How to Tell If Your Milk Supply Is Decreasing

18 March, 2019

Table of Contents

beautiful mother and baby, signs that your milk supply is decreasing

Understanding the Stages of Milk Production

Immediately after birth, you may feel little to no engorgement, but your breasts will be producing a yellowish substance called colostrum. Colostrum is produced in tiny amounts because it is so nutrient dense. Those mothers who have had a natural birth will produce mature milk 3 to 4 days after birth. You may think you have a low milk supply after a c-section because your milk might take longer to come in (around 4 to 6 days after birth).

During this time you will feel engorged, and you may leak too. There is a hormonal shift that takes place a few weeks in, this is when the mother’s postpartum hormones are no longer available to boost production. At this stage, milk production is controlled by supply and demand, and it may seem as though your milk supply has decreased because your breasts may seem less full or empty. As long as your baby continues to breastfeed on demand, you should have enough milk. Read more about the stages of lactation for a better understanding of this process. 

Your Baby’s Feeding Patterns

Usually at about three to four weeks after birth when babies start to nurse more frequently, it is common for mothers to think that they don't have enough milk. Mothers may also notice that instead of breastfeeding for 30 minutes, their babies may breastfeed for only 5 or 10 minutes; this is usually because the baby has become an expert feeder, not because the mother is struggling to produce breast milk. 

Then again between the three to six month period a baby will experience a significant growth spurt and will start to demand more milk, this could also make a mother believe that her supply has declined, but as soon as the demand increases, so will her milk supply. Furthermore, from four months onwards babies are easily distracted during feeding times, they may breastfeed for only a few seconds at a time and snack all day long. Again, this is not a sign that your milk supply is dwindling. 

Signs That Your Milk Supply Is Decreasing
& Things to Be Aware Of

  • Keep an eye on your baby’s stool and urine output for their specific age. See normal stools and urine output in breastfed babies. After six weeks your baby may start to produce fewer stools, this is not a reason for concern. After one week, your baby should be producing about five urine nappies per day.
  • If your baby has urine that is dark colored or has yellowing of the eyes and skin or seems reluctant to feed, he/she could be dehydrated. If this is the case, you need to seek medical treatment immediately. 
  • Can you hear your baby swallowing? Here is a video that shows a good milk transfer while breastfeeding...

  • Keep an eye on your baby’s weight gain, but be sure to use a breastfeeding friendly weight chart. Breastfed babies usually lose some weight (usually no more than 7% - 10%) during the first few days and then gain it back again. Your baby should have gained back their birth weight by day 10 after birth. Contact your pediatrician by day 6, if your baby has not started to gain any weight. After those 10 days, babies should gain at least four ounces (112g) per week. If your baby is gaining less than this, it could indicate a low milk supply. During the early days (before day 10) after birth, it is essential that a mother knows about the potential weight loss and is not guilted (by herself or others) into supplementing with formula. Supplementing will only reduce her milk supply and decrease her chances of an extended breastfeeding relationship. On average, formula fed babies weigh more than breastfed babies up to age 1 and then even out at age 2. This is completely normal. If you are worried about the weight of your baby, please see your pediatrician. Also, get hold of your local la leche league. They can assess your situation and advise accordingly; their services are free. 
  • Does your baby seem happy after a breastfeeding session? If your baby seems fussy after a breastfeeding session, it could be a sign of many things such as gas or a dirty diaper, but it could also mean that they are still hungry. On the other hand, If your baby is happy after feeding, you don't need to worry about a decreasing milk supply. 
  • Any new medications may have the potential to decrease supply, also any foods or liquids introduced into your baby’s diet. 
  • Separation during the day and less time at the breast will reduce supply. Remember, a pump cannot remove as much milk as your baby, and if you are replacing time at the breast with expression, this can lead to a drop in milk supply. Read more about dealing with the challenges while breastfeeding and returning to work
  • What if your baby starts waking up at night again? There are so many reasons why this could be happening, namely: teething, nursing less during the day, a cold, a growth spurt and many more. 

