Low Milk Supply – 7 Incorrect Assumptions Mothers Make

Low Milk Supply - 7 Incorrect Assumptions Mothers Make

It may come as a surprise to hear that in Australia, only 50% of babies are being exclusively breastfed at 2 months of age.

There is an epidemic of low breastfeeding confidence amongst new mothers, many of whom who are diagnosing themselves with low milk supply – a problem which is not exclusive to Australia at all.

As soon as some mothers give birth to their babies, they embrace the idea of routines in order to help them manage motherhood. Routines can be very helpful in some areas of life – however breastfeeding your baby is one area where routines can backfire, resulting in low milk supply.

Hearing of a mother’s feeding troubles, well-meaning friends or family members may suggest ‘top-up’ feeds with formula, which only makes the problem worse.

No matter where you go around the world, you’re bound to hear mothers’ stories of ‘running out of milk’. Some say they just didn’t have enough milk from birth, so they had to start their baby on formula to make sure they were full. Sadly, some of those mothers end up shocked to find that after introducing bottles, their baby ends up refusing the breast.

In order to prevent unintentional weaning or relying on formula, it’s really important to try and solve any breastfeeding issues as best you can, as soon as you can. Ask around for recommendations for a great lactation consultant, ideally an IBCLC. Alternatively, you can call the breastfeeding helpline offered by the Australian Breastfeeding Association, or La Leche League in the US.

Low Milk Supply – Incorrect Assumptions

According to BellyBelly’s Breastfeeding Editor and IBCLC, Renee Kam, the following 7 assumptions are NOT sound ways of determining if you have low milk supply issues.

Incorrect Assumption #1: “My Breasts Do Not Feel Full”

Many mothers find that their breasts feel soft and comfortable, particularly after the early weeks. All this typically means is that your milk supply has settled down to be in sync with the amount of milk your baby is taking in.

For some mothers, even in the early weeks, their breasts never feel very full or engorged – this could simply mean that their baby is feeding well and often. But it doesn’t automatically mean that you have low milk supply. For more information, read BellyBelly’s article on empty breasts.

Incorrect Assumption #2: “But My Baby Sleeps Through The Night, So He Must Be Content”

How much a baby does or doesn’t sleep is a poor indicator of a mother’s milk supply. In fact, if a baby who is only days to weeks old, is sleeping through the night, this could mean he is not waking on his own for feeds and may not be getting enough milk. For example, some very young babies may be very sleepy (eg due to jaundice) and so may need to be woken for feeds just until they begin to consistently wake on their own for feeds and show signs of getting enough milk.

Incorrect Assumption #3: “My Baby Cries And Fusses On The Breast”

There are many reasons why a baby might cry and fuss during breastfeeds, not just because a mother may have a low milk supply. Other reasons may be that the mother may have a fast let-down reflex, the baby may be going through a ‘wonder week’ or the baby may be overtired or distracted.

Incorrect Assumption #4: “My Baby Feeds Often And/Or For A Long Time”

The length and frequency of feeds are very variable. As long as a baby is showing signs of getting enough milk, then the frequency or length of breastfeeds doesn’t matter and is completely individual.

The length of a breastfeed depends on several factors. For example, a baby who does a lot of active sucking (where she is swallowing) may feed for a short period of time and get more milk than a baby who is at the breast for a long time and does a lot of passive sucking (where she is not swallowing). Also, the older the baby, the quicker breastfeeds tend to be. The length of the breastfeed also depends on other variables such as how hungry or thirsty the baby is, how tired she is and the mothers flow etc.

It’s common for breastfed babies to feed 8 to 12 times in a 24 hour period – some babies feed a little less often or quite a bit more often. Different mothers have different breast storage capacities (how much milk a breast can store between breastfeeds). A mother with a small or large storage capacity can make plenty of milk for her baby.

However, the frequency that babies of mothers with different size storage capacities feed can vary a lot. For example, a baby of a mother who has a small storage capacity is likely to want to feed more often as compared to a baby of a mother who has a large storage capacity. Breastfeeds also depend on other variables such as how hungry or thirsty a baby is, how tired she is, her reason for wanting to breastfeed, the mothers flow etc. So, if someone tells you that your baby should feed for ‘x’ minutes, what will you say? For more information see Renee Kam’s book ‘The Newborn Baby Manual’.

