Articles / Birth Matters! Series

Is Your Milk Supply Low? The Truth About Insufficient Milk Supply

Is your milk supply low?

Short answer, probably not.

Mothers tend to worry about a lot of things… <cough>…okay, maybe everything.

And most moms, especially newbies, have worried about the status of their milk supply at some point.

I mean, let’s face it: it’s a lot of pressure to be your baby’s sole source of nourishment, particularly when he can’t tell you if he’s hungry and you can’t measure just how much milk he’s drinking!

Perceived insufficient milk supply is a common and recognized phenomenon in which a mother believes she’s not producing enough milk, even though she actually is.

It’s quite a concern, however, as research has shown it’s a primary cause in premature weaning; if mom believes she’s not making enough milk, she’s likely to stop. Many social and cultural factors play into this false perception, but rest assured:

Low milk supply is actually quite rare.

In reality, low milk supply is typically associated with medical conditions like:

  • Prolactin deficiency
  • Medication use, such as dopamine or pyridoxine
  • Nicotine or alcohol use
  • Bulimia
  • Breast surgery
  • Obesity
  • Postpartum hemorrhage
  • Retained placental fragments

While physiological insufficient milk is rare, there are factors that can decrease your milk supply, including:

  • Supplementing with formula
  • Pacifier use
  • Scheduled feedings
  • Nipple shields
  • Limiting feedings or only offering one breast per feed

The good news is, there are several ways to determine where your supply is at and, most importantly, whether your suckling is getting enough to eat.

3 Signs Baby’s Eating Enough

If your baby is hitting these three benchmarks and cues, your milk supply is likely right on par with baby’s needs:

1.Weight gain

If baby is exclusively breastfed and weight gain is on track with established guidelines (most importantly, her pediatrician is happy with her growth), your milk supply is likely on par with baby’s needs.

Remember that it’s normal for breastfed babies to lose between 7-10% of their bodyweight in the week after birth, and most will return to birth weight by the second week. Normal weight gain after that is 4-8 oz per week.

2. Diaper output

Consistent wet diapers indicate baby is eating well. A well hydrated baby should pass light-colored, mild smelling urine (consistency of poopy diapers vary by age). The following chart shows the target number of wet/dirty diapers over the course of the first month:

diaper output

3. Satisfied after feedings

If your baby is generally content after feedings, and is active and alert throughout the day, that’s a good indication he’s well nourished.

The Following Are NOT Signs of Low Milk Supply

Many moms misconstrue these common occurrences as signs that their milk supply is low; on the contrary, they may indicate that breastfeeding is going well:

1. Soft breasts

Amazingly, your milk supply adjusts to the needs of your baby, often within the first 3-12 weeks. As supply increases breasts may initially feel full, but as it adjusts to match baby’s intake they will naturally feel softer and less full.

2. Frequent nursing

Societal expectations for how babies should act often don’t mimic the way newborns naturally behave. Breast milk is digested in 1.5-2 hours, so nurslings eat more often than formula fed babes (normal is 8-12 feedings a day). More frequent nursing can also indicate a growth spurt, which usually occur around two weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, nine months and one year. Many babies also like to cluster feed, in which they group several feedings close together, often at night. While it may seem like you’re nursing around the clock, remember that frequent nursing increases milk supply!

3. Fussiness

Babies are fussy for all sorts of reasons…enough said. Normal fussiness usually begins between 1-3 weeks, peaks between 6-8 weeks, and tapers off around three months. If she’s gaining weight, has good diaper output, and generally seems content immediately after feeding, low milk supply isn’t the culprit.

4. No let-down sensation

Many women don’t feel a let-down at all, or only sporadically. This isn’t correlated to milk supply.

5. Breasts don’t leak milk

Again, many moms don’t leak milk at all. Leaking isn’t correlated to milk supply, and often stops altogether once supply has met your baby’s demand.

6. Small pump output

A pump, while effective at expressing milk, isn’t your baby; babies are capable of sucking far more effectively than a pump (and your body is far more effective at releasing milk for your baby than a pump). Additionally, pumps vary in size and strength. Pump output is not a reliable indicator of milk supply.

