If you are breast feeding your little one you may experience low milk supply. We are sharing some of the top causes of low milk supply to help you succeed on your breastfeeding journey.
Breastfeeding is a magical and fulfilling experience! But sometimes it can be stressful and cause concern- especially if you feel like your milk supply is dropping. This can be devastating and most likely you’ll want to explore what is going on and get to the bottom of it.
There are various why this could be happening. If you are experiencing low milk supply – or maybe some of the false signs of low milk supply – consider checking to see if any of these common reasons for low milk supply apply to you and your situation.
One of the best things you can do to prevent – or, if it’s unpreventable, at least help – low milk supply is education. The Complete Online Breastfeeding Class is designed to help prepare you to meet your breastfeeding goals in no time (and I promise, it’s not boring).
Common causes of low milk supply
Keep in mind that simply having one of these issues or pre-exisiting conditions does NOT inherently mean you will struggle with low milk supply. They are just problems or conditions that have been linked to low milk supply. Knowing what these problems are can certainly lead to finding support sooner and faster – and understanding the signs of low milk supply is crucial a well.
- Insufficient glandular tissue, mammary hypoplasia–
- Previous breast surgery
- Scheduled feedings
- Postpartum complications
- Hormonal, Endocrine or Auto Immune problems
- Becoming pregnant while breastfeeding
- Infrequent pumping or nursing or missing feeding sessions and not pumping in its place
- Hormonal birth control
- Infant anatomical issues
- The return of your period
- Overfeeding with a bottle
- Baby Sleeping through the Night
- You aren’t drinking enough fluids
- Smoking tobacco
- Medications and Herbs
- Drinking alcohol
- Nipple piercings
Insufficient glandular tissue, mammary hypoplasia–
Basically this means that you don’t have the glandular tissue typically needed to produce a full supply of milk. You may have had less developmental of the glandular tissue during puberty or a lack of it during pregnancy.
Previous breast surgery
If you’ve had surgery for breast augmentation, reduction, or to remove cancer tissue, this can potentially lead to a decrease in milk supply if the milk making ducts were damaged. If you are considering these surgeries and want to breastfeed in the future, make sure your surgeon knows this – there are options for preventing damage. BFAR.org is a GREAT resource for breastfeeding after reduction.
Feeding on demand can be essential when it comes to having a good milk supply. I often work with moms who are on a strict breastfeeding schedule and as soon as they start offering the breast more frequently, they see an increase in supply.
There are complications that can happen after you have given birth which can lead to a lower milk supply, such as a retained placenta (which can delay your milk from coming in, as your body thinks you still have a baby in there), excessive postpartum bleeding, and anemia.
Hormonal, Endocrine or Auto Immune problems
Certain medical conditions are linked to a lower milk supply, such as PCOS, thyroid problems, or diabetes (specifically Type 2 Diabetes). With PCOS, research has shown about 1/3 of women with this condition end up having low milk supply, 1/3 have no problems, and 1/3 actually have an oversupply.
If you are struggling with any kind of milk supply problem that does not seem to respond to treatment, it can be valuable to look into underlying conditions.
Becoming pregnant while breastfeeding
While many women can successfully breastfeed during pregnancy, it’s not uncommon for the hormonal shifts to cause a decrease in supply. Around 20 weeks, your milk will also transition back to colostrum, which some nursing children may not respond to.
Infrequent pumping or nursing or missing feeding sessions and not pumping in its place
Milk production is based on supply and demand. If you aren’t nursing or pumping frequently, or you don’t replace a missed nursing session with a pumping session, it’s not surprising to see a drop in supply. If you aren’t frequently stimulating the breast regularly, your body might think you don’t need to make it.
They key to making more milk is increasing more breast stimulation.
Hormonal birth control
If you just started a new form of birth control and saw a dip in supply – that might be the culprit. While there are plenty of breastfeeding compatible birth control methods, there are many that have a big potential for dropping supply – especially those that are estrogen based.
Infant anatomical issues
Cleft lips or palates or tongue and lip ties can lead to poor transfer, thus ending up with low supply. If your child is having trouble transferring, working with an IBCLC is an essential step in coming up with a plan.
The return of your period
Menstruation sure can cause problems, can’t it?! A lot of women experience a drop in milk supply when their period returns. Some find that it happens around ovulation, some find it happens a few days before their period starts.
I personally found that it more inhibited my letdown – once that started, the milk would flow. But it takes awhile to get to that point.
A calcium + magnesium supplement can be helpful in combating the effects of your period on milk supply.
Overfeeding with a bottle
If a baby is being overfed with a bottle, it can make them less hungry when you try to nurse, which can lead to low milk supply.
On the flip side, if appropriate bottle amounts aren’t being given, it can lead to the allusion that your milk supply is low, when in reality, the bottle amounts should just be adjusted.
