Causes of Low Milk Supply & Tips on How to Increase Breastmilk Production

Breastfeeding and Its Many Advantages!

Breastfeeding provides all the essential nutrients, boosts your baby's immune system, strengthens the mother baby bond & as an added bonus, it could help you shake off that baby weight!
Breastfeeding provides all the essential nutrients, boosts your baby's immune system, strengthens the mother baby bond & as an added bonus, it could help you shake off that baby weight!

Are You Considering Breastfeeding?

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Breastfeeding Your Baby

So, after reading up on the amazing and abundant health benefits of breastfeeding both for your baby and for yourself, you’ve made the decision to breastfeed your bundle of joy and are looking forward to enjoying that special momma and baby time. You’ve heard that the magical bond that develops between a mother and her baby is nothing short of a miracle and those blessed enough to experience it tell you that the memories of those moments will forever be in your heart. Or maybe you have already started breastfeeding & it’s not quite as easy, nor simple as you originally thought.

Fenugreek - One of the Most Effective Ways to Boost Your Milk Supply Naturally!

Despite their best intentions and constant efforts, most mothers do experience some difficulty with breastfeeding, be it due to the baby not latching on properly, low milk supply even though you try to breastfeed on demand, hormonal factors, cracked and sore nipples, or just simply due to lack of effort on your little one’s part. If you are going through a rough patch trying to breastfeed your baby, the two most essential things to remember are firstly that you are not alone {this affects women universally}, and secondly that it’s not going to last forever {soon you will probably miss those moments!}.

Exploring Ways to Increase Milk Production If You Have Poor Milk Supply

One of the most common complaints nursing mothers put forth is that they feel they are not producing enough milk to meet the baby’s needs. The baby may be fussy after or during feeds, he or she might fall asleep whilst still on the breast & not stay awake long enough to fill their stomach, or they may always want to stay on your breast for hours at a time {yes, it can feel like days at a time too!}. Parents frequently misinterpret these signs, and think the baby is not getting enough milk, when in fact the problem may just be something entirely different.

First this article looks at reasons why mothers may erroneously come to the conclusion that they have a poor milk supply & how they can overcome these factors. The article then moves on to covering instances where the milk supply could legitimately be low & what you can do to boost your milk supply.

How To Breastfeed Your Baby

Baby Wants To Be On Mothers Breast All The Time

Babies who want constant nursing, for instance, may behave in this manner when they are going through a growth spurt. I remember the first time my baby was acting fussy, extremely clingy & like she wanted nothing more than to simply be permanently attached to my breasts. For a good two three days, we were locked into an exhausting cycle of feeding {for hours at a time}, sleeping, changing diapers, all with constant hugs and kisses thrown in… and she still didn’t seem satisfied! I researched the sudden change in her behavior and fast realized that she was transitioning through a growth stage at 3 weeks old.

Her relentless need to nurse was serving a very crucial purpose; it was training my body to increase milk production {as the more the baby sucks, the more milk you will produce} to better suit her needs. In other words, it wasn’t that I was not producing enough milk so she stayed on me for longer, but rather that my body was adapting to an increased milk demand – it was simply learning & responding to the baby’s requirements.

Further Reading | The Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Making More Milk

The Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Making More Milk: Foreword by Martha Sears, RN
The Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Making More Milk: Foreword by Martha Sears, RN

Concerned about making enough milk for your baby? Wondering how to make more?

 

The way to maneuver through this predicament was straightforward & fatiguing & rewarding all at the same time – I had to allow her to nurse as and when she required. The solution was straightforward in its simplicity {facilitate her demands for milk by letting her stay on me for hours at a time} but physically draining, time consuming & seemingly never ending. The satisfaction experienced after successfully battling through the week was more rewarding than the restlessness felt as the week progressed, that was for sure.

It is however important to note that in many cases, babies use their mother as a ‘pacifier’ and tend to comfort suck rather than suck to get milk. In instances like this, the constant or frequent need to nurse may just be a self soothing mechanism for the baby, and not due to low milk supply on the mother’s part.

