What is a Low Milk Supply?
Medically reviewed and updated by: Hussain Abdeh MPharm: 2211840
Updated on: 16/06/2021
When a mother is breastfeeding her child, she can sometimes experience low milk supply. This occurs when there isn't enough milk being produced for her baby's needs. The problem can be caused by various factors, but the good news is that there are plenty of approaches to take to increase your milk flow.
In this article, we will be taking a closer look at why you may have a low milk supply, as well as the treatments available to increase milk supply and what you can do to naturally produce more breast milk.
What causes a low milk supply during breastfeeding?
The causes and challenges of breastfeeding are varied and depend very much on your situation and the age of your baby. For example, breastfeeding during the first few days after birth, your body only produces tiny amounts of nutrient-packed colostrum, which is all your new born baby needs.
Once your milk 'comes in' on around day 3 or 4, your body will start to produce more milk. However, how long this flow takes to come in varies from woman to woman. If you are not eating enough calories, drinking enough water or resting sufficiently while trying to breastfeed your baby, these factors can impact your supply.
Bear in mind too that many mums think that their supply is low, when in fact it is perfectly matched to their baby's needs. In fact, most women will actually produce too much milk for their baby; it is estimated around a third too much for the baby’s consumption.
Not interacting with your baby
Your breast milk production can be affected if you spend time apart from your baby and are unable to breastfeed. You may be able to maintain an adequate milk supply be expressing your milk regularly.
If you suddenly feel that you are not 'keeping up', it could also be because your baby is having a growth spurt. Do not worry, persist, and your own milk supply will catch up.
Sore nipples are another cause. If you are finding it painful to breastfeed and your nipples are sore, your baby probably isn’t latching on well. For your baby to latch properly, you should ensure they start with their mouth wide open, which allows your breast to reach the back of the roof of their mouth.
Whether medical or cosmetic, having had surgery on your breasts may affect breastfeeding.
It does not affect all women, but some who take a form of hormonal birth control find that it causes their breast milk production to drop significantly. You should talk to your doctor if you think that the form of birth control you are currently using is affecting your milk supply.
Certain medicines or herbal preparations can also have an effect on your breast milk production. If you have recently stopped or started taking any medicine, speak to your doctor about the possibility that it may be decreasing how much milk you produce.
Before you start to take a new medicine, you should always make sure your doctor or pharmacist knows if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Some medicines can cause adverse effects in pregnant women or be unsafe for babies. Medicine can get into a woman’s breast milk and be passed onto her child during breastfeeding.
If you are taking any medicine whilst breastfeeding, you should check with your GP, or pharmacist on how this may affect your baby. Sometimes medicine can make its way into the breastmilk, although the quantity is likely going to be very small, some medicines can still have an impact on your baby if it is present in your breastmilk.
Another great website to visit for information on whether certain medicines are safe to take whilst pregnant, is the Best Use of Medicines in Pregnancy (BUMPS).
Other factors which can affect the supply of breast milk include:
- Premature Birth
- High blood pressure (especially during pregnancy)
How breast milk supply works
Breast milk supply works on a supply and demand basis, so when your baby wants to feed, your breasts will produce the milk that she or he needs. Offer your breast regularly to your baby as a good latch and suckling will stimulate milk production. Remember that if you start combination feeding with formula and a bottle, your own milk supply will drop accordingly.
How can I increase my breast milk supply?
Get your partner to do the daily household jobs and have plenty of cuddles with your baby to support oxytocin production – the bonding hormone. Look at your baby as you feed to increase your hormone production.
Drink far more water than you usually would as dehydration is usually a key factor in low supply; check the colour of your urine for a pale straw colour – this is a sign that you are hydrated. You should also make sure that you are eating a sufficient amount of calories each day, as this can help to increase your breast milk production.
Tips to boost breast milk production
According to Elizabeth LaFleur, R.N. there are different tactics you can utilise to increase the production of breast milk:
- Immediately start breastfeeding – if you wait for a period of time before breastfeeding your new born, this can cause a lower than normal milk supply. Your baby will likely begin to start breastfeeding within the first hour of birth.
- Breastfeed as often as possible – the more you breastfeed, the more milk you will produce
- Ensure your baby is latching on correctly
- Hold your baby close, particularly skin-to-skin
- Allow your baby to feed for as long as they want to
- Do not wean your baby until they are ready (normally after around 6 months)
- Use both breasts to feed, your baby will likely favour one breast over the other, but by using one breast only to feed you are likely to reduce your breast milk.
- Use a pump if you miss a feed, sometimes your breasts can become too sore to breastfeed all the time. To ensure that you continue to stimulate the breast milk production, you should use a pump to help protect your milk supply.
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine
If you have tried all of these tactics and are still finding that your breast milk production is low, you should speak to your midwife, who will refer you to a breastfeeding specialist.
You may be prescribed a medicine to increase your milk production.
Medical treatments for low milk supply
If the tactics listed above do not help to increase your breast milk production, you may be prescribed a medicine to remedy the problem.
Medications such as Domperidone for breast milk supply can increase your volume and is usually recommended by lactation experts when no other remedies seem to work. Domperidone is a prescription-only medicine (POM).
Domperidone can only be prescribed by a lactation specialist who will need to physically assess your condition.
Using a breast pump to stimulate milk production can also work. Book an appointment with a lactation specialist, who will be able to advise you on ways you can resolve your issues quickly and effectively.