called jaundice)
- Losing weight (Newborns may lose up to 10% of their birth weight in their first few days. If they lose more than 10% or if they lose weight after the first few days, call your pediatrician immediately.)
- Not gaining weight (Newborns should be back to their birth weight by 10 to 14 days of age. They should then gain 4 to 8 ounces each week.)
- Dry mouth
- Sluggishness (New babies sleep a lot. But if your baby is sluggish when awake, call her pediatrician immediately)
- Less than 6 wet diapers in 24 hours
is If your baby shows these signs, call your pediatrician then begin a regimen to increase your milk supply. Dehydration is life-threatening for babies, so please don’t hesitate – especially if your baby is losing weight, difficult to rouse, or hasn’t had a wet diaper in 6 hours!
How do I fix it??
For almost every woman, low milk supply is a temporary issue that can be fixed! First, let’s set some ground rules. Forget schedules, feed whenever your baby is hungry. Second, let your baby decide when it’s time to stop. Don’t stop her unless the house is on fire. Third, get your skin-to-skin contact as much as possible.
Related Post: 5 Reasons skin-to-skin contact is amazing
With these ground rules in place, make sure you revisit your baby’s latch and make sure she’s latching properly. A bad latch may not necessarily be painful, but it will mean she’s not getting as much milk as she could.
- Stay hydrated! Drink water constantly.
- Get rest! An overtired stressed-out mama won’t make a lot of milk. Take cat naps whenever you can.
- Power pumping is hugely beneficial – it mimics the effect of cluster feeding and gets your body to increase its supply. Power pumping takes an hour and can be done up to 3 times a day.
Pump for 20 minutes
Rest for 10 minutes
Pump for 10 minutes
Rest for 10 minutes
Pump for 10 minutes
- Talk to your doctor about a prescription that can increase your milk supply.
- Take a nursing retreat with your baby. Three to five days would be perfect!
Related Post: The MASSIVE benefits of a breastfeeding retreat
Don’t give up!
Even though many women think they have low milk supply, the truth is that most don’t. It’s easy to confuse the signs if you don’t know what to look for. If you notice your baby having less than 6 wet diapers in a day, if she has a dry mouth, darker pee than normal, if her skin or eyes start to look yellow, if she acts sluggish, loses weight, or fails to gain weight, it’s likely that you have a low milk supply.
If you truly have a low milk supply, that’s not the kiss of death on your breastfeeding. And for most women, it’s not something you have to live with. Increasing your milk supply is completely possible!
Have you struggled with this before? What was the sign that clued you
(2018, June 7). Do I Have A Low Milk Supply? Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/breastfeeding/low-milk-supply/
Gatti L. (2008). Maternal perceptions of insufficient milk supply in breastfeeding. Journal of nursing
(n.d.). Too Little Breast Milk? How To Increase Low Milk Supply. Retrieved from https://www.medela.com/breastfeeding/mums-journey/low-milk-supply
Novak, S. (2019, January 28). Breastfeeding and Low Milk Supply. Retrieved from https://www.whattoexpect.com/poor-milk-supply-breastfeeding.aspx