Causes of a Low Breast Milk Supply and What You Can Do About It

Woman holding a newborn baby

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You are not alone if you're breastfeeding and you're worried about whether you're producing enough milk to feed your newborn. Lots of people worry about their milk supply. After all, you can't see how much breast milk your body is making, and you can't tell how much your little one is drinking the same way you can with bottle feeding.

But here's some good news: most breastfeeding parents can make enough breast milk for their babies. Low supply is believed to only affect between 10-15% of breastfeeding parents. In most cases, low supply is temporary because there are things you can do to bring up your supply.

Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk?

Unfortunately, time at the breast is not enough of an accurate measurement of how much milk your baby has taken in. Some babies can get a full feeding in as little as 8 minutes, while others will need 30 minutes to get the same amount of milk. So how do you know what's enough?

You should hear your baby swallow while they feed and you should see a little milk in their mouth, especially after they unlatch. They'll likely also seem satisfied and content after nursing, falling asleep easily, and your breasts should feel less full than they did before the feeding started.

But if you're still worried, here are some more precise ways of making sure your baby is getting enough milk:

Weight Gain

Newborns can lose as much as 10% of their birth weight in the first few days after birth. However, after that, they should begin gaining weight consistently. Most babies gain at least 0.7 to 1 ounce per day and they are back up to their birth weight within 10 to 14 days.

If you're worried about your supply, you can try doing weighted feeds. Simply weigh your baby before breastfeeding, then again after the feed is concluded. The weight change will give you an idea of how much they drank. You can also weigh your baby at the end of every day to make sure your baby is gaining weight every day.

Wet Diapers

Wet diapers are a good sign that your baby is drinking enough breast milk. You might not change a lot of wet diapers the first day or two after your baby's birth, but once your milk comes in, you should see an increase in the number of diapers. By day 6, your baby should be going through at least six to eight wet diapers every day—if not more.

If you're worried about how much milk your baby is getting, track how many wet diapers your baby has over the course of the day—and call your doctor if you suspect a problem.

Don't worry too much about how long your baby goes between poops, especially after the first few weeks. Some babies can go three to four days (or even longer) between bowel movements because breast milk is very easily digested and so it doesn't create much waste.

Signs of Dehydration

If you see any of these signs, seek medical attention immediately because your baby could be dehydrated:

  • Dark-colored urine
  • Dry mouth
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Lethargy
  • Reluctance to feed
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea or vomiting

If you are pumping and breastfeeding at the same time, remember that the amount of milk pumped can be deceptive. You might not be able to pump the same amount of milk as a baby can consume, which might prompt you to worry that your baby's feedings are smaller than they should be.

However, if your baby is gaining weight, has a lot of wet diapers, and seems otherwise to be happy and healthy, they are getting enough milk—so you don't need to worry.

Reasons for Low Milk Supply

There are a few different reasons why your baby might not be getting enough milk:

True Low Milk Supply

While not common, true low breast milk supply can happen. It's usually the result of an underlying issue that prevents your body from producing enough breast milk. Some of these issues are fixable, but others cannot be changed or fixed.

True low milk supply can be caused by a range of things, including exhaustion, stress, previous breast surgeries, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a difficult birth or recovery, certain medications, underdeveloped breasts, illness, breast cancer, or lactation failure.

Poor Latch

The most common cause of low breast milk supply is a poor latch. If your baby is not latching on to your breast the right way, they can't get the milk out of your breasts very well—and this causes your body to make less milk because it's actually the removal of milk from your breasts that tells your body to make more. So, if your baby isn't latching on correctly, your milk supply will suffer.

If you aren't sure if your baby is latching on well, have someone evaluate your breastfeeding technique. A nurse, your doctor, lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding group can help.

Infrequent Feedings

Not breastfeeding often enough is a common reason why milk supply might dip. Most newborns need to breastfeed every 2 to 3 hours—during the day and the night. The more you put your baby to the breast, the more you will stimulate your body in order to make a healthy supply of breast milk.

However, if you let your baby sleep for extended periods of time between feedings or give them a pacifier between sessions, your body might produce less milk—and your child might not get enough, even when they do feed. That's why it's best to breastfeed your baby on demand, whenever they show signs of hunger or by waking them up from naps every three hours to feed.

Short Feedings

Each time you breastfeed, try and let your newborn nurse for approximately 10 minutes on each side. If your baby nurses for less than 5 minutes, that's not enough time for them to drain the milk from your breasts, which can affect your supply.

Growth Spurts

When babies go through growth spurts, they have serious appetites, and they may appear constantly hungry. As a result, it can seem like you have a low milk supply—when in reality, it's just that your supply hasn't caught up to the demand.

However, if you feed your baby when they want it, your body will realize that there has been an increased demand and it will make more breast milk. You should begin to see that increased supply within a few days.

How to Produce More Breast Milk

At the end of the day, the best way to increase your breast milk is to breastfeed more often. Offer your breast to your baby every three hours and develop a routine. This will trigger your body to produce more milk. You can also try doing breast compressions while nursing, which is where you hold your breast between your thumb and fingers, then gently squeeze when your baby is only suckling but not drinking.

If you can, try to keep your baby on one side until your breast has been drained of milk before switching sides. In addition, you can pump after your baby is done feeding to make sure that you drain your breast of milk.If you get all the milk out, your body will be stimulated to create more for the next feeding.

It's also important to take good care of yourself while you're breastfeeding. Make sure you eat a well-balanced, nutritional diet, drink lots of water, and sleep as much as you can. Some people also supplement their diet with lactation cookies, herbal supplements, and medications.

A Word From Verywell

In most cases, your breastmilk supply will match up with demand, which means that if you feed your baby on a schedule, your body should produce enough milk to feed your baby and allow them to grow.

However, if you have concerns, contact your baby's doctor or a lactation consultant for advice. There are also a number of wonderful breastfeeding support groups. Above all, remember that if you do really have a low supply of milk, it's perfectly OK if you need to supplement your feedings with formula. At the end of the day, a fed baby is always best—and you get to decide how you feed them.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession, Seventh Edition. Mosby. 2015.

  • Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.