Low Milk Supply – Reasons, Signs & Solutions

Low Breast Milk Supply

Medically Reviewed By
Shruti Kanchan (Lactation Specialist)
View more Lactation Specialist Our Panel of Experts

Motherhood is one of the most beautiful stages in every woman’s life. Giving birth to a child after going through so much pain always feels special. Due to the same reason, there are lots of fears attached to pregnancy and childbirth. The fear of not being able to properly breastfeed the child is one of them. The fragile nature of a baby and the responsibility of the mother to feed her baby makes the issue of low breast milk supply a delicate one. Here, we discuss some of the issues that lactating mothers face along with the solutions.

Video: Low Breast Milk Supply – Causes, Signs & Solutions

What Is Low Milk Supply?

During the beginning of motherhood, a mother may suffer from breastfeeding problems due to low milk supply. She is said to have low milk supply when she is not able to produce enough milk to meet the needs of her newborn baby. Most women decide that they have a low milk supply in the following situations:

  • No leakage of milk from the nipples.
  • The breasts feel less full than before.
  • The baby needs more milk.
  • The regular breastfeeds are getting shorter.

All these facts must be ruled out straight away as they are not at all related to the low supply of milk in any way.

Signs of Low Milk Supply

There are symptoms of low milk supply that are exhibited by a baby when he has not had enough milk. Unfortunately, many parents often confuse these signs as part of the growing process. Some of these changes include:

  • The baby is not pooping regularly or approximately 5-6 times a day. Small and liquid poops are the signs that show the baby is not getting enough milk.
  • The baby is not peeing at regular intervals. A newborn baby wets his diapers 8-10 times a day. If the number is lower than that, the baby is not getting enough milk.
  • The colour of the baby’s urine is dark yellowish. Yellowish urine shows that the child is not hydrated sufficiently and requires more water, which can be supplied through the mother’s milk only at least for the first six months from birth.
  • The baby is not gaining weight and is getting weaker. A baby getting sufficient milk supply will gain weight regularly at a rate of 4-6 ounces a week on an average.

What Are the Causes of Low Milk Supply?

There are a lot of factors that can influence the supply of milk. They can be related to the baby’s health, the mother’s health or a common issue. These factors or issues need to be addressed seriously so that the child doesn’t develop any problems in the future.

Causes of Low Milk Supply Associated With the Mother’s Health:

  • The mother has undergone breast surgery
  • Anaemia
  • An imbalance in the thyroid levels
  • Suffering from diabetes i.e. insulin-dependent
  • Hypopituitarism
  • The pituitary doesn’t produce enough lactation hormones because of the lack of blood supply caused due to haemorrhaging during birth.

These issues can be treated with patience and proper guidance from a certified doctor. A change in the lifestyle and diet can also influence the production of milk. Regular pumping sessions should be practised in between nursing sessions so that the mother’s body gets used to increased demand for the milk.

Causes of Low Milk Supply Associated With the Baby’s Health:

  • Food sensitivity or allergy.
  • The baby may have slow breathing reflexes or some problems in swallowing/sucking due to neurological conditions.
  • The baby is suffering from Down’s syndrome.
  • The babies born prematurely may haven’t yet developed the reflexes for sucking, swallowing and breathing and require guidance.
  • Some medical conditions, especially in the baby’s mouth, may cause difficulties during nursing.

Since the baby is newly born and isn’t getting proper milk supply, they may require special attention from a certified doctor or consultant.

Other causes:

  • Obesity can slow down the process of milk production in the mother’s body.
  • Smoking can cause difficulty in building a regular supply of milk.
  • Stress during the birth of the baby.
  • Human blood contains iron in it and the loss of blood results in the loss of iron from the body. The iron levels in a nursing mother’s body are known to be directly related to her rate of milk production.
  • Hormonal medication used for birth control can cause a reduction in the milk supply.
  • Usage of certain medicines can also cause low milk supply in nursing mothers.

Should You Need to Worry If You Can’t Produce Enough Breast Milk?