Tips To Keep Baby Awake & Actively Feeding At The Breast

There are a few simple techniques you can employ to keep the baby alert and actively sucking:

- Try tickling their feet, this is often enough to rouse the baby and remind them that its feed time, not sleep time

- Lightly tapping under the chin may prompt the baby to start sucking again {tickling the feet never worked for me, but this had an almost instant effect}

- Talk to your baby and engage them by maintaining eye contact {nothing too hyper as you don’t want to distract them from drinking}

- Change the position that you are breastfeeding them in, not only can this help relieve sore nipples, but the movement will also wake up the baby & encourage them to keep drinking

- Undress the little one, if nothing else wakes her or him up, this sure will!

- Burping the baby mid-feed can also prove to be a useful way to keep them stimulated {additionally, if you don’t burp the baby mid-feed chances are they will probably bring up some of the milk later on, they may even wake up due to discomfort when you finally do put them to sleep}

Nursing pillows like this can be used as a tummy time aid too, and can help the baby sit up with adequate support. It is also reported to 'enhance digestion and help reduce reflux'.
Nursing pillows like this can be used as a tummy time aid too, and can help the baby sit up with adequate support. It is also reported to 'enhance digestion and help reduce reflux'. | Source

Baby Keeps Falling Asleep Whilst Breastfeeding

Another widespread dilemma that plenty of momma’s tend to battle with is how to keep the baby awake long enough for them to have a full stomach {and satisfy their hunger & nutritional needs}.

Many times the baby can be so tired from playing & stretching that when they receive even a little bit of milk & experience the warmth and coziness of mommy’s arms, they are unable to stay awake and use any more of their energy.

So, as you can see, again the reason for the baby frequently nursing for short periods at a time may not be due to low milk supply on your side, more so that the baby is not staying awake long enough to get an adequate amount of milk during each feeding, so they get hungrier faster & feed more frequently.

If you intend to breastfeed on a long term basis, you will need to quickly recognize that the more frequently you let the baby feed, the more milk you will produce, and the better you will be able to meet his or her demands.

Whenever possible, let the baby feed on demand - especially during periods of accelerated growth as it is simply training up your body to produce milk to match the rate the baby is growing.

Next time your baby is dozing off on your breast, try adding the tips above to your arsenal of tricks to keep them alert, ensuring they get a belly full of your milk - at least one of them is sure to work!

Infographic on Breastfeeding Health Benefits

Numerous health benefits of breastfeeding for both baby & mama.
Numerous health benefits of breastfeeding for both baby & mama. | Source

Ways To Deal With a Fussy Baby During or After Feeds

- Burp the baby midfeed, most times once you do this, they will stay on the breast once you put them back on

- Cool the environment down, or move into a cooler area {you may notice that babies sweat primarily from their head when their body temperature is high – so check for signs that they are sweating along the hairline}

- Swap the baby onto the other breast if you have exhausted the above options {your tiny baby may have simply drained your breast, but there is no need to panic, simply change sides, and this should rectify the fussiness}

- Provide your baby with some skin to skin contact. This is an underestimated & seldom used trick which can soothe and console even the crankiest of babies; putting the baby on the chest enabling skin to skin contact has been shown to reduce adrenalin levels in the baby & exhibit a calming effect

- If you have tried all the above methods with no luck, taking the baby off the breast for a short time, and soothing them in other ways {going for a short walk, rocking the baby, talking softly in to their ears, giving them a toy to play with for a little while, etc.} may help

Baby Is Fussy & Irritable During or Straight After Feeds

Another familiar issue that many mothers can identify with is when the baby is showing signs of being fussy & irritable during or immediately after feeds. Through experience I rapidly learned that my little one was being fussy at the breast for one of two reasons

* either she was hot and wanted to be in a cooler environment, or that

* she needed to burp before she could continue drinking to satisfy her hunger

During the periods when she was going through growth spurts, she was increasingly edgy, almost impatient, but that was because my body was working to supply the quantity she called for – it wasn’t quite there yet.