Click here for our bottle intake calculator.
Supplementing can absolutely be necessary. However, without effective support and tips of maintaining supply can lead to a decrease or total loss of supply.
If you are needing to supplement, I strongly recommend working with an IBCLC to determine the best way to supplement.
Baby Sleeping through the Night
Ah, your baby sleeping longer can be such a double edged sword. If your baby is naturally lengthening the time of sleep at night, and they are eating a lot during the day – it won’t necessarily affect your supply. Slow and steady often is better than drastic changes.
However, many mothers do find if their baby is sleeping all night long, or for longer than 5 hours at night, they do notice a decrease in supply. If you experience this, you can try a dream feed or pumping at some point during the night.
Sleep training – especially when it’s done early on – can also be a factor in causing a mom to have a decreased milk supply.
You aren’t drinking enough fluids
It’s important to stay hydrated while breastfeeding – you don’t want to be overhydated or underhydrated. Drink to thirst and a little bit more!
Jaundice is a common condition in newborn babies. It can make your baby sleepier and nurse less efficiently, so they might not be able to help establish your milk supply as strongly as they might have otherwise. Some mothers who have jaundice babies end up struggling with supply.
Pacifiers certainly have their benefits, but if it’s being given as a way to pacify a baby who is actually wanting to eating, it can lead to a decrease in supply. Any extra suckling from your baby can help stimulate production.
Here are a few posts about pacifiers and breastfeeding that you might find helpful:
- The Best Pacifiers for a Breastfeeding Baby – Mother Recommended Options!
- Pacifiers and Breastfed Babies: What All New Parents Need to Know
Not getting enough rest can lead to you being exhausted and maybe not nursing as frequently as you may otherwise.
Tobacco and smoking can inhibit your letdown, which can make you feel like you don’t
It’s important to eat an additional 500 calories per day if you are exclusively breastfeeding. Not eating enough calories can cause a dip in supply. If you are struggling to find enough to eat, be sure to check out our breastfeeding and postpartum meal plan.
Medications and Herbs
While many medications are compatible with breastfeeding, there are certain medications and herbs that can contribute to low milk supply – including some antihistamines. Large amounts of sage, parsley and peppermint can also affect milk production.
Mom or baby being sick can lead to a decrease in supply because of the chances that you’ll be nursing less. It’s important to prioritize rest and recovery, but you also need to nurse or pump as much as you are able.
I’ve discussed alcohol and breastfeeding in depth, and while some drinking may be acceptable for a breastfeeding mother, too much alcohol can inhibit the letdown reflex and lead to lower milk supply.
Stress, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily decrease milk supply. However, it can make you less likely to nurse and stimulate the breasts. Stress can also inhibit the letdown reflex.
In most situations, nipple piercings shouldn’t cause issues with milk supply. However, there is potential for scar tissue to build up around the nipple and milk ducts, which could affect your milk supply
Please remember that just because one of these factors exists doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed. Your approach may just be different or altered (but not always). Being informed and working with a compassionate and knowledgeable lactation professional can make a huge difference.
There aren’t many hard and fast studies on how many women struggle with true low milk supply, but estimates can be found between 5 and 15%
Even if it is on the lower end of that- that means there are still thousands of women each year struggling to breastfeed. Struggling to find answers and struggling to find someone who will give them the support and resources they need.
If you are struggling with low milk supply- you have not failed.
The amount of milk you can produce for your baby does not measure your worth. If you are struggling to find support find a lactation professional. They are waiting and wanting to help.
Advocate for yourself and your baby. Some women truly will not ever be able to produce enough mik for their babies. For some, the answer is just to not even try.
And that’s okay!
But for those who want to give their baby whatever they can- there are things that you can do! Every drop is valuable. And you are, too.
If you are struggling to find support, make sure you sign up for our online breastfeeding classes.
More Breastfeeding Posts You May Enjoy:
- Is Your Breastfeeding Baby Biting? Here’s What You Should Do.
- 8 Breastfeeding Problems After a C-Section (And What You Can Do!)
- 5 Essentials for Preparing to Breastfeed Your Baby
- Why Is Breastfeeding Painful?
- The Ultimate Guide to Dairy-Free Breastfeeding (From a Dairy-Free Mom)
- Breastfeeding and Alcohol: Everything You Need to Know
- High Lipase Breast Milk: Why Your Breast Milk Tastes Gross (and What You Can Do)
- Breastfeeding And Your Period
Katie Clark is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has helped thousands of mothers and families around the globe navigate breastfeeding challenges and questions since 2015. She has a passion for creating research-based, helpful breastfeeding education and helping parents find a way to make breastfeeding work for them. Katie is a mom of three little boys and lives in the great state of Colorado. She also has a degree in Communications with an emphasis in print journalism.