What Decreases Breast Milk Supply

baby sleeping on mothers chest
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You may not realize it, but many everyday things can interfere with how your body makes breast milk. If you're breastfeeding and concerned about your milk supply going down, take a look at these eleven issues that can cause a decrease in your breast milk supply.

The Causes of a Decreasing Breast Milk Supply

By understanding what can interfere with your breast milk supply, you may be able to make a few changes to your daily routine, turn it around, and begin increasing your milk production once again.

Here are some of the issues that lead to a reduction in breast milk.  

  1. Not Getting Enough Rest: Recovering from childbirth, motherhood, and breastfeeding a newborn can be exhausting. Postpartum fatigue and tiredness can interfere with breastfeeding, and it's one of the common causes of a low supply of breast milk. It might not be easy during the first few weeks, but it's very important that you get enough rest.
  2. Ignoring Your Health: Illness or an infection can cause your body to make less breast milk. If you suspect that your milk supply is low because of a health issue, see your doctor for an examination. If you have an infection, your doctor may need to prescribe an antibiotic. Other illnesses, such as low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) and anemia, can also interfere with breast milk production. There are treatments that your doctor can prescribe that are safe for breastfeeding mothers. Just make sure that your doctor knows that you're breastfeeding. 
  1. Too Much Caffeine: Soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate are okay in moderation. However, large amounts of caffeine can dehydrate your body and lower your production of breast milk. Too much caffeine can also affect your baby. Some of the caffeine will pass to your baby through your milk. It can build up in your child’s body causing irritability and sleep problems.
  1. Smoking Cigarettes: Smoking can interfere with the release of oxytocin in your body. Oxytocin is the hormone that stimulates the let-down reflex. The let-down reflex releases the breast milk from the inside of your breasts and allows it to flow out of your body and into your baby's mouth. If your breast milk is not released, it will not drain out of your breasts and stimulate your body to produce more. It's best if you don't smoke, but if you do, you should never smoke near your baby. To help with let-down, try to avoid having a cigarette within two hours of breastfeeding.
  2. Drinking Alcohol: Alcohol, like smoking, can get in the way of the let-down reflex. Alcohol may also change the flavor of your breast milk, causing your baby to breastfeed less. If your child breastfeeds less often, you will not make as much breast milk. An occasional drink is considered okay, but it is not advised to drink alcohol regularly while you're breastfeeding. Not only can it decrease your breast milk supply, but excess alcohol can affect your ability to tend to your child's needs. Alcohol also passes into your milk which can put your baby at risk for a developmental delay.
  3. Taking Certain Medications: Some prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications can interfere with the let-down reflex and breast milk production. Antihistamines, decongestants, and diuretics can all negatively affect your breast milk supply. Tell your doctor that you're breastfeeding before she prescribes any medication, and ask your doctor or the pharmacist about before taking over-the-counter drugs.
  1. Stress: Physical, emotional, and psychological stress can reduce your supply of breast milk. If you're concerned about privacy while you're breastfeeding, you may feel self-conscious or embarrassed. These feelings can interfere with let-down. Other causes of stress such as anxiety, pain, financial difficulty, and relationship troubles can also add to a lower amount of breast milk.
  2. Using Excessive Amounts of Herbs and Spices: When taken in large doses, some herbs can cause a decrease in your breast milk supply. These herbs include sage, parsley, oregano, peppermint, jasmine, and yarrow.
  3. Starting Birth Control Pills: If you've started taking birth control pills to prevent another pregnancy, it could be affecting your breast milk supply. Some forms of birth control contain estrogen, a hormone that can cause a decline in milk production. You can still use contraception while you're breastfeeding, but you should talk to your doctor about using a progesterone-only birth control pill.
  1. Becoming Pregnant Again: If you become pregnant again while you're still breastfeeding, the hormones of a new pregnancy are known to cause a decrease in your milk supply.
  2. Not Paying Attention to Your Diet: What a breastfeeding mother eats and how much water she drinks has not been shown to cause a significant decrease in the supply of breast milk. Moms all over the world can make enough breast milk for their babies even when their diet is limited. However, a healthy meal plan and adequate hydration are important for your overall health. If you are experiencing a lower breast milk supply, it certainly won't hurt to eat better and drink plenty of fluids during the day.

A Word From Verywell

If you are experiencing a decrease in your breast milk supply and you feel that one or more of the things included on this list could be contributing to it, then you can often increase your breast milk supply by trying to fix the problem. Taking care of yourself, trying to reduce stress or deal with stress in a healthier way, and making a few lifestyle changes can make a world of difference. Additionally, you can try to make more breast milk by breastfeeding or pumping more often. There are also some foods and herbs that you can use that may help increase milk production.

Of course, sometimes there are things that you can't change such as a new pregnancy or specific health problems. In those case, talk to your doctor and your baby's doctor. Most of the time, you can continue to breastfeed, but you may need to add a supplement to be sure your child is getting enough breast milk

Sources:

Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding: A Guide For The Medical Profession. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2015.

Reece-Stremtan S, Marinelli KA, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. ABM clinical protocol# 21: guidelines for breastfeeding and substance use or substance use disorder, revised 2015. Breastfeeding Medicine. 2015 Apr 1;10(3):135-41.

Riordan J, Wambach K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. 4th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2014.

Sachs, H. C., Frattarelli, D. A., Galinkin, J. L., Green, T. P., Johnson, T., Neville, K., Paul, I.M., and Van den Anker, J. The Transfer of Drugs and Therapeutics Into Human Breast Milk: An Update on Selected Topics. 2013. Pediatrics; 132(3): e796-e809.