Running through the most common solutions can save a lot of frustration & crankiness on both sides, and quite a few tears {possibly the babies’ & yours} too! Remember, if your baby keeps coming off your breast, but continuously tries to get back on, it means they do want to drink – it’s just that something is upsetting them so they are unable to drink in peace… so check out these simple tips to improve the chances of your baby having a peaceful, productive feeding session.

Low Milk Supply Due to Removing the Baby From The Breast Prematurely

There are some instances where milk production may actually be poor, and these causative factors are generally treatable. For instance, some mothers may find the baby is staying on the breast too long, so they may resort to taking the baby off the breasts prior to them coming off themselves – let the baby drink to their hearts content – it is better for them to slightly overfeed than to underfeed.

Both cases will affect milk supply, but taking the baby off before they are ready to come off will signal a lower milk demand to your breasts than your baby actually requires, hence milk production is likely to decrease in response.

In this instance even though your milk supply maybe lower than your baby requires, despair not! This hub will help you implement a few productive moves to enhance production.

Cracked Nipples? You are NOT alone!

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Sore, Cracked Nipples May Cut Down Your Milk Supply Indirectly

If you are experiencing sore, cracked nipples, this may inadvertently be lowering your production of milk. The pain and uncomfortable nature of feeding from sore, cracked nipples mothers may cause the mother to dread feeding times & she may end up reducing the amount of time the baby spends on the breast.

This will result in a lessening of milk as the body responds affirmatively to the suckling reflex of the baby. If you do have sore nipples, you can do a number of things to help the nipple heal and maintain your milk supply.

Firstly, lanolin based gels and creams can significantly aid healing as can applying a cold compress to the nipples prior to feeding (to numb the area, allowing you to feed the baby without feeling pain). You can also use breast pads to protect the nipple from rubbing against material that may aggravate the skin. There are also some butters on the market that can soothe the skin and promote healing, enabling you to feed through the soreness.

Gel pads can also be used to absorb any leaks, provide soothing relief & to enhance the healing process. Most of these pads are reusable for a certain amount of time, normally 72 hours, but you only need them for a short while, just to ease the symptoms and enable you to nurse again.

If on the other hand, you feel it would be better for you to refrain from breastfeeding the baby, or if you are feeling too uncomfortable to continue, you can spoon or bottle feed the baby expressed milk instead. Express regularly throughout the day, either using a pump (you can get electric, automated pumps as well as manual pumps) or by hand expressing the milk (you may notice a decline in milk over time as the sucking action is not there to stimulate milk production).


This will make sure your body keeps up its rate of production of milk despite the fact that the baby is not directly feeding at the breast.

Soothing Gel Pads to Provide Relief for Painful Nipples

Low Hormone Levels, Medications & Herbs Can Lower Your Milk Supply When Breastfeeding

Low thyroid hormone levels have been implicated in poor milk supply, as have certain medications & herbs. Oral contraceptives which contain oestrogens can have a marked negative effect on milk production, as can certain appetite suppressants, high doses of B vitamins, etc. Taking Thyroxine medications will stabilise your thyroid levels, thus improving your milk supply.

Some women may decide to take the Depo Provera shot, a hormonal contraceptive which remains in the blood stream for 3 months, without knowing that it can have a depressive effect on milk production. It is best to employ alternative birth control methods (such as condoms, spermicidal preparations, etc.} to ensure there is no pessimistic effect on milk generation. If you are experiencing problems with producing an adequate amount of milk, it is in your best interests & the baby's for you to moderate or stop your intake of these medicines {wherever safely possible}.

Interestingly enough, commonly found & consumed herbs such as sage, sorrel, spearmint, periwinkle, parsley, oregano and peppermint, amongst others, can also affect your milk supply. Hence reducing or ceasing your intake of these herbs can result in a noticeable increase in milk supply for the baby.

Breastfeeding 101: What You Need To Know

Expressing vs. Feeding The Baby At Night

Would you prefer to express or awaken the baby to feed during the night?

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Encouraging Your Baby To Sleep Through The Night Can Have a Detrimental Effect on Milk Production

Encouraging the baby to sleep through the night can also have an unfavourable effect on how much milk you can produce – generally speaking milk production is the highest during the earliest morning hours, so if your baby is not awake to suckle, over time, the milk production will decrease {almost as if you are weaning your baby off, so your body will adapt to cater for the baby}.

