Problems That Can Decrease Your Milk Supply

For a mother who had her heart set on breastfeeding, there is sometimes no greater disappointment than discovering that it is not happening for you as easily as you would have hoped. It wasn't supposed to go like this, you were supposed to immediately be able to bond and breastfeed, and you were supposed to make plenty of milk to grow your baby.

It's natural, this is what nature intended, and this is what breasts were made to do, right? For some women, things that are completely out of their control interfere with their ability to breastfeed. Spotting these problems and pinpointing them can be difficult, but it can be very worth it, because if you know what's interfering, you have the chance to fix it and make it better.

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10 Hormone And Endocrine Problems

Let's say you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), low or high thyroid, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), or other hormonal problems that interfered with you trying to conceive. Those same issues that made conceiving difficult can also contribute to low milk production, because making milk relies on the hormonal signals being sent to the breasts.

In some cases, treating the health condition can help to boost milk production, although supplementation may be necessary. You may need to visit a breastfeeding or lactation consultant to help find an approach that can work with your specific condition. 

2. Previous Breast Surgery


There is absolutely nothing wrong with getting any kind of cosmetic surgery, let me start off saying that. If it makes you happy, then you do what you want to do. That said, breast reductions or enhancements can impair your ability to breastfeed. So, potentially, can nipple piercings, and they can damage milk ducts in the nipple.

How much these surgeries affect breastfeeding varies widely, depending on how it was done, how much time has passed since it was done, and whether there were any complications such as scarring that could have caused scarring or damage to the breast.

However, even after a reduction, with the current medical advancements and procedures, it is more than possible to have successful breastfeeding after breast modification. Some women, especially those who have enhancements rather than reductions, can breastfeed with little to no difficulty. Others may need extra help.

8 Hormonal Birth Control

Unfortunately, that little pill or that implant you use to prevent an unwanted pregnancy can also affect your milk supply. Birth control pills are essentially hormones, so when you take them, you're changing your natural hormonal balance. Estrogen-containing contraceptives have been linked to low milk supply and a shorter duration of breastfeeding.

Many mothers find that milk production doesn't change when taking hormonal birth control, but for some, it can cause a significant drop in milk. This is most likely to happen if you start using these contraceptives before your baby is four months old, but it can sometimes happen later as well.

The first step to increasing your supply again? Unfortunately, it is stopping the contraceptive use. So, be prepared to talk to your doctor and be prepared to change your birth control methods.

On a bright note, there are many non-hormonal birth control methods to choose from, including condoms, spermicides, diaphragms, sponges, the cervical cap, and the Paraguard IUD are all non-permanent, non-hormonal methods of birth control. Discuss all your options with your doctor, and figure out what would be best for you. 

7 Certain Medications, Herbs, And Alcohol

Just like some medicines can make it so you have problems with staying awake, they can also affect your supply. Pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in Sudafed and other cold medicines, methergine, bromocriptine, or large amounts of sage, parsley, or peppermint can all affect your milk. Drugs that increase dopamine decrease serum prolactin and suppress lactation.

And yes, this includes alcohol, when consumed in large amounts. Despite some old-wives tales, alcohol does not increase milk production, and it has been shown to actually inhibit let-down and decrease milk production.

In fact, babies nurse more frequently but take in less milk in the 3 to 4 hours after mom has had a drink, and one study showed a 23% decrease in milk volume with just one drink. 2 or more drinks is where you see more of a decrease in let-down.

If you notice your supply has dropped, and you notice you took one of these medicines, ask your doctor for an alternative treatment for your cold or health problem. Increased breastfeeding and possibly pumping will help you rebuild your milk supply.

6 Sucking And Latch Problems

Sometimes, it has nothing to do with mom initially, but with baby. The way milk production in a healthy person with no health issues works is that when baby sucks at the breast and drinks, it triggers more milk to be produced. However, if you have no sucking motions going on, or the latch isn't right, you can have a diminished supply. And remember, your latch can be off if the baby is extra fussy and extra hungry.

