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

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You are not alone if you're breastfeeding and worried about whether you're producing enough milk to feed your newborn. Many people worry about their breast milk supply. After all, you can't see how much breast milk your body is making, and you can't see 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. True low supply is believed to affect only 10% to 15% of breastfeeding parents. Sometimes, the milk supply may be adequate but other issues are at play (like colic or a growth spurt) that may prompt parents to question whether their baby is getting enough milk. When low supply does occur, in most cases, it's 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 an accurate measurement of how much milk your baby has consumed. 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, the following 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 initial loss, 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 and then weigh them again after the feed is concluded. The weight change will give you an idea of how much they consumed. You can also weigh your baby each evening to make sure your baby is gaining weight every day. Additionally, your baby's pediatrician will track your baby's weight at each visit, so they will be able to tell you if they're gaining as expected.

Wet Diapers

Wet diapers are also a good sign that your baby is getting 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 wet diapers. By day six, 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, as a result, may not create much waste.

Signs of Dehydration

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

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

If you are pumping and breastfeeding at the same time, remember that the amount of milk expressed with a manual or electric pump can be deceptive, as it's common to draw less with a pump than via breastfeeding. You might not be able to pump the same amount of milk as a baby can get nursing, 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 at each feeding.

True Low Milk Supply

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

True low milk supply can be caused by a range of things, including exhaustion, extreme 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 may not be able to get the milk out of your breasts very efficiently, which can cause your body to produce less milk. (It's the removal of milk from your breasts that tells your body to make more.)

If you aren't sure if your baby is latching on well, have someone evaluate their latch with you. Often, just slight shifts in positioning can make a big difference in latch efficiency—and breastfeeding comfort. A nurse, your doctor, lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding group can help.

Infrequent Feedings

Not breastfeeding often enough is also a common reason 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 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 in place of a feeding, your body might produce less milk—and they might not get enough, even when they do feed. That's why experts recommend breastfeeding your newborn on demand whenever they show signs of hunger and waking them up from naps every three hours to feed if needed.

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 likely not enough time for them to fully 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 feel like you have a low milk supply when in reality, it's just that your supply hasn't caught up to the demand.

If you feed your baby when they show signs of hunger, your body will recognize the increase in 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 supply is to breastfeed more often. Offer your breast to your baby at least every three hours and develop a routine. This process should 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 fully 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 a larger amount 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, nutritious 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 regularly feed your baby, your body should produce enough milk to support their growth and development.

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 or donor milk. Ultimately, a fed baby is always best—whether from a bottle or the breast.

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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.