If you have been actively trying to establish a sleeping routine, have achieved some success and are hesitant to change this now, don't worry. You can still try to make sure your milk production is not affected – express or pump milk during the night instead, this will ensure that your body keeps up its production of milk even though the baby is not feeding in the night.

Trying To Lose Weight Rapidly Whilst Breastfeeding Can Reduce Milk Production

Breastfeeding can actually help mothers to lose those extra pounds they gained during pregnancy, and the rate at which they may lose weight is gradual and within safe limits. Rapid weight loss on the other hand has been shown to affect milk production. Mothers who lose copious amounts of weight immediately after giving birth {in the few months that follow} tend to experience more problems in this regard than mothers who lose weight on a more gradual basis.

Experts suggest that losing more than 4 pounds a month following the birth of the baby can significantly reduce the quantity of milk – so aim to intake at least 1800-2000 calories a day when breastfeeding and avoid diets that promise you will drop a stone a week!

Giving Your Baby Solids Too Early Can Bring Down Your Milk Supply

Introducing solids into your baby’s diet too early can easily result in decreased quantity of milk {at best} and complete avoidance of the breast by the baby {at worst}. Many mothers report that once they added solids into the daily diet, the babies tended to cut down on the amount of time spent at the breast, hence they drank less milk.

For some this can be a good way to wean the baby off the breast, but if you are hoping to continue breast feeding, you can delay giving the baby solids until they are a little older, or set a routine where the child receives solids during the day and milk from you at night {this can be particularly useful for working mothers, allowing them to merge their babies needs easily with their working schedules}.

10 simple steps you can employ to make plenty of milk!
10 simple steps you can employ to make plenty of milk! | Source

Smoking Can Significantly Lessen Milk Production

Smokers {particularly heavy smokers who go through more than 15-20 cigarettes a day} may notice lowered milk production in comparison to mothers who are non-smokers. Besides this, their baby may also gain weight at a slower rate – this coupled with the obvious detrimental effects to the mothers own health, provides solid grounds for many mama’s to finally take that step & stop smoking for good!

Making Sure The Baby Is Latching Onto the Breast Correctly Will Noticeably Improve Milk Levels

One of the most common issues that can affect adequate milk supply is incorrect latching on to the breast – if the baby is not latched on properly, they will not be draining the breast suitably, hence milk production will be diminished.

This can easily be remedied by taking the baby off the breast and putting them back on, changing breast feeding positions, or even holding the breast close to the nipple to encourage the nipple to protrude and enter the baby’s mouth.

Avoid using nipple shields {or use them for as little time as possible} as they can reduce stimulation to the breast and as a result can initiate a decrease in milk output.

Milk Levels Maybe Low Due To Incomplete Development of Glands & Ducts During Pregnancy

In a relatively small number of cases, the glands and ducts may not have developed adequately during pregnancy, which may contribute towards a low milk supply. Even in this case, taking into account the inevitable significance of every drop of the mother’s milk, mothers are encouraged to persevere & breastfeed for as long as they can before supplementing with formula.


Furthermore, mothers in this situation are advised to allow the baby to feed on the breast first, then move to the bottled formula if they have already offered both breasts & the baby is still hungry. Additionally, it is important to offer the breast at every feeding even if the breasts seem empty or soft as without the stimulation your baby provides, your body will not up its production of milk.

The Longer Your Baby Stays On The Breast Actively Sucking, the More Milk You Will Produce

I cannot reiterate this enough – remember, if your baby stays on the breast for a shorter duration of time, your milk supply will likely decrease in quantity, so removing any obstacles which may be contributing to this will have a positive effect on milk production.

Pacifiers Can Cut Down The Time Spent At The Breast

One thing is for sure – only you know what's right for your baby and you when it comes to make any long lasting changes. Upon the insistence of others around me, I introduced the pacifier to my baby, and swiftly learned one thing – it wasn’t a great idea.

