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As a IBCLC, I’ve met with countless new, nursing or pumping moms who always seem to have the same questions and concerns.
“Am I making enough milk?”
“Is my baby eating enough?”
“Is my production normal?”
I can’t tell you the number of women who contact me (or their LC) and ask if their production is low when in fact, it’s completely normal. It seems incredibly complex but in reality the majority of women produce the exact amount of milk needed to nourish their baby. And if you’ll pardon the economic reference, it’s all about supply and demand. The more you feed your baby, the more milk you’ll produce. That’s just the #milkfacts!
As a breastfeeding mama, you may have concerns about your baby’s eating habits. You may also wonder if you’re making enough milk to nourish your growing baby.
Take a deep breath mama. Often, moms worry unnecessarily about supply - if your baby is generally satisfied and gaining weight, there's nothing to worry about! If increased supply is needed, it is relatively simple when you know the next steps to take. You’re in the right place!
Inside your body, you have everything you need for milk production. The breasts contain milk-producing glands called lobules that connect to the nipple via milk ducts. As breastmilk is produced from water and nutrients, it’s stored inside the glands until oxytocin, a hormone, signals them to release it.
How is oxytocin triggered in breastfeeding? As soon as your baby or your pump latch onto your breast, oxytocin begins to release to start the flow of milk. Amazing, right?
What’s even more amazing is that breast milk provides your baby with all the necessary nutrients needed for growth. For example, your milk contains proteins that help with the growth of your baby’s immune system and brain. It also contains various vitamins and minerals that support healthy organ function and strong bones.
The nutrients inside your breast milk will also change over time to meet your baby’s needs as they grow.
A full milk supply is a supply that meets the baby's needs on a 24 hour basis - mom can make all the baby needs each day. Filling a freezer with milk in addition to feeding a baby is sometimes possible, but should not be considered a normal or average milk supply. So, not having enough milk to satisfy a growing baby’s needs is widely perceived but in reality, is not very common given the definition above. Some studies suggest that around 10 to 15% of moms struggle with low breast milk supply. Causes of low production can be divided into two categories; those that can be changed and those that mom cannot control. However, it’s important to note that from 3 months to a year, milk production averages between 3-6 ounces in total per pumping or feeding session—which might seem low to an adult human, but it’s normal! Your body is smart and it knows how much your baby needs to eat.
There are some medical factors that cause low milk supply that are outside of mom’s control. Some examples are:
The majority of other causes for lower production can be improved, let’s explore those:
Shallow latch: A shallow latch makes it difficult for your baby to suck properly. Unfortunately, this leads to your baby not emptying your breast which can signal your body to stop making additional milk. The remedy: meet with your lactation consultant to improve your baby’s latch and pump regularly until the latch has improved to maintain milk supply.
Short feedings: On average, babies nurse around 15 - 25 minutes each session. Shorter feedings may also result in your young baby not emptying the breast completely. The solution here is to breastfeed longer at each session. Take a burping break and then return your baby to the breast or finish up with a pump if your baby prefers not to latch again.
Infrequent feedings or skipping feedings: It’s common for newborns to eat every 1 to 2 hours. Not feeding frequently enough or skipping those nighttime feedings can result in your body dropping the amount of milk it makes. There is no way around this one, the more frequently you empty, the more milk you will make.
Growth spurts: Babies go through growth spurts often. During this time, they’ll typically want to breastfeed more yet they are also fussy and can become disinterested in the breast quickly. All of this can result in shorter feedings, therefore less breast emptying. One solution during a growth spurt is to throw schedules out the window and follow your baby’s cues to increase the frequency of feedings. Even though each feeding will be shorter, you’ll make up the need to empty the breast with greater frequency so there should be no decrease in your supply. Solution: When the growth spurt begins, crawl into bed with your little one and let them nurse as often as desired. This will help them get through the growth spurt and will encourage your milk to increase in fat, protein and carbs for their next stage.
Medications, alcohol and nicotine: Substances like alcohol and nicotine can affect the hormones that control breast milk production. Unfortunately, this can quickly reduce your supply. Some medications such as birth control can also have the same effect. Avoid these if possible if your supply is a concern.
Supplementing with formula: Sometimes, supplementing is required, especially if something doesn’t seem quite right about your baby’s growth or weight gain. If your pediatrician suggests supplementing, be sure to pump each time you offer your little one a bottle, this will preserve your milk supply until you are ready to return to the breast for the majority of your feeding sessions.
It’s important to note that frequent nursing, night time nursing, pulling on and off the breast, non-leaking breasts or the inability to express milk with a pump are not signs of low milk supply. If you’re concerned about how much milk you’re making, look to your baby first. A baby that’s not eating enough may show signs, including:
Not filling diapers: Perhaps the most important sign of low supply is a baby not filling diapers. It’s normal for babies to fill a diaper every 2 to 3 hours. If your baby isn’t filling diapers, it’s time to check into your supply.
