Family, Uncategorized

Causes of a low milk supply and What you can do about it

This first part will seem a bit like boasting. I promise, that is not the goal. This is my milk journey. My journey has brought me experience in knowing why my milk production drops and how to bring that production back to where I need it for my baby love.

When I first started pumping, I was bringing home upwards of 30 ounces of milk for my baby. WAY more than she needed. By about three months of being at work and using my pump, I would bring home about 45 ounces of milk. That’s just during one work day! I donated close to 1000 ounces over a period of around 6 months. Baby love was about 9 months old when I gave my last, very large, milk donation.

The final donation of approximately 600 ounces.
The final donation of approximately 600 ounces.

 

I felt like super mom! It was incredible to be able to produce that much milk. Not only for my own baby but to help save the lives of other babies was an amazing feeling. The donated milk went to preemies at the hospital.

It was at that point when I decided I needed to reduce the production a bit. We were completely out of freezer space so I couldn’t store that much milk any longer. I would have continued to donate, but they would require another blood test and since they would only take my milk until baby love was 12 months old I decided to not get another test. I’d had my fill of needles over the last year.

So I changed the length of time I would pump. I would continually pump for 10 minutes before so I dropped it down to around 8 minutes or if the milk spray stopped. I was also pumping about 4 times a day to stay comfortable so I dropped down to 3 pumping sessions a day. I was pretty uncomfortable for a few days and leaked overnight while nursing, but this effectively told my body that it was making enough milk and reduced production.

The oh so glamorous life of a pumping, working momma.
The oh so glamorous life of a pumping, working momma.

For the next few months, things stayed steady. I kept a usual schedule of 3 pumping sessions at work for roughly 8 minutes per session. My output was a constant 20 ounces per day. Baby love usually drank around 18 ounces during the day while with our sitter so I was able to keep a nice stock pile in the freezer.

During all this time, I’d have a bowl of oatmeal every morning. I ate (and continue to eat) fairly healthy. Exercise? That was non-existent. Who has the time to exercise with a baby around? (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.)

As you know, I started a training program early last month to prepare for a 5k with my sister. The last few weeks, I’ve seen a continual drop in milk supply since starting the training program. My heart dropped when one day this week, I was only able to produce 11.5 ounces for the day.

I know that is a lot for some mommies but it is not much for me. My baby love still drinks 16-18 ounces during the day so my backup supply is slowly dwindling.

It has me very concerned as baby love and I are nowhere near ready to cut this aspect of our relationship. So…

What are some causes for milk production to be low in an established supply?

Hormone Changes

After the first 12 weeks after birth, milk production becomes mainly a supply-and-demand relationship. However, hormones still play a role in production even after lactation has been well established. I can tell the various points of my cycle based on my milk production such as when I’m ovulating vs when I’m not.

Caloric In-take

Breastfeeding takes a good amount of calories. I know most women want to lose their baby weight after giving birth but don’t try to lose that weight by reducing your calorie count. Definitely make the calories worth it (as in limit the cake and sweets) by eating meals rich in vegetables, fish, oats, and other nutrient-rich foods.

Most breastfeeding women utilize 300-500 calories per day. That means, if you’re hungry, there is a reason for it! You’ll lose that weight by feeding your body healthy foods. Your body will become more efficient at utilizing those calories and the calories in your fat reserves. That means the weight will melt off!

Just remember that it took 9 months to put on the baby weight and it could take up to 9 months for that weight to come off.

Water

During the day, one of the biggest reasons I may have a “bad” pumping session is because I didn’t drink enough water. Most people don’t realize when they are becoming dehydrated since it can be so mild during the day. I get the best milk results when I’ve given my body the liquids it needs.

Pump Gear

This may seem obvious but I really don’t think it is. When you have a daily routine and you’re just going about your business, it’s easy to overlook your equipment.

The last time my milk supply began to drop, I noticed the white membrane had a small tear. I had been gradually increasing the pump strength with little results. As soon as I put a new membrane on, I turned the dial to the same level I’d been using and nearly jumped out of the chair! The suction level was a drastic difference from before.

Check that gear! Make sure it’s clean (including the machine), there are no tears in the membranes and everything is plugged in correctly.

Changes in your schedule

I almost always see a difference in my supply when my schedule changes in some way. I’m usually pretty regular at work but if I miss a session or am late for a session, I see a change. Although my baby love doesn’t feed on a set schedule during the weekend, we’re still very on-demand, she’ll nurse much more frequently than 3 sessions during the day at home.

Due to my training program, I’ve had to change to 2 pump sessions a day. I’m smaller busted and have a max capacity of around 5 ounces per breast. If I don’t empty them regularly, then they don’t see a need to produce. That means I can bring home a max of 20 ounces a day, however, with only 2 pump sessions, my breasts aren’t procducing that much. I’m pumping 3-4 ounces per session.

LowMilkSupplyCauses

What can you do to increase your milk supply?

Hormones

Unfortunatley, there isn’t really anything to do about hormones. The main thing is to be aware of where you are in your cycle and know that things will pick back up once your hormones level out again.

Eat!

If you’re hungry, remember that it is probably due to your body needing the calories in order to keep up with whatever daily activities you do PLUS make milk for your baby. Even though your baby is outside of your body, you’re still feeding 2. Most adults require around 1800-2400 calories per day (depending on your activity level) and breastfeeding requires another 300-500 calories on top of that. That is a lot of food!

