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Is My Body Producing Enough Milk For My Nursing Baby?

Updated on April 26, 2014
WryLilt profile image

Susannah Birch is a certified birth doula, journalist, and owner of Trimester Talk, a leading pregnancy website.

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The most important thing to remember about breastfeeding is that it is supply and demand.

This means that the more often your baby feeds, the more milk your body is designed to produce. The reverse applies too - the less you feed, the less you will produce.

How Do I Know If I Am Producing Enough Milk?

If your baby is gaining weight and has regular wet nappies, then your baby is getting enough milk.

You should also be able to hear your baby swallowing when they are drinking milk.

Unlike formula, breastmilk cannot be measured. If you want more information about your milk supply, how your amounts may vary and other issues relating to supply, read on.

Quicktip: Many women think they are losing milk around the 2-3 week mark. Actually, this is just the stage at which your milk supply settles into its proper routine after the hormonal shakeup of birth and early feeding.

My Breasts Are Smaller

After a baby's birth, a mother produces a liquid called colostrum. This liquid is clear and ranges from a gold to orange tint.

It takes 2-6 days for the transitional milk to arrive and then another week or two before it changes to mature milk. When the transitional milk arrives, most women find it can be painful and they're very swollen for several days. This is normal - your body and your baby take time to adjust to a proper feeding routine and supply.

When your supply settles, it's completely normal for breasts to get smaller and not be as swollen - it means your supply has adjusted to the right amount to satisfy your baby.

You may also feel "emptier" in the evenings, as that is the time of day when you you have the least milk, while in the mornings you may feel swollen before the first feed.

Are you being told that breastfeeding is not an option because of low supply, reflux or weight gain? Here's a great guide on reasons you don't need to stop breastfeeding, and solutions.

I Can't Express More Than 20mls

There are three main ways of expressing milk - by hand, with a manual pump or with an electric pump.

Most women find that they may be able to get milk with one method but not another. But some women find they can never get ANY milk with any of the three methods. But don't worry - this doesn't necessarily say anything about your milk supply.

A baby's mouth is designed better than any other method of getting milk. Many women who can barely express a drop of milk have no problem feeding their baby and in fact go on to do so for many months with no problems. Although pumping is one method that can indicate how much milk you are producing, you should use a backup method (such as weight gain, wet nappies or a visit with a lactation consultant) to verify this.

My Baby Is Feeding Every Few Hours

So how often should a baby feed? In the first few months, most babies feed every 2-4 hours on average. Unlike an adult they have very small stomachs and since their diet consists of nothing but liquid, they get hungry again fast.

Also, because breastmilk is natural and can be fully assimilated by their body, breastfed babies often feed more often than formula fed babies. Formula cannot be processed as fast by their digestive system, making the baby full for longer.

My Baby Is Feeding More Than Normal

Every 4-6 weeks on average, babies go through a growth spurt. When this happens, they need more milk to help them grow. Because breastfeeding is supply and demand, your baby will go through a 24-48 hour period during which they can seem restless and have short feeds very often. This process will allow your body to start making more milk and within a day or two you should both find yourself back in your regular routine.

My Baby Is Feeding A LOT In The Evening

This is known as cluster feeding. It happens for three main reasons:

  1. Supply - In the evenings you have a lower supply of milk so more feeds may be required to fill the baby.
  2. Demand - Feeding regularly in the evenings helps milk production to begin for the next day.
  3. Sleep - Some resources suggest that babies feed more in the evening so their body is more prepared to sleep through for longer periods during the night without a feed.

Some babies will cluster feed as often as every 20 minutes for 5 or more feeds.

My Baby Is Pulling Off Or Screaming During a Feed

This is rarely related to milk supply but is commonly seen for three reasons:

  1. Teething - Teething can begin anywhere between birth and 6-12 months, depending on the baby. Some babies get gums that are so sore that any pressure on them (including feeding) is quite painful.
  2. Tummyache - Babies have a very simple understanding when they are born. If they feel a bad feeling in their stomach they assume it is hunger and try to feed. If the pain doesn't go away from feeding, they may get upset and begin to cry.
  3. Reflux - Reflux doesn't always begin at birth. Sometimes it takes several weeks before the signs become apparent. It involves the baby's stomach contents flowing back up the oesophagus, although there are different types and degrees. This can make feeding quite painful for a baby and you should see a doctor if you believe this is the issue.