Incorrect Assumption #5: “I Can Only Express a Little Bit Of Milk”

Some mothers panic, thinking they have low milk supply because they can only express a little bit of milk.

However, babies are much better at extracting milk from your breasts than a pump, and expressing is a skill that needs practice. Even with practice there are some mothers who have a hearty supply but who find expressing hard.

Also, babies drink varying amounts of breastmilk at each feed and the volume of milk a mother’s breasts make varies throughout the day. Most mothers find that they make larger volumes of milk in the morning as compared to later in the day. This is completely normal.

The late afternoon/early evening is the time of the day when many babies are unsettled and cluster feed. So if a mother judges her overall supply by the volume of milk she expresses later in the day as compared to in the morning, she may be more worried (either way is unreliable though).

Also, if a mother was to express straight after her baby breastfed versus just before her baby breastfed, the volumes are likely to be very different too. See BellyBelly’s article, 5 Tips To Help You Express Milk Like A Pro.

Incorrect Assumption #6: “My Baby Will Take A Bottle After Feeding”

Many babies find sucking very pleasurable. Being hungry is only one reason why babies like to suck. They may also want to suck if they are tired or have some pain etc.

Also, when something (e.g. a dummy, a finger or a bottle teat) is inserted into a young baby’s mouth, their instinct is to suck.

When a baby sucks at the breast, they are in control of how much they drink. They can suck in a way where they are swallowing the milk (nutritive sucking) or they can suck in a way where they aren’t actually swallowing the milk (non-nutritive sucking). They can also be at the breast and not suck at all or they can just come off.

So, no matter how many times a breastfed baby breastfeeds or for whatever reason, they will remain in control of their intake.

On the other hand, when a baby drinks from a bottle, they cannot suck in a non-nutritive way. A firm bottle teat in a baby’s mouth provides a strong stimulus for a baby to suck and when they suck, they get milk whether they need the milk or not. The relatively fast and continuous flow of milk from the bottle means the baby has to keep sucking or else be flooded with milk.

In these ways, a baby may drink more milk from a bottle after a breastfeed, even if they are getting enough milk from breastfeeding alone. Hence, a baby drinking more milk from a bottle after a breastfeed is an unreliable way to assess if you have enough milk for your baby.

Incorrect Assumption #7: “My Five Week Old Is Suddenly Pulling Away From The Breast But Still Seems Hungry”

In the early weeks, it is common for babies to fall asleep at the breast when the flow has slowed down. After the first month or so, they may not fall asleep at the breast (or not as much) but instead pull away or cry when the flow slows down. Many mothers find breast compressions or switching to the other breast helpful in these situations.

Recommended Reading

If you’re still worried about low milk supply, read these great articles:

Also, join in on BellyBelly’s Breastfeeding Forum, which contains loads of great support and information. Our breastfeeding forum is frequented by members who are lactation consultants, breastfeeding counsellors, counsellors in training, doulas and midwives.

Last Updated: July 24, 2015


Kelly Winder is the creator of BellyBelly.com.au, a writer, doula (trained in 2005), and a mother of three awesome children. She's passionate about informing and educating fellow thinking parents and parents-to-be, especially about all the things she wishes she knew before she had her firstborn. Kelly is also passionate about travel, tea, travel, and animal rights and welfare. And travel.


  1. My son is 9 months old. Im back at work full time. So I have had to supplement with formula feeds during the day when I’m not around. I still feed him as soon as I pick him up, all afternoon, and for night feeds. (he has solids for dinner) I also take my pump to work to express (to keep my supply up) but lately I feel like it is slowing down, because he will go on (he is hungry) but come off after only a few minutes. Iv done well with breast feeding, but I’m not ready for it to end. Do you have any advice?

    1. I’m currently feeding my 2nd child but I had the same concern with my first. Health visitors assured me that feeds do get quicker as baby gets older and more adept at draining the beast, plus with solids involved my daughter gradually breastfed less and less

  2. my baby poos very little and is irritated every time she does, this is repeated several times during the day. I’m concerned

  3. This article left out mouth ties as a potential impediment to breastfeeding and supply. If the baby can’t transfer milk sufficiently, the body registers low demand, and subsequently lowers the supply.