No, you don’t have to worry if you cannot produce enough breast milk. Sometimes a food item may cause hindrance to the milk-making process, or hormonal imbalances could lead to low breast milk supply. Most of the causes can be treated in consultation with a certified doctor and some medicines. The baby, in the meantime, can be fed with the help of the supplements. This will fulfil the nutritional requirements of the baby.

How to Diagnose Chronic Low Milk Supply

If your milk supply rate doesn’t improve on its own, you should seek immediate medical advice. Doctors usually ask for a blood test to determine if the core reason for low milk supply could be anaemia. If it is not a chronic issue, the mother’s body heals on its own, resolving low breast milk problems, without any medical intervention. However, some may require treatment.

How Can Low Milk Supply Affect Your Baby?

Since everyone knows that the very first diet of the child is the mother’s milk, lack of it can cause growth problems. It has been generally observed that the lack of milk in the early stage can cause disruption in mental development and restrict the physical growth of the body, causing abnormalities.

Signs That Show Your Baby Is Having Enough Milk

The following traits indicate that a baby is getting enough milk.

  • The child is pooping 4-5 times a day and the poop is large and mustard coloured.
  • The baby is peeing at least 8-10 times a day.
  • The baby looks content after a feed, though this differs from one child to another.
  • The breasts feel softer and less full after feeding.

How to Increase Breast Milk Supply

There are various ways mothers can try to increase breast milk supply so that their babies get enough nutrition for proper growth. Some of them are:

  • Identifying a feeding position for proper latching.
  • Compressing the breast when the baby’s sucking and swallowing slow down. This will completely drain the breast, and the mother can then switch the baby to the other breast and repeat the process.
  • Having pumping sessions in between nursing so that the body can stimulate itself to the increasing demand. The pumped milk can be stored in a clean vessel and can be fed to the baby in case he needs supplements.
  • Eating foods are believed to help increase milk production in the body, such as papaya, fenugreek, and oats.
  • A sleeping baby may need to be made more active so that he can feed on the milk more vigorously, thus increasing the demand which will result in better stimulation.

What Are the Best Breast Milk Increasing Foods?

Here are some foods that are believed to help increase breast milk supply:

  • Fenugreek: A very common herb, fenugreek is used in breastfeeding supplements as well. Fenugreek seeds are known to stimulate the production of sweat. Since the breasts are a modified form of sweat gland, they also help in increasing breast milk production. Some mothers who have consumed fenugreek have reported an increase in the production of milk within 1-2 days.

  • Oats: Oats can also help mothers improve breast milk supply.  Lactation cookies, which are easily available in the market, generally contain oats which have long been believed to help in breast milk production.

  • Fennel: Fennel is a galactagogue and that’s why it can be found in various teas and supplements that are used for increasing breast milk supply.

  • Brewer’s yeast: There is no scientific proof about why Brewer’s yeast helps in milk production, but consuming it is believed to help with lactation.

  • Spinach: Spinach is iron-rich and can help in increasing the iron level in the body, which may have decreased due to blood loss during childbirth. Low iron levels have generally been linked with a low milk production rate.

We want our readers to know that some of these foods have no scientific evidence to prove that they can help in boosting the production of milk in a mother. However, many mothers claim that these foods work and one can perhaps try them in moderate quantities.

When Are Supplements Needed?

A new mother should start taking supplements from the day the baby is born so that she can ready her body for lactation as soon as possible. This can help the mother in producing a sizable amount of milk for her baby. Medical experts say that one should establish a good milk supply within the first six weeks so that the baby doesn’t develop any problems in the future.

Is It OK to Breastfeed When There Is Low Breast Milk Supply

It is completely fine to breastfeed even if there is low breast milk in a mother. This will stimulate the breasts to produce more milk to match up to the demand. While the breasts adjust, the baby’s diet may be supplemented by formula milk to ensure an adequate supply of nutrition to the baby, and he can grow properly and become strong and healthy.

After going through various reports and surveys, one may easily be lead to believe that most of the causes of low milk supply in new mothers are psychological than real. The problem of low milk supply may pose health problems for the baby in terms of poor growth. However, this isn’t a long-term problem as it can be rectified through numerous remedies. Even in the worst-case scenario, there is always the option of getting a wet nurse who can temporarily help feed the baby.

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