My Baby Is Throwing Up All The Milk

It's quite common for young babies to throw up milk following a feed, especially if they haven't burped properly. Although it can be worrisome for a new mum, throwing up doesn't usually mean the baby isn't getting enough milk. The milk is actually a lot less than it looks in most cases, so the baby still has plenty left in their stomach.

I'm Mixed Feeding But Still Losing Milk

NB: Mixed feeding refers to feeding a baby with both breastmilk and formula. This can be in any percentage; some women feed one bottle of formula at night, while others do it all day or just all night. Most often used as babies grow older or if mother wants to return to work but can't express.

As mentioned above, nursing is about supply and demand. Starting mixed feed too early means that the milk supply hasn't fully adjusted. In many cases where mixed feeding is introduced too early, women find they lose their supply because their body thinks that less feeds mean milk is no longer needed.

If at all possible, try and avoid mixed feeding if you want to continue breastfeeding, at least for the first month, until you have talked to a lactation consultant or doctor.

What If I Really Am Losing My Supply?

Although only a small percentage of mothers have a low or non-supply it can still happen. If you're certain you don't have a good supply (baby isn't gaining weight and isn't having regular wet nappies, and confirmed with a medical professional), then sometimes formula is the only option.

But don't give up just yet - there are other things you can do to increase your supply. Some of them include:

Expressing after or between feeds, lactation cookies, drinking more water, subscription tablets such as maxalon, herbs such as fenugreek and raspberry leaf.

For some great breastfeeding support I highly recommend paying a visit to The L@@ky Boob, a place to get support from thousands of other breastfeeding women.


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    • profile image

      chloelozano 5 years ago

      When I had my first child my milk supply was plentiful. He was filled at each feeding and I still managed to pump six or more ounces a day to freeze. After having my second daughter three weeks early I hemorrhaged and almost had to have a hysterectomy. I tried to breast feed her but when she was a few days old she stopped peeing. I took her to the pediatrician because I was terrified and she had lost a pound. It turned out my body was too busy dealing with blood loss to make milk and I had to feed her formula exclusively.

      I am a huge breastfeeding advocate, but woman need to know there are some very real physical reasons a mother may not produce enough milk to feed her baby. I was devastated at the time because I wanted badly to nurse my little girl but for her health's sake I could not.

    • WryLilt profile image

      Susannah Birch 5 years ago from Toowoomba, Australia

      I think that's great! Here in Australia companies aren't allowed to give out free formula.

    • ptosis profile image

      ptosis 5 years ago from Arizona

      How do you feel about New York City has put forth an initiative to end free formula milk samples and make it more difficult to access formula in hospital because giving formula doesn't kickstart milk production in the mother.

    • blairtracy profile image

      blairtracy 5 years ago from Canada

      I also agree that there is no accurate way to measure how much breast milk your are producing. For example, you may have a baby who is satisfied after each feeding, and when you pump you can only express 3 ozs, however, if you were to feed him/her by a bottle he/she drink 12 ozs. Your baby likely is able to suck out approx. 12 ozs. When you are only able to get 3 ozs. This is completely natural as an actual baby compared to say a pump is totally different. All of your senses pick up the presence of your baby which they don't do with your hand or your pump. Combined with your babies saliva and suckling technique. They are pro's compared to a pump.

    • blairtracy profile image

      blairtracy 5 years ago from Canada

      Great information! I know these questions are asked a lot. And I am sure you answered a lot of questions for people!

    • WryLilt profile image

      Susannah Birch 6 years ago from Toowoomba, Australia

      Thank you... I have two friends who literally never even got milk no longer how long they fed.

