We are bombarded with the message that breastfeeding is the most natural process in the world, and yet all too often new moms face struggles in their breastfeeding journey.
The first, most important thing you need to know is that low milk supply can happen for many reasons, that it’s very common and that there are things you can do to increase milk supply!
It might be as simple as making some changes to secure a well-balanced diet with enough calories and water intake, getting better sleep or adding in an extra feeding or pumping session per day to encourage milk production.
Rest assured, that most moms can establish an adequate milk supply, but a good support system is vital.
Does a Drop in Milk Supply Mean I Can’t Breastfeed?
Queries around breast milk production are incredibly common, so know that you are not alone. A drop in milk supply in itself does not mean you have to quit breastfeeding.
in fact, moms often see their baby cluster feeding, demanding more nursing sessions and being fussy and attribute this to a sudden drop in milk.
However, these behaviours are perfectly normal signs of a baby’s growth spurt.
In the case of a baby’s growth spurt, the best thing you can do is to follow the baby’s schedule. Feed on demand – growth spurts normally last only a few days!
If you are exclusively pumping, you can add an extra session to stimulate your breasts to produce more milk.
It’s not that your body is producing less milk, it’s just that your baby is placing orders for more milk as they grow.
This can be exhausting, so do ensure that you get more sleep, drink water with each breastfeed and be sure that your calorie intake is sufficient.
If your milk supply does suddenly drop and you don’t notice an improvement in a few days, if you have concerns with baby weight gain, not enough wet diapers or anything else relating to your or your child’s health, do reach out to your doctor and a lactation consultant.
A drop in milk supply rarely means that you cannot breastfeed anymore.
What are the Signs of a Decrease in Milk Supply?
The best way to establish if your baby is getting adequate milk supply is to look at their milestones, their behaviour and their weight gain.
Your baby should have doubled their birth body weight by around 6 months. From around day five, you should expect at least 6 heavy wet/soiled diapers per day.
As they grow they should be meeting their usual milestones in terms of smiling, sitting and crawling and they should be generally content. Insufficient milk supply can cause fussiness at the breast.
Do not that a sensation of empty breasts does not mean that your milk supply has dropped!
Moms often worry about this, but this is very often a sign of a baby growth spurt-your baby has not had all the milk, rather they are draining the breast quickly while your breasts catch up!
In most cases, your breasts can absolutely produce as much milk as your baby needs.
If you notice a dip in your baby’s fontanelle, a lack of tears or wet diapers, lethargy or anything else that causes you concern, reach out immediately to your care provider.
My Baby is Always Hungry, Does This Mean I Don’t Have Enough Milk Supply?
This is a very real, very common fear for the breastfeeding mom- and it’s no wonder when it feels like there are no breaks between one nursing session and the next.
Breastmilk supply works by supply and demand- so the more your baby nurses, the more he gets next time.
It’s really a very clever system, so while that constant feeding feels intense now, it usually balances out within a few days when your body has got the message to make more milk.
The best thing that you can do is to rest up, look after your physical and mental health and let your body do its thing and produce milk for your baby.
What Causes a Sudden Drop in Breast Milk Supply?
There are many reasons why you might experience a temporary dip in breast milk supply. Very often, a small change in your daily routine can help get your breastmilk supply back in check.
Lack of Sleep
This is a common explanation for milk supply drops! Being a new mom is hard, but do try to get enough sleep, especially in the early weeks.
Being exhausted will inhibit your body’s ability to relax and keep the milk flowing. Herbal supplements, herbal teas (including lactation tea!), a hot bath or mindfulness exercises can help you relax.
First of all, ensure that you are eating enough! Many mothers are so busy between nursing sessions that they forget to look after themselves. In order to maintain a good milk supply, you need to have a sufficient calorie intake.
What you eat is important too – avoid sugary, high-fat foods and opt for high-protein foods.
Some foods are known to cause a supply drop, such as mint, while others are thought to help, such as oat milk.
Lactation cookies can be made at home and make a great handy snack! Mother’s milk tea is also well worth a try.
Stress hormones not only mess with your mental health, but they can also cause a sudden drop in milk supply for breastfeeding mothers.
If you are concerned that you are not producing an adequate milk supply, look into the possibility of stress as a factor.
The worst part is that sometimes a drop in milk supply will make you stress a great deal more. It all inhibits the action of precious prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production.
If you have any concerns about postpartum depression, do raise this with your healthcare provider. Certain medications ARE safe for breastfeeding so this doesn’t mean the end of your breastfeeding journey.
Not Drinking Enough
Breastfeeding women are recommended to consume extra water in order to make up for the breast milk they are producing.
In the early days, you’ll likely find that you are particularly thirsty- keep a bottle of water close by! It’s very hard to produce enough breast milk if you are dehydrated yourself.
