Nappy counting, clock watching, and concerns over fussing – things many new mothers watch with anxiety over their milk supply.
Many mothers worry if they are making enough milk. In fact, a concern about milk supply is one of the main reasons why mothers cease breastfeeding.
Most mothers can make plenty of milk for their baby(ies) and yet many still worry if they are making enough.
If a mother truly has a low milk supply, it is usually the result of suboptimal breastfeeding management rather than due to a medical reason.
Causes Of Low Milk Supply
Here are 6 non-medical reasons that can contribute to a low milk supply:
#1: Feeding Schedules
When a baby is breastfed according to a schedule, it is hit or miss (most likely miss) as to whether she gets the milk she needs.
A baby will feed best when she is fed when she is showing cues that she wants to feed. If she is fed according to a schedule, she may not be ready to feed when the clock says it time to do so and may not feed as well. If she doesn’t feed as well, she will remove less milk from your breasts, and over time this can lead to a low supply.
Also, different mothers have different storage capacities. Storage capacity refers to how much milk a mother can store in her breasts between feeds. A baby of a mother with a small storage capacity will likely need to feed more often to get what she needs as compared to a baby of a mother with a large storage capacity. Feeding schedules don’t account for individual variations in storage capacity.
A baby cannot read the time. She has her own internal body clock that tells her when she needs to feed. When she needs to feed, she will show cues that she needs to feed. By responding to her cues and feeding her, you will help ensure she gets what she needs.
Please note that there are occasions where a very sleepy newborn may need to be woken for a period of time for feeds. It is important to be guided by a lactation consultant in such situations.
#2: Top Ups
Occasionally, particularly in the early weeks, top-ups of a mother’s own expressed breastmilk may be necessary for some newborns until they ‘find their feet’ with breastfeeding. It is important to be guided by a lactation consultant in such situations.
However, if top-ups are provided unnecessarily, and particularly if the top-up is not your own expressed breastmilk but formula, this can reduce your milk supply. This is because a baby may fill up somewhat by the top-up and then take less from your breasts.
Such a situation is likely to be able to be turned around relatively easily if guidance from a lactation consultant is obtained in a timely manner. See our article on weaning off formula supplementation here.
#3: Sleep Training
If a baby receives sleep training whereby she ends up sleeping for longer stretches of sleep before she is naturally ready to do so, this can mean that she feeds less. Feeding less means less milk gets removed from your breasts and hence your supply can lower.
There are many gentle alternatives to sleep training that won’t mess up your supply. Read here for more information.
#4: Dummy / Pacifier Use
There are a few ways dummy or pacifier use could contribute to lowering supply:
Nipple confusion describes the different sucking actions needed by a baby to suck on different things (e.g. bottle teat, dummy, breast). A baby sucks at the breast very differently than how she sucks on a dummy.
Therefore, use of a dummy may mean that a baby sucks less effectively at the breast. If she doesn’t suck as well at the breast, she removes less milk. Less milk removed from your breasts means less milk gets made.
If a baby’s feeding cues are ignored and she is given a dummy to suck on to put off a feed, this may mean that when she finally does feed, she may not feed as well. It can also mean that she ends up feeding less often. Over time, this can lower your supply.
Less Sucking Time
The overall amount of time a baby spends sucking at the breast can form an important part of building and then maintaining your milk supply. If a baby gets some of her sucking time satisfied with a dummy, this could mean less sucking time at the breast. Over time, this could lower your supply.
#5: Suboptimal Positioning And Attachment
When a baby is positioned and attached well to the breast, she will remove milk most effectively.
if she is not positioned and attached optimally, this may reduce how much milk she removes which can lower your supply over time.
#6: Tongue Tie
A baby’s tongue action is important to enable her to effectively remove milk from your breasts.
If she has a tongue tie, the movement of her tongue is restricted and she cannot remove milk from your breasts as well. Over time, this can lower your supply.
If you are worried about supply or have a low milk supply, there are things that can be done about it. Speak with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counselor, La Leche League leader, or see a lactation consultant.