One of the major reasons many women stop breastfeeding is that they feel they don’t have enough milk to nourish their baby. I hear statements again and again, like: ‘he was a hungry baby’, ‘my milk just dried up’ and ‘my mum didn’t have enough either’. This just breaks my heart because often when mothers worry that they don’t have enough milk, they actually do but need the right person to support them to realise this. While there is a small percentage of women who try their guts out and just can’t make enough milk, in most cases low supply is actually caused by poor management. This all sounds rather gloomy, but luckily there ARE ways to boost supply if this happens.
Here, a few reasons why supply can drop:
SCHEDULED FEEDING It’s a bit of an old chestnut, but many mums are told (whether it’s by a friend, relative or even an out-of-date health professional) that their newborn needs to be fed every 3 or 4 hours, no exceptions. With some babies, this works out fine, but as every mother’s milk storage capacity is different, not responding to their baby’s hunger cues can have disastrous effects on their supply. It can dwindle very quickly if an upset, hungry baby is patted, rocked and dummied until the said time has elapsed.
BAD ATTACHMENT Some mums put up with sore, cracked nipples if their baby is drinking and happy, but what they don’t realise is by not asking for help when a latch is incorrect, their bub will find it much more difficult to remove the milk. If a baby is only sucking on the nipple and not the surrounding breast tissue, much less milk is removed, so supply can drop off as the pain picks up. So, it’s best to race in to seek professional help before it’s too late.
THYROID PROBLEMS An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) in a breastfeeding mum might lead to a decrease in supply and a baby who has trouble gaining weight. There are suitable drugs that can help reverse this condition which you can speak with your doctor about.
POLYCYSTIC OVARY SYNDROME (PCOS) Lots of mums with PCOS breastfeed just fine, but there are risks of reduced supply. Again, there are strategies that can help, as well as stepping up supply increasing techniques. So, seeing a doctor for individualised advice is important.
RETAINED PLACENTA OR HAEMORRAGE Losing lots of blood or retaining product after the birth can delay a woman’s milk first coming in. In these instances, mum may need to supplement baby with donated breastmilk or formula while continuing to stimulate the breast until the milk is in.
TONGUE-TIE A tongue-tie (when the piece of tissue under a baby’s tongue is restricting tongue movement) can prevent a baby from being able to remove milk optimally from the breast. If not diagnosed, the poor little thing can be sucking away day and night and still not get enough milk to gain sufficient weight. Meanwhile, mum’s supply wanes and wanes. A little scissor snip from a specifically trained doctor to release the tie can correct the problem.
INSUFFICIENT GLANDULAR TISSUE (IGT) This is a condition women are born with which means, during puberty, not enough milk-making tissue grows. A woman with IGT may appear to have small, underdeveloped breasts that are often asymmetrical with a large space between them. Women with IGT usually struggle to make a full milk supply regardless of how hard they try. However, I have helped many women with IGT over the years to be able to mix-feed their babies, and many have gone on to breastfeed their babies into toddlerhood, so seeking professional help can make all the difference.
Before I go, I must remind you all that if your baby is producing at least 5 heavily wet single-use nappies, or at least 6 soaking cloth nappies, as well as a couple of poos each day and some weight gain, chances are your supply isn’t low at all. And if your baby is unsettled and cluster feeding in the evenings, I really, truly promise it doesn’t mean your milk is running out. It’s your body telling your boobs to give that baby more of the fatty milk (thus your breasts feel softer) to help them gain weight and eventually put them in a longer sleep at night. There, I said it.
For more info on increasing supply, check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association article: https://aba.asn.au/supplyBWABAblog
Simone Casey is an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor and community educator from Northern Melbourne. She’s breastfed three children over nine years and has been volunteering with ABA for over 13 years, with a 6-year stint as group leader of the Pascoe Hume Group and several years as regional representative of the Tullamarine Region. Simone was a journalist for 20 years so has loved combining her writing skills with her breastfeeding knowledge to create blogs for the national website and now recording this podcast series. In 2011 she qualified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and works in a private inner city hospital and runs her own lactation business doing home visits. Her volunteering highlight was at a branch conference in Ballarat when a trainee referred to her as ‘the Kylie Minogue of breastfeeding’.