Up to 80% of breastfeeding parents believe they have low milk supply. And while people do truly struggle with milk supply issues, it’s also true that only about 5% or less suffer from primary lactation insufficiency or a physiological inability to produce enough milk (usually because a health condition).
Milk supply issues can happen due to a secondary cause like a premature or complicated birth. These situations can make it harder to establish a full milk supply right away. This doesn’t mean your breasts can’t make enough milk ever. It just means that they aren’t making enough milk right now—often we can fix these issues!
After many years as a Lactation Consultant, the majority of low milk supply concerns I see are actually non-issues. That’s to say, parents feel like their milk supply is low but there’s no evidence that’s the case. Often this occurs because we haven’t fully learned what our babies are communicating to us. We think if our babies cry or fuss there might be something wrong with our milk! And it has a lot to do with how we feel about our bodies and how much we trust things to go well.
Perceived low milk supply is the number one reason breastfeeding parents give for why they stopped breastfeeding. Figuring out what’s really going on can be tricky because it’s not just you but also your baby in the picture. So milk supply has to match up with baby’s ability to eat well.
My baby cries and fusses often so my supply must be low…
Babies cry for lots of reasons! As parents we are quick to blame ourselves and worry that we don’t have enough milk or that something in our milk is bothering our baby. Most babies who aren’t getting enough are actually very sleepy. They are difficult to wake and have a hard time staying awake for a whole feeding. They are quiet, “good” babies.
Babies often have periods of fussiness related to gassiness, overstimulation, or just common evening crying. Snuggling your baby close, skin to skin can help soothe some of these discomforts. Alternately, hold your baby in a carrier or sling and go for a walk. The motion and change of scenery may help!
My baby wants to eat more often than every 2-3 hours…
Newborns who are fed responsively will feed on average 12-14 times in a 24hr period. Older babies and bottle fed babies do this sometimes, too! It’s normal to have increased feeding times at 4-6 weeks and 16-18 weeks. It’s also normal that your baby will cue to feed for soothing and snuggles. Touch and suckling are strong needs for baby and they are satisfied by breastfeeding.
My baby will take a bottle after breastfeeds so they must still be hungry
In the early weeks, suckling is a reflex. A bottle nipple stimulates the right spot on the top of baby’s mouth and they suck reflexively. The bottle nipple also drips which causes baby to swallow. When they swallow the nipple releases more milk…and then you are in a cycle!
Babies also love to suck for comfort. So they are willing to take more if it’s offered. This can cause overfeeding which results in spit up and gas and that can cause more fussing!
I can’t pump as much as my friend so I think I’ve got low supply
On average, a pumping session without prior breastfeeding will yield 3-4oz (or about 1-1.5 oz if you’ve just breastfed). More than that can be normal but it’s not necessary. Baby’s stomach can only hold about 4oz.
Also remember that milk flow comes from oxytocin (that lovey, warm hormone you get with skin to skin) and oxytocin isn’t as high with pumping as it is with your sweet, cute baby.
Your Lactation Consultant can help you find the right pump for you and make sure you have a good fit and a pumping plan that works for your needs.
My breasts don’t feel full anymore. I think I lost my supply.
In the early days our breasts can feel *very* full and heavy. Lots of that is from milk but even more of it is from fluid retention (which can also cause our hands and feet to swell). As that extra fluid is passed, our breasts get softer. They also start to respond to what your baby needs so they tend not to get overfull after a few weeks.
For many people, anywhere from 1.5-3 months is when they notice these changes. It can often coincide with returning to work and increased pumping sessions (see above).
The best indicator for a sufficient milk supply is to look at your baby.
Is your baby happy most of the time?
Do they have some alert times during the day?
Are they making daily bowel movements and lots of wet diapers?
What about weight gain? If they are gaining 5-7oz per week in the first few months then they are doing great!
If you ever have concerns, drop in for a weight check at your local breastfeeding group or schedule a visit with a Lactation Consultant.
Here is a list of local providers and breastfeeding support groups:
Megan Dunn, IBCLC