Dealing with a decreased milk supply

For something so natural, breastfeeding can be difficult for new parents in multiple different ways and at a few different times. Figuring out how to breastfeed is hard enough for many families, but once you’ve started, there are a few different bumps that than come up along the road. One of the most frequent and most frustrating potential problems that can come up is decreased milk supply.

Why does decreased milk supply happen?

Decreased milk supply can happen for any number of different reasons, and often is totally reversible, with a little time, patience, and creativity. Common reasons you might be experiencing a decrease in supply include:

  • Hormonal changes: Like your period returning. Sometimes, the return of your period can cause a drop in milk, either during menstruation or continuing after your period ends. In other cases, parents report that their babies breastfeed less during menstruation, causing a drop in supply due to the drop in demand.
  • Physical changes: Changes in your body like illnesses can cause a temporary drop in milk production. Some medications you might take to treat an illness, including certain over-the-counter cold medications, can also affect milk supply.
  • Emotional changes: Stress can have a negative impact on milk supply, and having a baby can be stressful! It’s not always easy to find a way to slow down and take some time to yourself with a baby, especially if you’re breastfeeding, but finding a way to relax can have a big positive impact on breastfeeding.
  • Changes in schedule: Some changes to your breastfeeding patterns, like returning to work, or Baby starting to sleep through the night, are out of your control, but unfortunately, they can still affect your milk supply. Stimulation is what prompts your body to produce milk, and increasingly long periods of time without it can definitely lead to smaller supply.
  • Lack of stimulation: Breast stimulation, and emptying the breasts of milk, are the factors that signal to the body that it’s time to produce more. Supplemental formula feeding for longer periods of time, offering a pacifier instead of a breast for comfort between feeding times, or the end of a growth spurt leading to a decrease in feeding times can all cause supply to go down.

What can I do about decreased supply?

In many cases, it’s possible to boost supply after it starts to fall, but it can take some time, so it’s important not to give up if you don’t see results right away. There are a few ways you can help encourage your body to produce more milk, and one of the most underrated, important ones is to make sure you’re as healthy as you can be. This means making sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, getting all the hydration you need, and getting as much sleep as it’s possible for you to get with a new baby.

Beyond general health, the most effective strategy for boosting your milk supply is letting your body know that there’s a demand for more milk by increasing breast stimulation. There are a few different strategies for doing this, some of which may be more or less effective for your family’s schedule.

  • Cluster feeding: When a baby naturally cluster feeds, or feeds more often and in shorter bursts during or leading up to a growth spurt, it signals to the body that it’s time to start producing more milk. You can help to create that same effect in a few different ways. You can use a breast pump to do some cluster pumping, or just offer your baby the chance to comfort feed instead of using a pacifier when your child is upset. If your little one isn’t used to frequent feedings like this, or is easily distracted when not feeding hungrily, you can try having these added feedings somewhere dim and quiet.
  • Finish it off: If your little one is done feeding before your breasts are empty, but you’re still trying to boost supply, try pumping out what’s left. If left in the breast, the protein in leftover milk can suppress your milk supply.
  • By hand: If sore or cracked nipples make you reluctant to add extra pumping to your schedule, you can try hand-expressing milk between feeding sessions, to add stimulation in a more gentle way.
  • Pump it up: Pumping milk when your breasts start to feel full, even if your baby isn’t nearby, or isn’t hungry, can encourage your body to produce more. If you’re going to be away from your baby for a significant amount of the day, like, for example, for work, if you have the chance to pump every 3 or 4 hours or so, that can make a huge difference. Keeping the pump on for 5 to 10 minutes after your body stops producing milk may also help, as can massaging your breast as you pump.
  • But in reverse: It can be a tiring option, so it may be best to save for a last resort, but if you’re having trouble keeping your supply up after going back to work, you can try reverse-cycle feeding for a while. This means feeding your baby most meals during the night. This serves the double-purpose of keeping your milk supply up by having lots of feeding times while you’re home, and also by cutting down on the amount they need to be fed expressed milk during the day.

There are plenty of natural remedies that have been discussed as ways of boosting milk supply, but one of the most widespread and widely approved of ones is oatmeal. There is no scientific proof that eating oatmeal will boost milk supply, but there are a wealth of first-hand accounts of women who have found it helpful. This is thought to be because of the high amounts of iron in oatmeal, since new moms are often low on iron after delivery. Since oatmeal is healthy and doesn’t have any negative side effects (except potentially for people with celiac disease), there’s no harm in trying it out. Oat milk, oat flour, and oatmeal cookies also might be helpful for boosting milk supply.

For very low supply, some prescription drugs have been known to help increase milk production. These medications do have potential side effects, and are only available by prescription. If you’re interested in trying a medication to help increase supply, you can talk to your healthcare provider about whether or not they’re right for your situation and your body. 

Is my milk supply really decreased?

Finally, a lot of the time, it’s easy to start to worry about a drop in milk supply when, in reality, nothing is wrong at all. As long as your baby is gaining weight, and producing a normal amount of dirty and wet diapers, your supply is probably fine. Signs like not feeling the letdown of milk or engorgement of the breast as strongly or as often aren’t necessarily signs of a problem at all, and may just mean that your body is getting used to breastfeeding. If you’re not sure if you’re experiencing a decrease in supply, your doctor or your baby’s pediatrician may be able to help you figure out if anything out of the ordinary is going on.

If you have questions about your health or your child’s, Ovia’s team of skilled nurses are available by in-app chat, and can send personalized advice right to your phone.

  • Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph. “Breastfeeding FAQs: Supply and Demand.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, February 2015. Web.
  • Elizabeth LaFleur. “What causes low milk supply during breast-feeding?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, September 22 2015. Web.
  • Decreased milk supply.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
  • “How can I increase my milk supply?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, June 21 2011. Web.
  • “Supply and demand.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
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