Not Nursing on Demand
Breastfeeding works on supply and demand; each time your baby eats, your breasts get the signal to increase breast milk production.
If you are exclusively breastfeeding, it may feel like your baby is feeding constantly to begin with- this is completely normal.
Allow each nursing session to reach a natural end again, during growth spurts when the baby starts to eat constantly, this can feel intense.
Just remember that every nursing session is a signal to increase milk production, and your breast milk supply usually increases within a few days.
Hormones, and their interactions with each other, can have a massive impact on breastmilk supply.
Many breastfeeding mothers report not having as much milk around the start of the menstrual cycle. This is common and you should notice your milk supply picking up within a few days.
A sudden decrease in milk supply is also common in early pregnancy, and this can be a little more problematic.
Toddlers can become frustrated by the slow flow of breast milk, with some ultimately self-weaning at this stage.
Furthermore, the milk itself can change, particularly at the end of the pregnancy when the mature milk your toddler is used to is replaced with rich colostrum.
Hormonal birth control can also mess with breastmilk supply, which is why some methods are not recommended for the first six months of exclusively breastfeeding.
Once a baby’s diet is supplemented with solid foods this is less of a concern.
Time Away from Baby/ Missed Feeds
Time away from your baby gives your breasts the message that less milk is needed. Therefore, if you plan to be away, or are temporarily supplementing with infant formula, be sure to add a pumping session for each missed feed.
You can hand express also, but there’s a huge range of breast pumps out there.
This saves power pumping later to get your breast milk supply back after the sudden drop!
Your baby can sometimes contribute to a breastmilk supply drop also!
You are likely to notice a change in milk supply when your baby is cutting new teeth, starting on solid foods or exploring the world around them a little more.
This decrease in milk supply is completely normal, especially beyond the one-year mark.
Can Milk Production Increase after a Decrease in Milk Supply?
You absolutely can get your breastmilk supply back on track, and in most cases, this involves a simple change.
If you notice a sudden decrease in breast milk, try to make a list of any recent changes to your diet, routine or medication.
Perhaps you started on birth control, or are getting a little too much exercise?
Here are a few of our top tips:
Boost your breast milk supply by nursing more! A nurse in involves climbing into bed with your baby, allowing them free access to breastfeed for as long as and as frequently as they like.
Not only does this give your breasts lots of stimulation to produce, but it encourages self-care and rest.
Pick your favourite tv show to binge-watch, and don’t forget to bring some yummy treats!
Encourage those milk ducts to drain with a gentle breast massage. There are plenty of videos online to help you get the technique right. massage from the outer breast towards the nipple.
This will help ensure that fatty milk is brought down. Warm compresses also help.
Get more sleep
Rest is essential- your body is working hard to produce enough food to solely sustain a tiny human, as well as keep you running! If you are feeling drained, that’s likely to cause stress and a dip in energy levels.
If you aren’t getting good enough sleep at night, be sure to nap in the daytime when the baby naps. The laundry pile can wait!
Drink More Water
Breastfeeding moms need a little more than everyone else, so be sure to stay hydrated. It helps to invest in a reusable water bottle or coffee cup that you can refill and keep with you at all times.
Look at your diet
Try to include a good multivitamin and foods known to encourage breast milk production; fennel, ginger, milk thistle and oatmeal, for example.
You can even make your own lactation cookies at home! Lactation tea is another option.
Make sure you are eating enough to meet the nutritional needs of both yourself and baby.
As mentioned before, stress inhibits the hormones which support breast milk production, so if something is stressing you out, try to resolve the problem if possible.
If that’s not the case, be sure to look after yourself, whether that be attending a mom and baby group, having a spa day or taking up a new hobby.
Power pumping is a popular method; Pump for ten minutes, rest for ten, then pump for another ten. Do this once a day, for one hour, so you pump for a total of 30 minutes.
This mimics cluster feeding and is normally very effective at increasing breast milk supply.
You can also pump or hand express immediately after a nursing session- this removes any remaining milk from the breasts, stimulating an increase in production.
There are plenty of breast pumps out there but some moms actually prefer hand expression for occasional or short-term use.
This one is important- if you see no improvement within a few days of a drop in milk supply, reach out to a lactation consultant for advice.
Very rarely does a breastfeeding problem not have a breastfeeding solution!
A breastfeeding peer support group is another great option- sometimes it’s just nice to know that you aren’t alone in a problem.
How To Manage A Sudden Decrease In Milk Supply: The Bottom Line
Dips in breast milk supply are incredibly common and in most cases, can be resolved with just a few simple changes in your lifestyle.
We have a great blog post on natural ways to increase breast milk production if you would like to read more!
The most common reasons for a drop in milk supply are insufficient sleep, food, water or too much stress.
Your hormones or your baby’s developmental milestones can play a role too, but this is usually a temporary effect that will pass.
The bottom line? Rest up and take care. You’re doing great!