Things That Do NOT Indicate a Decreasing Milk Supply

    The following things should not be used to determine whether you have a low milk supply.
  • Your breasts feel empty. Your breasts will start to feel emptier and less engorged as time passes, this is normal. It just means that your body is now producing just the right amount of milk for your baby. 
  • You don't notice a let-down. 
  • Frequency or length of feedings. There is no limit to the number of times a baby should feed per day. Some babies feed only every two hours, while others may feed 12 times per day and then still want to comfort feed, this is all normal. Your baby may also breastfeed for only 10 minutes or less at a time but breastfeed more frequently throughout the day. 
  • Whether your baby will take a bottle after feedings or not. Most babies will drink whatever you give them. 
  • The fact that your breasts are not leaking or they use to leak and now have stopped leaking. 
  • The amount of breastmilk pumped at any given time does not indicate whether you have a low milk supply or not. Some mothers cannot express much milk at all. 
  • Your baby doesn't sleep through at night. 
  • You have small breasts. The size of your breasts only indicate less storage capacity, but they have the potential to make the right amount of milk. You might just have to breastfeed more frequently when compared to a larger chested woman who has more storage space. 

Learn more about the signs to look out for to know whether your baby is drinking enough breastmilk

Things That Prevent a Decrease in Milk Supply

baby in sling
  • Do not use a breastfeeding schedule. Breastfeed your baby on demand; breastfeed for as much and as long as your baby wants too. Comfort nursing is encouraged. 
  • Check your baby’s latch. A shallow latch can cause your baby to take in too little milk at once, this will, in turn, decrease your milk supply. 
  • Skin to skin contact has so many benefits, including the fact that it will help to increase milk supply by stimulating the release of the love hormone Oxytocin, which increases the flow of milk. Learn more about the incredible benefits of skin to skin contact here
  • Wear your baby when possible. This encourages them to breastfeed more often because they are at the source 24/7. 
  • Co-sleep with your baby. Safe co-sleeping guidelines discussed here
  • Deal with any nipple pain or breastfeeding problems quickly. Get help from an experienced breastfeeding helper or lactation consultant. 

My Milk Supply Is Low, What Now?

If you discover that you do in fact have a low milk supply, you can get your lactation consultant to prescribe a few galactagogues to increase supply. Also, including many lactogenic foods into your diet will definitely help. 

If supplementation is necessary, you can use a supplemental nursing system (SNS) which will encourage milk production and keep your baby at the breast even while supplementing. Always find out about donor breast milk before using formula as a supplement. If you have decided to bottle feed, you can use paced feeding to decrease the risk of nipple preference (when the baby starts to prefer the artificial nipple over the breast). 

The Most Common Reasons for Low Milk Supply

  • Waiting too long to breastfeed after birth. Learn more about the importance of breastfeeding immediately after birth
  • Not breastfeeding often enough. Breastfeeding on demand is essential. Allowing for comfort feeding will increase your chances of success.
  • A premature birth will leave your body not quite ready to begin milk production. In this case, kangaroo care is recommended. 
  • A weak latch may interfere with milk transfer. 
  • Supplementing and pacifier use. Anything that substitutes the breast is going to reduce supply, especially during the first few weeks. 
  • Some medications may interfere with hormone levels. 

See other less common reasons for low milk supply.

Natural Ways to Increase Breastmilk Supply

  • Pump after each breastfeeding session and in between breastfeeding session. Pumping both breasts at once will encourage milk production. Don't worry if not much comes out of the pump, it's the stimulation that is important. Pumping more in the evenings will encourage an even higher production because your body produces more Prolactin at night. This extra stimulation will tell your body to produce more milk. Learn more about power pumping
  • Massage your breasts while pumping, also known as hands-on pumping. Breast massage will stimulate production and help to remove more milk from your breasts. In the same way, using breast compressions during breastfeeding will encourage more milk production. 
  • If possible, a nursing vacation is recommended. 

Please contact a breastfeeding specialist, so that they can assess your situation and give advice accordingly! They could help with adjusting your feeding position or baby’s latch. 

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