    1. Exactly what happened to me. Because there is a push that women think they know best but don’t, I was shushed every time I raised that my child wasn’t getting enough as I felt my supply was low, until she lost 1lb and a tongue tie expert finally paid attention (i had to make the appointment myself). I think it is really important to understand all the issues raised above, but also important to actually listen and treat women as individuals. Sometines a mum does know her own body. Xx

  4. I sincerely wish I had seen and read this when I had my daughter. I stopped breastfeeding when she was only 2 months old (she’s 4 years now). That was when I returned to work, and I truly believed my supply had “dried up”. This article made me think back to things I could have done differently.

  5. After a traumatic birth and extra days in the hospital (with 4th degree perenial tear and over 100 stitches) I was put through the brrastfeeding ringer. I was too sick and in so much pain that I really couldn’t breastfeed. (Not to mention the myriad of antibiotics and painkillers I was on; those cant be good for a newborn.) If I hear “low milk supply is the mother’s fault and isn’t real” one more time, I’m going to scream! We are put in a position where we are bullied into brrastfeeding or expected to offer ourselves up as martyrs no matter what the circumstances are. Yes, it’s good to have tips on brrastfeeding, and lactation consultants can help people, but please, please stop making moms feel like they screwed up if they don’t successfully breastfeed for a year, a month, or a week. Formula is NOT rat poison. Rant over.

    1. It is not for anyone but you to decide the best way to feed YOUR baby! Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for feeding your baby, because you’re right formula is not poison it is exactly for situations like this when Breast feeding is not the best option and your baby needs nutrition. I was extremely lucky to be able to Breast feed my first until 18 months, my sister stopped producing milk by 4 months with all of Her kids and they were all on formula and I don’t see any difference between our kids. They are all happy, healthy and strong, smart boys. It sounds like you’re doing a great job. I hope you are a me to recover quickly! Best wishes.

    2. Ditto. 🙁

      BTW, not finding this article super helpful or impressive…sorry. All seems like common sense stuff… and maybe a way to avoid finally admitting your breasts are not milk producers….idk. I tried for 2months, every 2hrs, in tears daily, tried everything under the sun including prescription meds…until my nipples were scabbed and bloody and ruined and I finally said enough. Ppl, scratch that- ‘higher than thou woman who think they know everything about being mom’ are way to pushy, and pressuring about breast feeding…. and most things in general ):/
      Thank God I gave up when I did, sorry it wasn’t sooner. That was an extremely emotional, and physically damaging experience. Don’t put yourself through it. Again, its not rat poison! ;D

  6. There is nothing more in the world I wanted to do then breastfeed my first child. Seven days passed by before I gained a few drops of milk. I dedicated night and day to try to feed my baby. He was readmitted to hospital because he was so dehydrated. Nurses, relatives and friends all made me feel like there was something wrong with me. Some people DO have a low supply. No matter what they do. I went through months of breastfeeding, bottle feeding and pumping on every round. It made no difference to my supply. I am so sick of explaining to mothers who have ample milk, why I won’t be breastfeeding my child that is due in a few months. People need to understand the amount of pressure that is out on new mums is ridiculous.

    1. Absolutely and it’s no doubt emotionally and physically taxing.

      On the same hand, there is an epidemic of self diagnosis and incorrect assumptions. Only 50% of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding in Australia at 2 MONTHS! Something is not right here. So we need good education to turn this thing around.

  7. Hi Kelly,

    My ebf 4 months old is tiny and has very slow weight gain (most recently 150g in 3.5 weeks). I’ve been recommended doing top ups and I’ve tried everything to make her take it! To no avail. I e tried all sorts of different nipples, offering it in a sippy cup, showing her how to drink the milk by doing a good wrap all demo!, etc.) Actually a couple of times she has gulped it down, but that’s maybe 1% of the time and the next time I try to repeat exactly what I did last time, only this time to have it refused. I’m told “keep at it” and I am, but can’t help but wonder if she’s actually a perfectly happy ebf and really doesn’t want/need the top ups. Perhaps she is just teeny? It’s taking us from being a very happy breast feeding mummy/bub duo to two very frustrated girls! I’ve also been told my supply is “probably low” as I express very little (<30ml) after a feed. She sleeps solidly from 10 – 7am, is super happy and full of smiles and looks really healthy. I realise this post is old, but really hoping you'll be able to respond in some way – even just to point me in the direction of one of your articles. Thanks so much In advance Kelly!

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