Causes of Decreasing Milk Supply
It can be alarming for breastfeeding mothers when their milk supply starts dropping suddenly. There are a number of potential reasons why milk supply can decrease rapidly:
1. Returning to Work
Going back to work is one of the most common causes of decreased milk supply. Being away from baby for extended periods of time means less frequent nursing sessions. The lack of stimulation causes a drop in production. Some tips for maintaining supply while working:
– Pump on your usual nursing schedule. Pump for at least 15 minutes to mimic a full feeding.
– Consider getting a portable, wearable pump so you can pump whenever you have a break at work.
– Nurse frequently when you are at home with baby. Allow baby to cluster feed.
2. Skipping Feedings
When you skip or delay feedings, you send the signal to your body to produce less milk. Keep nursing or pumping on a consistent schedule, at least every 2-3 hours during the day. Avoid stretching out times between feedings.
3. Not Draining Breasts
It’s important to empty the breasts thoroughly when nursing or pumping. Leftover milk tells the body it doesn’t need to make as much. Aim to fully drain the breast each time. Breast compression and massage can help empty milk ducts.
4. Bottles Replacing Nursing
Bottle feeding, especially when overused, can negatively impact milk supply. Bottle nipples require less effort for milk removal. Try to avoid bottles until breastfeeding is well established, around 4-6 weeks. When using bottles, pace feedings to mimic breastfeeding.
5. Sleep Training
Some sleep training methods involve letting baby “cry it out.” Leaving baby to cry for long periods means missed feeding cues and sessions. Respond quickly to hunger signals, even overnight, to preserve supply. Maintain night nursing until solids are introduced.
6. Birth Control with Estrogen
Hormonal birth control with estrogen can inhibit milk production in some women. The estrogen impacts prolactin levels needed for milk synthesis. Consider progestin-only options like the mini-pill, Depo shot or IUD until done nursing.
7. Retained Placenta
In rare cases, a piece of the placenta may be left behind after delivery which continues releasing pregnancy hormones. This can interfere with lactation. See a doctor for evaluation if supply issues arise shortly after birth.
8. Thyroid Problems
The thyroid plays a key role in milk production. Have your thyroid levels checked if supply seems low for no clear reason. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can impact milk supply.
Smoking has been shown to decrease milk production. Chemicals from cigarettes interfere with the hormones prolactin and oxytocin which are vital for lactation. Quitting can help boost milk supply.
10. Alcohol Consumption
Drinking alcohol regularly can inhibit let-down and milk production. Have no more than an occasional drink, and time it so nursing takes place a few hours before alcohol intake. Dehydration from drinking can also lower supply.
11. Birth Control Pills
The estrogen in combination birth control pills can reduce milk supply in some women. Progestin-only mini pills are a better option for breastfeeding mothers. Changing pills may help if supply seems linked to a recent start of contraception.
12. Menstruation Returning
Many notice a dip in supply as their period returns postpartum. The drop in progesterone leads to lower milk production. More nursing and pumping can help offset this temporary dip that occurs before your period.
Getting pregnant again while nursing can lead to a decreased supply, especially in the first trimester. Hormone changes drop prolactin and oxytocin levels. Prioritize nursing and pumping sessions to tell your body to keep producing.
14. New Pregnancy Dieting
Some moms intentionally diet to lose pregnancy weight while nursing. Extreme calorie restriction and fasting negatively impacts milk supply. Aim to lose weight gradually, with no more than 500 calorie daily deficit.
15. Weight Loss Surgery
Rapid weight loss after bariatric surgery can severely impair milk production. The quick calorie deficit alters hormone levels needed for lactation. Prioritize nutrition and hydration to avoid excessive losses.
Tips to Increase Milk Supply
If your supply has taken a dip, don’t panic. You can take active measures to increase production:
1. Nurse Frequently
Nurse at least every 2-3 hours during the day. Allow baby to cluster feed in the evenings. Offer both breasts each session. The more milk removed, the more your body will make.
