How to Tell If Your Breast Milk Supply Has Decreased or Regulated

breastfeeding

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In the first few weeks of breastfeeding your little one, your breasts felt full often. Maybe you leaked milk between feeds, and it seemed like your baby was just gulping down your milk. Now, a few weeks later, things have changed. You’re still making milk, but it seems less abundant than it was before, and you’re wondering what this means. Has your milk supply regulated? Has it decreased? What exactly is going on?

Noticing a drop in supply as your milk supply regulates is common and normal. It usually doesn’t mean that you have less milk than your baby needs—it’s simply that your body has learned to make a “just right” amount of milk for your baby.

Here’s what to know about the changes that happen as your milk supply regulates: what normal milk supply regulation looks like, what the signs of a true milk supply drop are, and what to do if you have any concerns about your supply.

What Does It Mean for Breastmilk Supply to Regulate?

You start making milk for your baby before you even meet them. Colostrum, your baby’s first milk, starts to be produced in the middle of your pregnancy. This high-protein, antibody-rich milk is what sustains your baby during their first few days of life. About two to four days after your baby is born, your milk starts to “come in,” and at that point, your breastmilk supply is under hormonal control, which often means that you are producing more milk than your baby needs.

Over the next few weeks, your body transitions to a different kind of regulation, explains Krystyn Parks, MS, RD, IBCLC, a pediatric dietitian and lactation consultant. “It switches to a supply and demand model, meaning the more milk is removed, the more milk the body makes,” she explains. “This usually takes place around four to six weeks postpartum (although there is a huge range of ‘normal’).”

Nicole Schwartz, IBCLC, lactation consultant at Beyond Birth Collective, agrees that there is variation as to when this transition takes place. “Milk supply is typically regulated in the first four to six weeks postpartum but there is not a clear cut-off time and supply can continue to calibrate until 12 weeks postpartum or longer for some,” she says.

Signs of Breastmilk Supply Regulation

There are a few signs that parents may notice during this time of milk supply regulation, both during pumping and direct breastfeeding. “Some people will notice a drop in the amount of milk that they are breast pumping,” says Liz Maseth, BSN, RN, IBCLC, nurse program coordinator for the lactation team in the NICU at Akron Children’s Hospital. This may vary from person to person, and the drop isn’t generally substantial.

You may also notice that your breasts generally feel softer than they did a few weeks ago, says Maseth. With the softer and less full feeling, you may also notice that you no longer leak milk, or that the leaking has lessened. “You may also notice that your letdown reflex may have decreased in sensation,” Maseth says. Not all parents notice this, though, she says.

Signs of Breastmilk Supply Decrease

Of course, while less common, there are parents who experience a decrease in milk supply in the first few months after birth. True milk supply drops usually have some key warning signs, says Parks. “If your baby isn't producing wet/poopy diapers, that would be a big red flag that your supply has dipped,” she describes. Your baby may also appear frustrated by the end of a feed and still act hungry, she adds.

Another key sign of low supply is that your baby isn’t gaining weight at a steady rate. For the first three months of life, your baby should be gaining about 1.5 to 2 pounds a month (or about an ounce a day), give or take. If your baby is gaining less than that, or if they have suddenly dropped off their weight gain curve, that might be a sign of low milk supply. You can discuss this with your baby's pediatrician.

As for pumping, experts like Maseth agree that as your milk supply starts to regulate, you will naturally pump a little less milk. Factors that determine how much you are able to pump include how frequently you pump, and how recently your baby breastfed before you pumped.

Everyone is different, but most parents are able to pump about 2 to 5 ounces a feed once their supply regulates (or 25-35 ounces total per day). If your output is significantly less than that and your baby is gaining less weight, you may be experiencing milk supply issues.

Still, it’s important to remember that the amount you are able to pump isn’t always the same as what your baby takes at the breast, Parks points out, so if you are pumping to gauge how much milk you have, this may not always work.

Again, other signs—like softer breasts, less leaking milk, and a small drop in the amount of milk you can pump—don’t always mean that your milk supply has decreased, just that your supply is regulating. You should also not panic if your baby seems to want to nurse more than usual. This isn’t necessarily a sign of a lower milk supply, because this often happens when your baby is going through a growth spurt, says Maseth.

Should You Be Concerned?

In most cases, a drop in supply between four and 12 weeks is totally normal. Most of us make more milk than our babies need at first, and then things even out, and we make the amount that our babies demand.

However, if your baby is showing signs that they aren’t getting enough milk—such as slow or no weight gain, and fewer wet and poopy diapers—you should meet with your baby's pediatrician to discuss options. You should also consider meeting with a lactation consultant to figure out what is happening with breastfeeding, and how that might be remedied.

Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to increase your milk supply if you end up having a supply issue, says Park. “You can add in a pumping session between feeds,” she says. You can also try power pumping, which is when you pump several times in a short period of time. “These are all tips to tell the breasts that demand has increased and to increase supply,” she says.

A lactation consultant can also check your baby’s latch and ensure they are feeding effectively, Park explains. In some cases, supplementing with formula will be necessary—for example, if your baby is not growing well, and needs calories. But if you do supplement with formula, you want to make sure you are pumping to bring up your supply, Park advises.

A Word From Verywell

Breastfeeding can be stressful at times, especially when things change! If you notice that you seem to have less milk in the first few weeks and months after birth, you can take heart in knowing that this is usually typical. It’s just that your body has now figured out how much milk your baby needs in a day, and has adopted the “supply and demand” model.

That said, if you have any concerns about your milk supply or your baby’s health, you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to your little one's pediatrician or a lactation consultant.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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