There is so much confusion and mixed advice about breastfeeding out there that many women think, or have been told, that they are not making enough milk for their baby when they actually are. If you think you have a low milk supply, please read this post first, and get some face to face breastfeeding support if possible.
Why does low milk supply happen?
As explained in this post, your milk supply is determined by your baby’s appetite. The more you feed/express, the more you make. The less you feed/express, the less you make. Rarely, a woman can have a medical reason for having a low milk supply, such as a hormonal imbalance or hypoplasic breasts, but for the majority of women, low milk supply is caused by not enough milk being removed from the breasts.
There can be a few reasons why this might happen, such as:
- A baby who is not latching effectively may not be able to remove enough milk from the breasts to maintain a good supply
- Feeding in a routine, rather than responsively, can reduce milk supply. If the breasts are not emptied frequently enough then milk builds up within the breasts so your body makes less of it
- Unnecessary top ups can reduce milk supply. If a baby who doesn’t medically need supplementation is given extra milk, they may feed less from the breast
- Removing baby from the breast rather than allowing them to finish the feed themselves can reduce your supply. It can also reduce your baby’s fat intake, as the fat content of your milk gradually increases throughout a feed.
- Using bottles, even to feed your baby your own expressed milk, can sometimes lead to your baby developing a flow preference to the bottle meaning that they may feed less from the breast
- Using dummies (pacifiers) can reduce the amount of time babies spend suckling and thus reduce milk supply
- Issues with baby’s anatomy such as a tongue tie can prevent them feeding effectively
How to increase your milk supply
- Seek support from a trained breastfeeding counsellor or IBCLC
- Make sure your baby is latching effectively
- Rest and relax as much as possible. This will help to lower stress and keep the oxytocin flowing
- Stop using dummies, offer the breast instead
- Hold your baby skin-to-skin and spend as much uninterrupted time with them as possible, offering the breast at least 10-12 times a day and whenever they show hunger cues. Spend 2-3 days in bed or snuggled on the sofa with your baby doing nothing but resting and breastfeeding. Get someone else to do the housework and other tasks whilst you prioritise increasing your supply
- Offer your baby both breasts at each feed, letting them finish one side first and then offering the other
- Use breast compressions during feeds and expressing
- Hand express or express using a pump between feeds, and continue expressing until a couple of minutes after your milk has stopped flowing
- Avoid bottles if possible. If your baby has a medical need for supplementation of expressed milk or formula, using a supplemental nursing system is a good way of getting extra milk into them whilst stimulating your breasts to produce more milk
- If your baby is already having bottles, offer the breast before and after every bottle
- Power pumping can be very useful if you are exclusively expressing or giving top ups of expressed breastmilk. To do this, you would express for 15 minutes every hour for 5 hours everyday, for 2-3 days
- See more ways to increase your output when expressing here