First, Don’t Do Anything to Decrease Your Supply
There is a lot of misinformation floating around about things that can affect milk supply when you’re breastfeeding. The truth is that there are some things that affect supply, but probably not the things most people hear about. There are a lot of myths out there about low milk supply.
You might worry that you’re eating the wrong things or wearing the wrong things, but most of that is not true. Fortunately, it’s a little harder than you might think to interfere with your milk supply.
For many people, it can be hard to get started with breastfeeding. Once we do start to get the hang of it, we’re usually very interested in maintaining a good supply so that things continue to get easier. It is important to stay attentive and careful, at least for a while, because it is possible to make changes that might lead to a lower milk supply.
Things that can lower milk supply:
- Stress – This is a very common cause of low milk supply because it’s something that comes up in so many different parts of our lives. Stress is not helpful, and it just feels awful. It can also cause sleep loss, poor appetite, bad decision-making, an increased risk for heart disease and diabetes, and complications in pregnancy and birth. I talk a lot about stress, anxiety, and fear in birth classes because there is significant evidence that shows it can negatively affect outcomes in pregnancy and birth. It is also now well-known that stress can lead to a decrease in milk production.
- Inconsistent or not enough breast stimulation – This is another very common cause of low milk supply, and most people don’t know about it!
- When you’re listening and responding to your baby’s hunger cues by quickly offering a breast, you will most likely create a great milk supply. However, if you are inconsistent, or if you try to delay feedings or ignore the baby’s signs, you can begin to make less milk. The milk production system is based on supply and demand. When the baby demands it, your body turns on the supply. After the baby eats, the supply is diminished, and your body knows it has to quickly make more. Our bodies can pick up on a baby’s demands ONLY when the baby (or a pump – but babies are usually better at it!) is actively trying to get milk out of the breast. The nipple is being stimulated, and that’s how the milk knows to come out. When the breast is stimulated less, the body thinks we don’t need as much milk anymore and will make less.
- We can also start to make less milk when we supplement with formula because that means less time stimulating the breast.
A bad latch can lead to a lower milk supply because there isn’t enough breast stimulation. “Latch” refers to the way the baby attaches to the breast. A good latch creates good suction and nipple stimulation, and the baby will get the milk to flow. When a baby has an ineffective latch, it may not be able to stimulate the breast into making milk. A bad latch can be caused by a bad habit and can be fixed simply by readjusting the baby. A bad latch might also be caused by a structural problem in the baby’s mouth or your nipple. A baby might have a tongue tie or a lip tie. Sometimes nipples are inverted or flat and it can be much harder for a baby to get a grip on them.
- Breast surgery – Sometimes (but not always), previous breast surgery can cause a complication that makes it harder to make enough milk.
- Oral contraceptives – Depending on the mix of hormones in an oral contraceptive, your milk supply might be affected by its use.
- Medications – There are some medications that can lower milk supply. Make sure you talk to your care provider about your options if your goal is to continue breastfeeding.
- Cigarettes/Nicotine – The use of tobacco and nicotine-containing products has been shown to lower milk supply.
- Breast Infections – An infection in the breast such as mastitis can cause a temporary drop in milk supply because of inflammation. The milk moves more slowly when there is inflammation. This can be overcome by continuing to nurse or pump and by taking good care of yourself so you can heal quickly. Your supply should bounce right back.
- Medical Condition – It’s a very rare situation that someone just can’t make any milk or enough milk under any circumstances. Less than 5% of people fall into this category, but many more people have medical conditions that can lower the milk supply or make exclusive breastfeeding much more difficult.
If your goal is to breastfeed your baby and you suspect that you are not making enough milk, make sure you’re paying attention to the things on this list, and if you are still struggling, consider seeing a specialist.
IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) are experts in breastfeeding medicine and can often help you solve these problems. Remember that you probably have insurance benefits to cover these services!
And check in next week for Part 2 about GALACTAGOGUES! That’s a really cool word to describe things that can increase your milk supply!