Most babies will feed best if they are put to the breast before they are crying hard. Crying is a very late hunger signal, they will show other signs before whining or crying, such as rooting and sucking their fists or fingers, stirring from sleep, etc. Many moms find that offering the breast as soon as baby starts to stir can help baby get a good feed.

Some moms also use kangaroo care, which is skin to skin cuddling, to help the baby relax into breastfeeding, and also helps boost the mother's hormone levels and help her milk supply.

5 Not Feeding At Night

Breastfeeding is a supply and demand kind of activity. By cutting out night time feedings, you're limiting the 'demand', so of course, supply will decrease in response. The level of prolactin is higher during night time feedings, so the lowered overall amount of prolactin can also contribute to a drop in milk supply.

If your baby is sleeping through the night, you're missing out on that boost of hormones. While the lure of more sleep is very enticing, for most of us the night time feedings are essential to keep your milk production high. Consider getting up to pump at least once at night, or waking your baby up to feed. It really can make a huge difference.

4 Supplementation

Unfortunately, it's another case of supply and demand here. Supplementing tricks your breasts into producing less milk. If less milk is removed from the breast, less milk is made. When the baby is given supplements, she naturally will eat less at the breast, and the breasts respond by making less milk.

3 Birth Meds And Jaundice

Many women don't realize that the medicines used in labor, such as an epidural or Demerol, can affect the baby's ability to latch on and breastfeed effectively. Studies have shown the effects of this can last upwards of a whole month, depending on the medication used in the epidural and the length of time the mom received it.

Jaundice, which is a common condition for newborn babies, can also make your little one sleepier than normal, which can make him not wake up as often to nurse as he should. In both cases, you may need to pump your milk to build a supply.

Once the baby has cleared the medicines from his or her system, and the jaundice has been treated, the baby will probably begin nursing well and you'll be able to reduce and eventually stop pumping. You shouldn't have to stop breastfeeding altogether, or resort immediately to a bottle of formula, to resolve jaundice.

Supplementation with formula is not the only or even the preferable way to fix rising bilirubin levels. You have other options, such as supplementing with expressed or pumped milk or colostrum with a spoon, cup, or even at the breast via an infant feeding tube, you can use small amounts of donor milk, and if nothing else you can use a hydrolyzed formula, not a standard one, for supplementation.

2 Scheduled Feedings Or Using A Pacifier

Your breasts make milk all the time, but the rate at which they make milk depends all on how empty they are. You'll make the most milk when your breasts are close to empty and less milk when they're already full.

When your baby is feeding infrequently, because he or she is on a three or four hour schedule for example, or because you're giving the baby a pacifier to stretch out time between feedings, your breasts are fuller, longer. This means, you guessed it, milk production is going to slow down.

Breastfeeding 'on demand' permits babies to adjust their intake in response to natural variations in breast milk quality and quantity. When babies are fed in response to their hunger cues, they tend to have shorter, frequent feedings, and this means the breasts are emptier most of the time, so they continue to produce milk. 

1 Lack Of Glandular Breast Tissue

For whatever reason, some women's breasts just don't develop normally, and may not have enough "milk-making" ducts to meet their baby's needs. Breast hypoplasia, also known as 'insufficient glandular tissue', is a rare condition that results in a mother's inability to produce enough milk for her baby.

Ducts do grow and increase during each pregnancy, and breastfeeding stimulates the growth of more ducts and tissue, so may be less of a problem with the second, third, and onwards pregnancies.

There are ways to maximize milk production, but it may include pumping and getting help from a doctor. It's worth the effort to keep breastfeeding because every small drop of milk helps your baby's immune system, brain development, and nutritional needs.

Only a lactation consultant or a doctor can truly diagnose these problems, but if you know what potential problems are there, then diagnosing why you are having difficulty becomes much easier. If you're having difficulty, then contact a breastfeeding group, such as La Leche League. They can be your biggest advocates when you are having difficulty in breastfeeding.

Also, remember if you are able to continue breastfeeding or if you have to switch to formula, the important thing, in the end, is that your baby is loved and fed. So, whether you are a breastfeeding mother or you formula fed, for whatever reason, you are awesome, you are a great mother, and you are doing the best for your child. Don't let anyone make you feel any differently.

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