Common Causes of a Decreasing Breast Milk Supply

causes of decreasing breast milk supply

Verywell / Joshua Seong

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You may not realize it, but many things can interfere with how your body makes breast milk and your breast milk supply, including health issues, diet, lifestyle choices, and medications. By understanding what can interfere with your 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 things that lead to a reduction in breast milk and what you can do about it. 

Health Issues 

Your health and the condition of your body and mind can affect the production of breast milk. When you're physically well, getting rest, and have a healthy support system, your body can focus its energy on making milk.

But, if your body is out of balance because you have an untreated medical condition, you're exhausted, or under a lot of stress, you can see a decrease in your supply. Here are some of the health issues that affect milk production.

Getting Too Little Rest

Recovering from childbirth, the demands of motherhood, and breastfeeding a newborn can be exhausting. Postpartum fatigue and a lack of energy 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 prioritize getting enough rest. Consider:

  • Taking a nap when your baby takes a nap.
  • Breastfeeding with your feet up or lying down.
  • Asking your partner, family, and friends for help with older children and chores; they can also watch the baby for a little while so you can take a break and lie down.

Ignoring Your Health

An infection or other health conditions such as low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) and anemia can also cause your body to make less breast milk. Once you treat the cause, your body can focus on making breast milk again: 

  • See your doctor for an examination if you suspect that your milk supply is low because of a health issue.
  • Tell your doctor that you're breastfeeding so together you can decide on any prescription treatments.  
  • Talk to your doctor about treating your health conditions while you're breastfeeding.

Experiencing 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.

  • Take your pain medication as directed if you are in pain.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) if you do not have pain medication.
  • Move your baby away from visitors and go into another room to breastfeed if you're uncomfortable breastfeeding around others.
  • Take some deep breaths when you're feeling stressed.
  • Walk away for a few minutes and take some time to clear your mind.
  • Talk about your feelings with someone you trust. 

Becoming Pregnant Again

If you become pregnant again while you're still breastfeeding, the hormones of a new pregnancy can cause a decrease in your milk supply. 

  • Recognize that there's not much you can do to increase your milk supply while you're pregnant.
  • Consider supplementing with infant formula if the child you're breastfeeding is under a year old. Children over a year old who are getting more nutrition from solid foods may not require supplementation.
  • Talk to your baby's doctor about what your breastfeeding child needs.

Diet 

What you eat can affect your overall health and your milk supply. Certain herbs have a negative effect on milk production while some foods can have a positive impact. 

Paying Little 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.

  • Eat better and drink plenty of fluids during the day if you're experiencing a lower breast milk supply.
  • Add some breastfeeding superfoods to your daily diet, which can help boost your supply.
  • Try oatmeal, almonds, chickpeas, and dark leafy greens which are nutritious and have properties that support breast milk production. 

Using Excessive Amounts of Herbs and Spices

Small amounts of any herb or spice should not cause an issue. You can continue to cook with bits of your favorite herbs and spices. When taken in large doses, however, some herbs can cause a decrease in your breast milk supply.

  • Try to avoid peppermint and sage, which are the most commonly associated with a decrease in breast milk (this association leads some women to use them to help dry up the milk during weaning).
  • Recognize that if you enjoy menthol cough drops, breath mints, and peppermint candy on a regular basis, this also could impact your milk supply.
  • Avoid large doses of parsley, oregano, jasmine, and yarrow. 
  • Try using some herbs that may help increase your supply such as fennel, alfalfa, garlic, and ginger.  

Lifestyle Choices 

You don't have to give up all the things you love when you're breastfeeding. You can still have your morning coffee and even an alcoholic beverage on occasion. It's all about not overdoing it. But there are lifestyle choices that can interfere with breastfeeding. 

Consuming Too Much Caffeine

Caffeinated soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate are OK in moderation. However, large amounts of caffeine can dehydrate your body and lower your production of breast milk. Too much caffeine also can affect your breastfeeding baby.

Some of the caffeine you consume will pass to your baby through your milk, which can build up in your child’s body causing irritability and sleep problems. Having an irritable baby who is not breastfeeding well and stimulating breast milk production could have a negative effect on your supply.

  • Try to cut back to one or two caffeinated beverages a day, if you drink a lot of coffee or soda during the day.
  • Experiment with decaffeinated coffee or green tea in place of your afternoon coffee and sparkling water instead of soda.

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 your breasts. If your breast milk is not released, it will not drain out of your breasts and stimulate your body to produce more.

  • Avoid smoking near your baby, but remember it's best that you don't smoke at all.
  • Help with let-down issues by avoiding having a cigarette within two hours of breastfeeding.
  • Try to quit, and if you need help talk to your doctor. 

Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol, like smoking, can get in the way of the let-down reflex. If your child breastfeeds less often, you will not make as much breast milk. Not only can alcohol 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.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol regularly while you're breastfeeding—an occasional drink, however, is considered OK.

Medications

Many medications are safe to take while you're breastfeeding but some are not—and some may even contribute to low milk supply. Always check with your doctor or a pharmacist before taking medication including over-the-counter drugs. 

Taking Certain Medications

Some prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications can interfere with the let-down reflex and breast milk production.

  • Recognize that many cold, sinus, and allergy medications (such as Sudafed, Advil Cold, and Sinus, or Claritin-D) contain a decongestant called pseudoephedrine, which can dry up your milk supply. 
  • Tell your doctors that you're breastfeeding before they prescribe any medication.
  • Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and ask for a recommendations that are safe to use while breastfeeding.

Ask your doctor or a pharmacist before taking over-the-counter drugs and always double check the ingredients. Always inform your doctor you are breastfeeding so any prescriptions can be adjusted accordingly.

Taking 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.

  • If you want to use contraception while you're breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about the types of birth control that are safe for breastfeeding mothers.
  • Consider non-hormonal options such as the diaphragm, condoms, or the non-hormonal IUD, which are good choices because they do not have hormones that can interfere with milk production.
  • You can also talk to your doctor about progestin-only methods which contain a small amount of hormone (synthetic progesterone), but they do not contain estrogen. 

A Word From Verywell

If your supply of breast milk is decreasing and you feel that one or more of the concerns included on this list could be contributing to it, then you can often increase your breast milk supply by addressing the contributing issues. Taking care of yourself, trying to reduce stress or deal with stress in a healthier way, and making a few lifestyle changes, for example, can make a world of difference.

Additionally, you can try to make more breast milk by breastfeeding or pumping more often. Of course, sometimes there are things that you can't change such as a new pregnancy or specific health problems. In those cases, 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

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