    • SmartAndFun profile image

      SmartAndFun 6 years ago from Texas

      Thanks, WryLilt. All is well now, my daughter is almost 14 and has done really well. She's always been smart and healthy, despite being a formula-fed baby, LOL. I don't mean to derail what your hub is about. Breast is best, and I was very committed to it. So much so, that I ignored the pediatrician's advice. Most of the time, pushing through breastfeeding problems is in the best interest of the child. I just want people to be aware that sometimes, although rarely, a woman really can't breastfeed. I want new moms who aren't experienced to get their baby weighed, learn from experienced parents and their pediatrician, and pay attention to any gut feelings they may have that are telling them there's a problem.

    • WryLilt profile image

      Susannah Birch 6 years ago from Toowoomba, Australia

      Thanks for the comment, SadAndFun. It's awful that the consultants chose their beliefs over the health of the baby. Unfortunately many people seem to forget what's beat for the child in a rush to make a personal statement.

    • SmartAndFun profile image

      SmartAndFun 6 years ago from Texas

      I am part of that small percentage of women who did not make much milk at all. If I had it to do over again, I would have weighed my baby much more often and I also would have listened to my pediatrician instead of letting the lactation cunsultants talk me into thinking my pediatrician was being old-fashioned when he recommended supplementing with formula. My baby was not getting near enough nutrition and the results could have been disastrous. If I had taken her in to be weighed at least every other day, I would have found this out much sooner. Instead, she never had a full belly until she was three weeks old and had dropped about 2 1/2 pounds. I had never had a baby before, and I thought that her damp diapers were wet diapers; I didn't know what a true wet diaper felt like. She was so skinny, but being in love with her, I thought she was beauiful. The lactation consultants kept telling me everything was fine and to ignore the pediatrician's advice to give her supplemnetal formula because it would diminish my milk supply. What they didn't realize was that I basically had no supply. They finally apologized to me after the pediatrician insisted that I give my baby formula, and she sucked down almost five of those little hospital bottles on the spot. I remember her eyes kept looking into mine, like she was telling me "thank you." Looking back, it seems like my pediatrician was looking out for my baby's best interests, while the lactation consultants were more worried about advocating for breastfeeding. Sorry to post such a long comment, I guess I should write a hub about it. Breastfeeding is wonderful and I was committed to it, but you can't breastfeed if you don't make milk. It is a very small percentage of us whose breasts do not develop properly and do not grow enough glandular tissue, but it does happen. If you are worried about your milk production and your baby's nutrition, weigh your baby often to make sure she is growing and to give yourself peace of mind.

    • WryLilt profile image

      Susannah Birch 6 years ago from Toowoomba, Australia

      This is why I pointed out that at the start of the article that weight and wet nappies are the best indicator. Would you like me to add in the expressing part something like "expressing can give you a rough idea of how much milk you are producing, though."

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 6 years ago

      WryLilt- You wrote "A baby's mouth is designed better than any other method of getting milk. Many women who can barely express a drop of milk have no problem feeding their baby and in fact go on to do so for many months with no problems." -But if your baby is losing weight, it might be best to pump if only to check the amount of milk you create in those bottles. My doctor has me use a breast pump and a specialist checked the milk supply. Sometimes it is better to play it safe than sorry. This isn't to say a person should stop breast feeding, but just assure your baby is getting enough to sustain him or her.

    • WryLilt profile image

      Susannah Birch 6 years ago from Toowoomba, Australia

      It may work in some cases as a test - however there is no need to do it every day, and some women have a great supply but find it impossible to pump more than a few drops.

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 6 years ago

      WryLilt- It still works... even if it doesn't get every drop. If you pump, then you at least have some idea how much you are producing.

    • WryLilt profile image

      Susannah Birch 6 years ago from Toowoomba, Australia

      If you read the hub you'll see why that doesn't work.

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 6 years ago

      WryLilt- You can use a breast pump and literally measure it by fluid ounces.

    • WryLilt profile image

      Susannah Birch 6 years ago from Toowoomba, Australia

      Phoebe, unfortunately there is no way to "measure" your supply. As mentioned in the first paragraph, wet nappies and weight gain are the only indication of whether your baby is getting enough milk.

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 6 years ago

      When I gave birth, my breast milk was fine. Then my son started to lose weight. As it turns out, my breasts stopped making a steady supply. We had to switch to formula. My suggestion to any mother who chooses breast feeding is to measure the milk daily. One day you might make an abundance, but the next day it might stop completely.


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