2. Power Pump
Try power pumping 1-2 times per day. Nurse baby as usual, then pump for 10 minutes, rest 10 minutes, pump 10 minutes, rest 10 minutes, pump 10 final minutes. Mimicking cluster feeding signals your body to ramp up production.
3. Stay Hydrated
Drink plenty of fluids, at least 64-80 oz daily. Water is best, along with milk, juice and soup. Dehydration can quickly impact milk supply. Have a water bottle nearby when nursing.
4. Nurse at Night
Night nursing is important for supply-boosting prolactin levels. Try not to go more than 4 hours at night without nursing. Co-sleeping can make this easier. Wake baby if needed.
5. Take Fenugreek
Fenugreek is an herbal supplement often used to increase milk production. Dosages range from 1200-2400mg taken 1-3 times daily. It may cause a maple syrup odor in urine.
6. Eat Oatmeal
Oatmeal is packed with nutrients important for milk production like fiber, protein, iron and vitamins. Enjoy a bowl with breakfast daily, paired with lactation-boosting brewer’s yeast.
7. Try Milk Thistle
Milk thistle contains compounds shown to increase prolactin levels. Look for supplements with at least 80% silymarin. Take 200-300mg, 1-3 times per day.
8. Eat Protein Foods
Getting adequate protein is essential for milk production. Aim for at least 75g daily from sources like Greek yogurt, eggs, nuts, seeds and lean meat. Combine with carbohydrates for energy.
9. Use a Hospital Grade Pump
Using a hospital grade, electric pump mimics thorough nursing sessions. Try renting one if you need to be away from baby and pump frequently to build supply.
10. See a Lactation Consultant
Book an appointment with a lactation consultant who can evaluate potential causes for your supply drop. They can assess baby’s latch, watch a feeding, and make personalized recommendations. Seeing one within the first 2 weeks postpartum can help prevent early issues.
Foods to Increase Milk Supply
Certain foods contain nutrients that optimize breast milk production:
|Oats||Fiber, Iron, Protein|
|Salmon||Healthy Fats, Vitamin D, B12|
|Greek Yogurt||Protein, Calcium, Probiotics|
|Leafy Greens||Vitamin A, Calcium, Iron|
|Eggs||Protein, Vitamin D, Choline|
|Barley||Fiber, Iron, Magnesium|
|Brown Rice||Carbs, Fiber, Protein|
|Chickpeas||Plant-Based Protein, Iron|
|Brewer’s Yeast||GABA, Folic Acid, B12|
When to Seek Help
If taking active measures to increase milk supply doesn’t work within 2 weeks, speak to a healthcare provider. Significant supply issues may require evaluation for underlying causes like:
Insufficient Glandular Tissue
Some women simply don’t produce enough glandular tissue to make adequate milk. Supplementing feedings may be necessary.
Issues with the thyroid, estrogen levels or pituitary gland can impair milk production. Blood work or medical imaging may diagnose a problem. Medication can often help.
Past breast reductions, implants or injuries can damage milk ducts and glands. Low supply may not be reversible if surgery drastically altered anatomy.
Any remnants of placenta left in the uterus continue releasing hormones that inhibit lactation. A D&C procedure may be required.
If no underlying medical cause is found, using donor milk or formula supplementation may be required. Having a low supply is not your fault – some women simply struggle due to physical factors outside their control. The most important thing is feeding your baby, however that looks for your unique situation.
It can be disheartening when your milk supply suddenly decreases. Start troubleshooting by assessing potential causes – are you going longer between nursing sessions, missing feedings, or replacing day feeds with bottles? Boost your supply by nursing frequently, pumping after or between feeds, staying hydrated, and eating lactogenic foods. Herbs like fenugreek, milk thistle and blessed thistle can also help. See a lactation consultant to evaluate any anatomical factors impacting supply. If actively trying to increase production for 2 weeks fails, speak to your doctor to rule out any medical issues. While frustrating, a low supply has many solutions, from supplements to donor milk, to keep baby fed and healthy.