At all. Yes, it soothed the baby for a while {a very short while}, but the after effect was unproductive and painful {to me!}. Sucking on the pacifier changed the way she sucked at the breast and how long she stayed on the breast – it gave me very sore nipples and reduced the time she was feeding for.

Promptly stopping the pacifier rectified the problem almost immediately. If you are experiencing sore nipples, or you have noticed that your baby is not spending long enough on the breast, try taking the baby off the pacifier for a few days and see if it improves your situation.

So long as your baby is producing at least 5-9 wet diapers daily, chances are you do not have a low milk supply!
So long as your baby is producing at least 5-9 wet diapers daily, chances are you do not have a low milk supply! | Source

The golden rule to remember is this - the more the baby sucks on the breast, the higher your production of milk.

Is Your Baby Really Not Getting Enough Milk?

It is imperative to determine whether you are in fact producing low levels of milk, or whether the signs you are noticing can be indicative of an alternative issue. Many parents begin giving the child formula {in addition to breast milk} when they believe the baby is hungry even after breast feeds.

Supplementing the babies feeds with formula can prove to be counterproductive if you jump to it as a solution too quickly, which is why it is a necessity to correctly interpret your babies behaviors.

The golden rule to remember is this - the more the baby sucks on the breast, the higher your production of milk.

Nurse in Style & with Complete Privacy

Supplementing with formula reduces the amount of time the baby stays on the breast, which in turn signals to the body that milk production does not need to increase. Many experts agree that this should only be used as a last resort once other avenues have been tried {if your intention is indeed to persist with the breast feeding through the hardships}. It is a difficult decision to make, and can bring up feelings of inadequacy as a mother & guilt that you cannot meet your babies’ needs.

I found out firsthand just how tough a choice this is - we really debated whether we should go ahead, and after much discussion, we decided to proceed. I realized that the fact I was feeling like this only proved that I had the welfare of my baby at heart, which then meant that I had to put my own ego and emotions aside, and do what was best for the baby – I couldn’t let my feelings stop me from taking steps to ensure she was getting enough nutrition to enable her to adequately grow.

So we added a few ounces of formula to her feeds when she needed more than I could provide at that particular feeding session and we noticed a positive change almost instantly. The baby was much calmer, less irritable, more patient & best of all, breast feeding became a pleasure once again. It was definitely the right decision, both for the baby & myself.

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Hang In There, It Will Get Easier!

Ultimately, you can boost your milk supply using herbal, natural remedies such as taking Fenugreek tablets if you have tired out other options, but a relatively surefire way of enhancing your milk supply is to add pumping sessions in between existing feeds. This will indicate to your body that the demand for milk is higher, and your body is likely to react by amplifying milk generation.

Most mom’s hear this a lot, but through personal experience I can say two things with certainty; firstly, that it gets a lot, lot easier and secondly, you will be thrilled that you endured the pain and persisted, because once you’re over all the teething problems, breastfeeding is irreplaceably valuable and made up of miraculous moments that you and your baby will cherish.

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5 stars from 3 ratings of Breastfeeding tips & advice by Hina Azille, MPharm

Summary: How To Breastfeed Successfully

  • DO Breastfeed regularly, particularly at night
  • DO Allow the baby to feed on demand, it will boost your milk supply
  • DO Support your back whilst feeding, this will prevent long term pains from nursing
  • DO feed when baby starts giving warning signs {stretching, rooting, sucking fingers}
  • DO position the baby in the correct way so they latch onto the breast properly
  • DO experiment with different breastfeeding positions {this can sometimes help relieve nipple soreness}
  • DON'T time feeds {let the baby feed for as long as they need}
  • DON'T let the breasts get engorged {can lead to fever and mastitis as well as plugged ducts}
  • DON'T use hormonal birth control (particularly those that contain oestrogen}
  • DON'T supplement with formula unless absolutely necessary as it will diminish your milk supply

© 2013 hinazille

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Comments 1 comment

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 19 months ago from Home Sweet Home

i had shortage of breast milk problem for both kids. My breast are very flat and small. When I faced this problem, nobody offer any advice, let alone in laws nor nurse. Finally my friend told me , I needed to eat raw garlic. Which I hated most

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