Not swallowing: It’s normal for babies to suck multiple times before they swallow. Yet, if your baby isn’t swallowing at all, they may not be expressing enough milk.
Fussy: Most babies have a fussy time of day. Yet, when your baby is fussy more often than not or becomes agitated during feedings, you may have a low supply. Of course, be sure to reach out to your doctor, midwife or OB/GYN if your baby is unable to be soothed.
No weight gain or low weight gain: According to Mayo Clinic, from birth to age 6 months, your baby may grow 5 to 7 ounces a week. Your baby should double their birth weight by about 5 months. Lack of weight gain or very low weight gain is a cause for concern.
How much milk you should produce depends on several factors. First, not every baby has the same appetite. Most babies will feed anywhere from 8 to 12 times a day at the newborn stage, taking in only 1 to 2 ounces each time. A full milk supply for the first six months of life is 24 - 26 ounces. This amount will increase slightly over time and then decrease after 9 months or so as your baby begins to eat solids.
The best way to know if you’re producing enough milk is to tune into your baby. Do they seem happy and content? Are they latching properly and gaining weight? If so, your milk supply is enough to keep your baby satisfied. If your baby is showing any of the signs of low supply, there are strategies you can take to increase it.
Ready to learn how to increase milk supply? There are many methods you can try to up your milk production. Let’s dive right in.
Increase feeding time: Most feedings must take 10-15 minutes on each breast to empty the breast of milk. To increase supply, allow your baby to suck for a while longer. Or, if your baby is full and struggles to continue, try pumping after a feed (even if you don’t get much milk out!).
Adjust your sleep position to avoid breast compression: Placing frequent pressure on your breasts can affect your milk supply. If you’re a stomach sleeper, switch it up by sleeping on your side or back.
Use paced bottle feeding when offering any bottles (breastmilk or formula). Paced bottle feeding is a method of slowing the feeding from a bottle so it mimics a session at the breast. Babies tend to love a fast flowing bottle, so keeping all feedings the same pace encourages the baby to easily switch from breast to bottle and right back.
If you supplement with formula, make sure you don’t skip pumping sessions. Supplementing and skipping breastfeeding sessions will decrease your supply quickly. Instead, increase your breastfeeding sessions or pump to express the milk and give it to your baby via bottle. If you do supplement a full or partial feeding, be sure to add in a pumping session to keep signaling to your body to produce that milk. If you’re still unable to increase your supply, reach out to your doctor, midwife or OB/GYN for support.
Ensure a good latch: Your baby’s mouth should open wide around your areola, not just the nipple. The latch should also be pain-free and comfortable for you. A good latch ensures your baby receives enough milk. It also ensures your body keeps producing enough to feed your baby.
Allow your baby to drain the breast: Draining the breast sends a signal to your body that more milk is needed. You should notice your breasts feeling lighter or empty at the end of your breastfeeding session. This typically takes around 20-30 minutes or 10-15 minutes per breast.
Feed on demand: Scheduled feedings aren’t recommended for breastfed babies. Follow your baby’s cues (hands to mouth, rooting, crying) and feed whenever they let you know they’re hungry. This will help you avoid engorgement, keep them comfortable (not too full or too hungry) and allow them to establish their own feeding patterns. Feeding on demand helps your body understand your baby’s needs and how much milk to produce throughout your breastfeeding journey. As your baby begins to grow, your supply will change, especially when your child moves to more solid foods.
If you’re looking to simulate a baby’s increased demand for milk, try some of the following:
Switch between breasts: This is especially important if your baby is a sleepy eater. Make sure to switch between breasts during sessions so that each one receives the same suckling time.
Pump between sessions: Pumping between sessions can help increase your milk production quickly. You can also try power pumping, which is where you pump off and on for a straight hour each day.
Consider adding an herbal supplement such as fenugreek, blessed thistle, or alfalfa to boost supply. Lactation cookies, morning oatmeal and herbal teas are widely available and can boost supply when added to a consistent pumping or breastfeeding plan. Talk to your health care provider to see if herbal support is right for you. They can assist with dosage and selecting the best formulation, whether that’s capsules, tinctures, or drops.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: The amount of liquid you put into your body affects the amount of milk you can produce. Up your water intake, mama. Try carrying a water bottle with you at all times so you can sip throughout the day.
Your body needs time to adjust to the new milk demand, so it could take a few days to see an increase in output. The amount of time it takes will vary between moms. Consistency is key!
Are you struggling with a low milk supply? We know it can be overwhelming, especially when all you want to do is provide for your baby. We can help! Visit our Help Center for more information or reach out to our team.
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