Reasons Why Your Milk Supply Might Decrease

Before giving birth, milk supply was probably something you didn't give much thought to. But after birth, the term milk supply and the associated worries are thrown around more than used nappies. 

The leading reason why women give up breastfeeding prematurely is due to presumed supply issues. However, the truth is that nearly all women can make enough milk for their babies. And if milk supply is genuinely low, it's usually a temporary issue that some minor adjustments can improve.  

Reasons why women think their milk supply is low 

1. Baby is feeding more regularly 

Babies go through stages of requiring more milk and, at other times, less milk. Infants wanting to feed more regularly can result from many factors, including growth spurts, comfort reasons, or sickness. Feeding more regularly is rarely an indicator of milk supply issues. 

When your little one is experiencing a growth spurt, they will likely feed more often. This increased demand for milk signals your breasts, letting them know they need to make more. Pretty clever, isn't it?  

Unfortunately, when this happens, many women mistake the increased feeding for not having enough milk and begin supplementing with formula. Unfortunately, as soon as you add formula, you break the signal to produce more milk. As a result, you begin to make less milk than your baby requires. 

So, when your baby suddenly wants to feed more, the best thing you can do is hunker down on the couch and ride it out. We know it can be challenging, especially when you have other little ones to take care of, but remember that feeding more is the only way to support your bub through their growth spurt. 

2. Baby feeds only feeds for a few minutes

As babies get older, they tend to feed for shorter periods. One of the reasons for that is babies become more efficient at feeding. As a result, some babies only need 4-5 minutes to drain each breast fully. This can be confusing for women who are used to feeding their newborns for 30+ minutes on each side and is another reason why women wrongly assume their milk supply is decreasing. 

Distraction is another cause of short feedings. As our little ones grow, they become more aware of their surroundings, and as they feed, they might pop on and off as they look at the pretty colours and objects around them. This can be frustrating because the baby isn't getting a full feed, and they may want to feed again shortly after. Wearing a necklace that your little one can hold and play with is a great way to keep them entertained and focused while nursing. 

3. Breasts feel soft/have reduced in size 

Although it can be different for all mums, our milk supply establishes at around the 12-week mark. When you first give birth, your milk supply is based on your body’s hormones.  When your milk supply becomes “established” your body’s milk supply is based solely on demand. At this time our breasts tend to become softer and feel less 'full'. Around this four-month mark, many women begin to supplement with formula, and this feeling of emptiness is often cited as the reason why. 

Another reason why many mums stop breastfeeding around 4 months is because of changes in their baby’s sleep cycle.  It is common for babies to experience a sleep regression at four months. Mums become used to their little ones sleeping long stretches at night, and now that they're waking through the night, many mums associate it with the 'empty' breasts and believe it is because they’re not producing enough milk. 

Again, your milk supply has nothing to do with either of these factors. Mums need to push through this time because nursing becomes a lot easier and far more straightforward from this point on. 

Causes of low milk supply 

If you do actually have low milk supply, incorrect attachment to the nipple is the leading cause of low milk supply. There are many reasons why your baby may not be attaching correctly. Babies with lip and tongue ties often struggle to connect effectively, and this can result in damaged nipples and also inefficient feeding. When our little ones aren't nursing properly, our bodies perceive that there is less "demand" for milk, so we don't produce as much. 

Inverted or flat nipples or holding bub in the wrong position can also cause attachment issues. All of these conditions can be identified and fixed with the help of a lactation consultant. 

Other possible but less common causes include:

  • Breast surgery 
  • Mastitis 
  • Interference from medication/taking the contraceptive pill 
  • Smoking 

Ways to Naturally Increase Milk Supply 

Health is holistic, meaning there are a number of methods you should incorporate if you want to boost your milk supply: 

1. Breastfeed On Demand

That is, as often as your bub wants. Our breasts produce milk in response to demand. So, you will naturally increase your milk supply by feeding more, expressing more, or combining both. If you've got the time, try a nursing holiday; this is where you cosy up on the couch, relax, watch a couple of movies and allow bub to feed as much as possible.

2. Power Pump

Power pumping is a technique women use to increase their milk supply. It mimics "cluster feeding’" a term used to describe when babies feed super regularly, usually during a growth spurt. Both power pumping and cluster feeding indicate an increase in demand and signal your breasts to produce more milk. 

So, how do you power pump? Basically, you pump for a set amount of time repeatedly with breaks in-between. For example:

  • Pump for 20 minutes
  • Break for 10 minutes 
  • Pump for 20 minutes
  • Break for 10 minutes

And you continue this for 1-2 hours. It’s a lot of effort, but it works. We recommend committing to 1-2 weeks to increase your milk supply. 

3. Skin-to-skin

Finding ways to increase connection with your little one can also help to increase milk supply. For example, research shows that going skin-skin with your baby can help calm and relax both mum and bub by increasing the release of both prolactin and oxytocin. These two hormones assist your body in making and releasing more milk. 

Stripping bub down and feeding with no top on is the easiest way to increase skin-to-skin connection. Many women also say the smell of their little one helps them relax, so don’t be afraid to have a big whiff! 

4. Take care of yourself

Your nutrient requirements are significantly higher when you're breastfeeding. Your baby is relying on you for 100% of their nutrition. So, you need to try your best to eat enough healthy food. Aim for a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, high protein foods and good sources of healthy fats. Drink plenty of water and rest (as much as you can). 

The In Shape Mummy Health Shake for Breastfeeding Mums is a quick and easy way to help take care of yourself in this busy time of life. The shake combines organic vegan protein, 25 essential vitamins and minerals plus probiotics to help breastfeeding mums hit their daily nutrient targets. It is enhanced with natural and organic herbs that have been used for centuries by breastfeeding mums.

Extra Support 

If you are experiencing difficulties with milk supply, please consult your health care practitioner.

Shevi is a qualified nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food sciences. As a mum of a baby and a toddler herself, she is passionate about postnatal-related nutrition. Shevi has worked alongside some of the most famous leaders and celebrities in the fitness industry throughout Australia and the UK.

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