I remember days when I would be absolutely famished! I’d just eat whatever I could get my hands on. That wasn’t just during pregnancy. That famished feeling of not getting enough to eat was (and still is) a regular occurance.

Drink LOTS of Water

Keep a large water bottle nearby. That helps me keep track of what I’ve had during the day and allows me to still get a good amount of work done without having to take too many breaks to fill my water bottle. I usually have 2-2.5 bottles a day. I’m not sure how many ounces are in this super large cup but it’s comparable to the Big Gulp from QT.

Maintain your Pump Gear

Every time my supply dips, I inspect my gear. I usually end up replacing the little white membrane and switch out the tubes. Once I do that, I always see an immidiate increase of half to a full ounce.

Keep a steady Pump Schedule

Like I said before, if I’m late (or too early) to my pump time then it has a negative impact on my production. I’ve really noticed the importance of a keeping to a schedule at work.

Increase how often you Pump

If you’re at that point where you really need more milk, then add in an extra pumping session. That will tell your breasts that you need more milk. After a few days, you’ll see an increase. By emptying your breasts more frequently, they’ll refill more often. Remember that once established, milk production is based on supply-and-demand.

 

Keep up the awesome work momma’s! Be you a breastfeeding, formula, or fully weaned baby momma.

 

Additional Resources

KellyMom.com: Increasing Low Milk Supply

KellyMom.com: How does milk production work?

La Leche League: Milk Supply Issues page

La Leche League: How can I increase my supply?

La Leche League: I’m pumping my milk to feed my baby, but my supply is going down. What can I do?

Web MD: 8 Tips for Losing Weight After Pregnancy

Mayo Clinic: Dehydration

Angela Garbes, Food Critic: The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am

 

**Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional. The information on this page is based on my own personal experience of pumping and breastfeeding for 16 months, background in health education as well as extensive research  through reputable sources.

5 thoughts on “Causes of a low milk supply and What you can do about it”

  1. Great post!
    I learned in my herbal journey also, that certain herbs or foods like mint and sage will severely decrease milk supply while things like oats and fennel will increase!
    🙂
    What do you recommend for non-pumping moms? I was never able to pump successfully (like 20 minutes on the pump and come out with a half ounce) so I just threw the useless thing away.
    But my supply has always been patchy at best, probably because of that.

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    1. I fully agree with the oats and fennel! I just couldn’t find any really good reputable source to back it up. I’ve found that brewers yeast has also given me a boost. Most of these things need to be consumed on a regular basis for a continual boost and increase. I get a good boost with just a bowl of oatmeal randomly but I get the best results when I eat them regularly.

      Oh boy! That’s a long session. I can’t stand to be attached to the pump that long! The most I’ll ever do is 20 minutes.

      When I first started, it was pretty painful. I’d get bright red and my nipples would be extremely irritated. I found that the suction the hospital nurse recommended was way too high for me and had to reduce it substantially. I also ended up needing to go down in a size with the flanges (those cone things that go over the breast and nipple). They make some in larger sizes too for larger busted women.

      In my experience, I’ve found that being as regular as possible with nursing and pumping has kept my supply where it needed to be. If you can stand it and get it to work, I’d highly recommend trying a pumping session either after your babe goes to bed or before your babe wakes in the morning. That will give you some for a back up supply. The major thing to remember here…don’t feed that bottle to him later. Store it. If you miss a feeding session, that will only hurt your milk production.

      If you still can’t deal with the pump, see if your baby will do an extra breastfeeding session throughout the day. That will also help give you a boost. You’d need to do this over the course of a few days as it takes some time to tell your body that you need more milk.

      Hope this helps! Just remember that any drop in supply is natural. No matter what ends up happening, you’re a fantastic mother and the most important thing is that your baby is fed and happy. If that means you need to switch to formula, cows milk, coconut milk, almond milk or another type of milk, then do what is best for you and your baby.

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      1. I did a little experimentation this week with my oatmeal. On days when I have oatmeal 30 minutes to an hour before my pumping session, i see an increase of 1-1.5 ounce of milk production.

        I know some people can’t stand the texture of oatmeal. Try eating oats in other forms such as cookies, granola bars or in smoothies.

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  2. Wow, that’s amazing that you got to donate so much. I was never blessed with a good supply. The second I even thought about exercising or dieting while breastfeeding dropped my supply like crazy. It stinks that you experienced the same. Nothing I tried ever made my supply better for more than a few hours or so.

    I think something to note is that low supply from the get go (not sudden low supply of a once good supply) can’t be fixed sometimes, even with all the tips to increase it. I did everything in the book and was dried up by 9 months despite my best efforts. It was super annoying to hear LCs tell me I could basically do better, but my body was most definitely saying no. I think my own hormones and tons and tons of stress and the lack of sleep is why my supply couldn’t thrive longer. But I’m glad I got to at least go 9 months.

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    1. 9 months is great! Im so thankful that I’ve been able to breastfeed the way I have. I’ve watched a few of the women at my office have supply issues and it’s heartbreaking for them. That’s partly why i wanted to donate my excess. The thought of wasting something so precious made me ill. There are so many women who have difficulties and it’s nothing they did wrong. Its just their body’s inability to meet the demands.

      You mentioned stress and sleep deprivation. Those are definitely triggers for a decrease in supply I’ve noticed as well.

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