Hypoplasia and Breastfeeding – Insufficient Glandular Breast Tissue

Hypoplasia and Breastfeeding - Insufficient Glandular Breast Tissue

Not being able to make a full breastmilk supply for your baby can be a very upsetting experience. Especially if you’ve had your heart set on exclusively breastfeeding.

Most mothers can increase their supply (if necessary) by tackling issues of breastfeeding management.

However, for some mothers, even optimal breastfeeding management won’t enable them to make a full breastmilk supply. This is often referred to as primary lactation failure or a primary low milk supply.

Hypoplasia and Breastfeeding – Insufficient Glandular Breast Tissue

Primary lactation failure may occur as a result of various factors such as previous breast surgery, hormonal issues and breast hypoplasia (also referred to as insufficient glandular tissue or IGT). IGT is a condition where a woman’s breasts don’t have an adequate amount of milk-producing cells.

For some mothers, IGT can mean that milk production is not possible. For other mothers with IGT, her ability to produce milk is not eliminated, but reduced to varying degrees.

Here are 3 common questions and answers about IGT.

#1: How Do You Know If You Have IGT?

Hypoplastic breasts may be small or large. It’s the breast shape, placement, and asymmetry, as opposed to breast size, that can suggest hypoplasia.

Research undertaken by Huggins, Petok and Mireles in 2000 identified common characteristics in the breasts of mothers experiencing difficulties breastfeeding. These characteristics include:

  • Widely spaced breasts (breasts are more than 4 cm or 1.5 inches apart)
  • Breast asymmetry (one breast is much larger than the other)
  • A lack of breast changes during pregnancy, after birth or both
  • Tubular shaped breasts (the breasts have a narrow base and their volume is long rather than round
  • Overly large and bulbous areolae.

It’s important to note that some mothers with one or more of the above physical signs have no problems achieving a full milk supply. However, if an antenatal breast examination revealed such physical characteristics, it should prompt extra attention to getting breastfeeding off to the best start possible.

BellyBelly’s article Before The First Breastfeed – 12 Things You Need To Know has some helpful tips that can help get breastfeeding off to the best start possible.

#2: What Causes IGT?

More research is needed but some experts link IGT to various hormonal issues and/or exposure to environmental contaminants.

There is some research suggesting that exposure to high levels of environmental contaminants might increase the risk of IGT.

Also, hormonal issues associated with endocrine conditions (such as polycystic ovary syndrome, uncontrolled thyroid or insulin-related conditions) may impact breast growth during puberty or pregnancy or the process of milk coming in. Hence, such conditions may be implicated in IGT.

#3: Can I Still Breastfeed If I Have IGT?

A diagnosis with IGT doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t breastfeed. Taking steps to get breastfeeding off to the best start possible can help maximise your supply. You may find it helpful to speak with your doctor and/or lactation consultant about taking a galactagogue such as domperidone.

If your baby needs to be supplemented (e.g. with donor milk or formula), there are many options for supplement delivery. What’s important is to work out which works best for you. For some mothers this means bottle feeding their babies. For other mothers a breastfeeding supplementer may help them find joy at being able to breastfed their babies even if they cannot make a full breastmilk supply.

Regardless of how you choose to supplement your baby, there are ways you can do so while reducing the impact on breastfeeding if that’s important for you.

BellyBelly’s article 6 Different Ways To Feed Your Baby Expressed Breastmilk (Or Formula) provides information about options for supplement delivery.

If you have or think you have IGT, it can help to talk with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor, La Leche League Leader or lactation consultant about your goals. This way, a plan can be made to suit your own unique needs and situation.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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