7. Short feeds/long feeds

Shorter feeds are often an indication that baby has become more proficient at nursing; as babies grow older, they tend to get the same amount of milk in less time. Longer feeds can be an indication of a growth spurt, or that baby just needs more soothing time. Remember, the breast is nature’s pacifier; babies need to suck for comfort as well as nourishment.

8. Formula guzzler

Many babies will down a bottle of formula even after a nursing session, although they probably aren’t hungry. This is because bottles release milk much faster than the breast, encouraging the baby to swallow and then suck, swallow and then suck, making it appear as if baby is gulping down milk. Offering bottles after feedings (or replacing feedings) will only decrease your milk supply and isn’t recommended.

If you’re still concerned about your milk supply, talk with your doctor or your baby’s pediatrician.

For advice on how to increase milk supply, click here.

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16 thoughts on “Is Your Milk Supply Low? The Truth About Insufficient Milk Supply

  1. This is great advice!! I actually wasn’t making enough when Basil was close to 4 months. I realized that duh…I was only feeding on one side and I wasn’t eating enough. I also started drinking Mother’s Milk Tea three times a day and that’s helped immensely!!

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    • I tried dieting when I was breastfeeding Cruz and my supply dropped sooooo much, getting enough to eat definitely makes a big difference! I drink Mother’s Milk Tea too!

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  2. This article hits the nail on the head. With both my boys, my mother-in-law (love her to death) was convinced I wasn’t producing enough because both the boys cried or the feedings weren’t “long enough.” I did my own “google research” to find those checks (diapers, weight gain) and tried to let my mind rest…besides the fact that my boys were super pudgy (Michelen men). it was easier for me to “ignore” these comments with #2 but I remember feeling so unsure the first few days/weeks/months with kiddo #1. Thankfully, Taiwan has these lactation consultants who are on-call 24/7 and will come to your home. I asked them to come by about week 3 with my first kid and they explained exactly what I had seen online. 🙂 My kiddos were always in the 95% for weight, height and our pediatrician seemed to never ask if they weren’t being fed formula. I was a little angered when my pediatrician said that I should wean Kayan after 1 year to not “hinder” his eating habits (Kayan really wasn’t interested in solids until around 18 months)… I stuck with it and weaned him at 2 years… and let me tell you, he eats like food is going out of style 😉

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    • LOVE this comment! I was also super worried with Cruz, he was a fatty too (everyone called him Augustus Gloop, lol), but as a new mom it’s easy to feel unsure of yourself, especially when everyone is always saying, “he’s crying BC he’s hungry, he just wants you”. Mikki’s pediatrician really encouraged late weaning, even up to 3 years! And if not breast milk, toddler formula instead of cows milk. There definitely needs to be more breastfeeding support and information for nursing moms. No mom should quit breastfeeding before she wants to due to perceived low milk supply until she’s met with a lactation consultant first

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    • Haha yay! I had all the same worries with Cruz and it stressed me out something awful! Try not to worry, and always call a lactation consultant if you’re concerned!

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    • It was something I worried more so about in the beginning, now I’ve come to learn/see he has plenty to eat, (although I don’t think all the leche in the world is enough for this growing boy)! The milk
      Is flowing and it’s good to know there’s really no such thing as “over eating”, because than we would have a real problem…

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    • Put some chub on that baby! If he’s got an appetite like his dad he’ll be a total piggy 🙂 I can’t wait to get some baby shnuggs from that little sweety, miss you guys too!

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    • Girl, let me break this mini Aaron down for you. He is on the boob every hour-2 hours, sometimes for an hour +at a time.. and if not he has some
      Pumped Incase I’m at the store/gym. He is hyper as heck, and God forbid he gets a little sleepy, lil guy is fighting it like the plague! Waiting for him to gain, although the numbersshow, he’s still a skinny-long limbed growing baby! Come cuddle him while he tries to feed on you-hungry hippo baby!

      Like

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