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

5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Woman holding a newborn baby

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Most breastfeeding moms can make a healthy supply of breast milk for their babies. It's only a small percentage of women that will have a true low milk supply. Still, many women think their milk supply is low, or they have a lower supply because of issues that can be easily fixed.

Possible Reasons for a Low Milk Supply

Before you start thinking about adding formula or giving up on breastfeeding altogether, ask yourself these five questions.

Does Your Baby Have an Incomplete 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, he can't get the milk out of your breasts very well. The removal of your breast milk from your breasts is what tells your body to make more breast milk.

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, or a local breastfeeding group can help.

Are You Doing Infrequent Feedings?

Just like a poor latch, not breastfeeding often enough is another common reason mothers develop a low milk supply. Most newborns need to breastfeed every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day and night. The more you put your baby to the breast, the more you will be stimulating your body to make a healthy supply of breast milk.

If you put your newborn on a strict breastfeeding schedule, let him sleep for extended periods of time between nursing, or give him a pacifier to hold him off between feedings, you're missing out on the natural opportunities to put him to the breast and trigger your body to increase milk production.

Plus, unless you're giving your child a bottle of formula in between, if you aren't breastfeeding often enough, your baby may not be getting enough milk. It's best to breastfeed your baby on demand, whenever she shows signs of hunger. And, if you have a sleepy baby, wake him up at least every 3 hours to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding very frequently, especially during the first few weeks, will ensure your baby is getting enough breast milk and help you to build a strong, healthy milk supply

Are Your Feedings Too Short?

Each time you breastfeed, your newborn should nurse for approximately 10 minutes on each side. If your baby is breastfeeding for less than 5 minutes at most feedings, he won't be able to get enough breast milk to grow at a healthy rate. Plus, that's not enough time for him to drain the milk from your breasts. And, the removal of your breast milk is necessary to help increase your milk supply.

Is Your Baby Going Through a Growth Spurt?

When babies go through growth spurts, they have serious appetites, and they may appear constantly hungry. During a growth spurt, it can really seem like you have a low milk supply. However, it's just a natural time of growth. And, along with your baby's growth, your breast milk supply has to grow, as well.

Your baby will most likely want to nurse very often, and if you continue to put her to your breast, your body will realize that it needs to make more breast milk. Within a few days, your supply will go up, and your baby will settle back down into a more normal routine.

Are You Allowing Other People to Influence You?

Sometimes the people in your life who didn't breastfeed, or who don't understand breastfeeding, can make you question yourself. They may say that your breasts are too small to make enough breast milk, or that the baby is breastfeeding too often so you must not have enough milk. These statements are just not true.

Instead of listening to the doubts of others, try to focus on the signs that will tell you your baby is getting enough milk, and take your baby to the doctor for her regularly scheduled healthy baby visits. As long as your child is growing at a healthy, consistent rate, there's no need to worry or to listen to the doubts and negative comments of others. 

When You Should See the Doctor

But, what if your milk supply is low and it's not due to any of the reasons listed above? Well, if your baby is latching on correctly, and breastfeeding every 2 to 3 hours around the clock, but you're still not seeing an increase in your breast milk supply, it's time to see your doctor.

There may be a medical issue that's causing a true low milk supply. If you're really not making enough breast milk, you'll need to find the underlying cause and treat it. Many of the issues that cause a true low supply can be treated successfully, but there are times when it cannot be treated.

In these rare cases, you may have to give your baby a supplement to be sure that he gets enough nutrition. But, even if you have to supplement, you can still continue to breastfeed your baby.

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Article Sources
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  1. Kent JC, Gardner H, Geddes DT. Breastmilk Production in the First 4 Weeks after Birth of Term Infants. Nutrients. 2016;8(12) doi:10.3390/nu8120756

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.