Oftentimes, one of a new breastfeeding parent’s primary concerns is whether they’re producing enough milk. If you’re not bottle-feeding, it can be hard to judge how much milk your little one is getting — and easy to wonder whether you’re giving them the nutrients they need to thrive.
Even if things appear to have been going smoothly, at some point you may wonder whether your milk supply is keeping up with the demands of your growing baby. You may even suspect that your milk supply is decreasing.
These concerns sound familiar? Read on to learn how to know when your milk supply is decreasing, as well as what you can do if this is the case.
Many of the signs, such as softer breasts or shorter feeds, that are often interpreted as a decrease in milk supply are simply part of your body and baby adjusting to breastfeeding.
Some signs that your baby isn’t getting enough milk when they feed and may indicate a supply problem include the following:
- Not producing enough wet/dirty diapers each day. Especially in the first few weeks of life, the number of wet and dirty diapers your child produces is an indicator of the amount of food they’re getting. A baby should be producing 6 to 8 wet/dirty diapers per day. Breastfed newborns typically poop more often than formula-fed babies do, and you should expect the poop to change from a black, tar-like color right after birth to a more greenish-yellow color by day 4 to an orange-yellow, seedy appearance by about 1 week.
- Lack of weight gain. While it’s expected that your little one will lose some weight right after birth, if they aren’t back to their birth weight by 2 weeks or steadily gaining weight after those first few weeks, it’s time to speak to their medical provider.
- Signs of dehydration. If your baby hasn’t produced urine in several hours, has no tears when crying, has a sunken soft spot on their head, and/or has excessive sleepiness or low energy levels, they may be dehydrated (or at least on their way to becoming so). If you see signs of dehydration, you should contact their doctor right away.
However, it’s important not to make too many assumptions about whether your milk supply is decreasing. Some things may seem like they are signs of problems but actually be normal. The following behaviors and signs don’t indicate supply issues:
- Your baby wants to nurse frequently. Your little one may be going through a growth spurt or simply want to comfort nurse.
- Your baby wakes to nurse. It’s normal for babies, especially breastfed babies, to wake in the night for food. Their stomachs are small and need to be filled frequently.
- Your little one is cluster feeding. Cluster feeding is a normal part of development and doesn’t indicate a problem on its own. (Though it can be physically and emotionally draining for breastfeeding parents!)
- You’re not pumping much milk. Your pump may need new parts or you may not be letting down as much with the pump due to stress, the time of day, etc. Plus, even a good pump is rarely as effective as a healthy newborn at suckling!
- Your older baby isn’t pooping as often. While breastfed newborns poop often, once they’re over 6 weeks old, it’s normal to go a few days or even up to 2 weeks without a bowel movement.
- Your breasts no longer feel engorged or leaky. After about 6–8 weeks (and sometimes as long as after 10–12 weeks), your body will adjust to your schedule and your baby’s needs, and you won’t feel as full between feedings. This doesn’t mean that you’re not producing milk, it’s simply an indicator that you’re in tune with your little one’s demands.
If you find that your milk supply really does seem to be decreasing, you may wonder what has gone wrong. There are many possible reasons why your production may not be meeting your baby’s demands:
- Latching/feeding issues. If your infant isn’t latching properly, they won’t be fully draining your breast during feeds, which can decrease production. Milk left in the breasts for too long may also cause infections and clogged ducts, which can also interfere with milk supply.
- Returning to work. Heading back to work can make you feel more stressed and offer less time to breastfeed or pump. This can mean breast milk isn’t being expressed as frequently, as well as that the hormones to encourage breast milk production are a little harder to come by.
- Hormonal changes. Various physiological events, such as becoming pregnant again or starting your period again, can result in hormonal shifts and less breast milk production.
- Introducing solids. Once you introduce solids, your baby may be less interested in breast milk. Since they may spend less time breastfeeding, it’s no surprise that your milk supply may begin to decrease. Although, most babies will continue to want breast milk as their main food source for most of their first year.
- Illness/certain medications. If you’re fighting an infection, your body may not have the resources it needs to produce your normal milk supply. This is usually a temporary problem, though, so no need to stop nursing! Additionally, certain medications (e.g., Sudafed and some types of birth control) can reduce your milk supply. Speak with your provider about any medications you’re planning on taking while breastfeeding.
When it comes to your milk supply, remember the essential rule of supply and demand: The more milk that’s demanded from your breasts, the more milk they will supply!
If your breast milk supply is decreasing and you’d like to try to get it back to where it was before (or even higher!), there are two key ways to make that happen.
Fully empty your breasts during feeds
Need help making this happen? Try the following:
- Massage your breasts. To maximize your milk supply, massage your breasts before and during the feed. (If you really want to make sure all your milk gets expressed, consider including some heat/warmth before you begin to help with letdown!)
- Do a combination of breastfeeding, hand expression, and pumping. After you finish breastfeeding, make sure your breasts are fully drained by pumping or hand expressing any remaining milk. (And don’t forget to do hands-on pumping. This will help you get even more milk out when you pump!)
Empty your breasts more frequently
A few ways to do this include:
- Staging a nurse-in. Spending a few days in bed with your little one just focusing on eating (this means you, too!). Every time they want some food, they get it, plus plenty of rest and skin-to-skin contact.
- Power pumping. Simulate cluster feeding with your pump to give your supply a boost. A number of schedules exist for power pumping, but the general idea is to make sure that you’re pumping, taking short 5-to-10 minute breaks, pumping, and taking short 5-to-10 minute breaks, and pumping again several times throughout the day.
Talk to a lactation consultant
A lactation consultant can not only help you with latch and milk transfer issues but also suggest pumping schedules and other tricks to maximize your milk production.
Make sure to get sufficient rest and stay hydrated
This will help your body produce the hormones it needs to make and release milk. It will also ensure that you have plenty of liquid for breastmilk. (It can likewise help facilitate lots of skin-to-skin contact with your little one, which can get the necessary hormones flowing.)
Maintain a healthy diet
It may be worth your time to test out some lactation-friendly foods (or galactagogues, if you prefer the scientific term) These include things like:
- green/unripe papaya
- brewer’s yeast
You can also try lactation cookies and lactation teas, which are really just tasty options for galactagogues!
If you notice that your breast milk production is slowing down, there’s no reason to throw in the towel on breastfeeding. Take some time to confirm whether it’s really decreasing, and use some of the ideas above to start taking action to resolve any issues.
Breastfeeding is a journey filled with many ups and downs. Take a deep breath, know that you’re up for any challenge, and seek the help of a lactation consultant, midwife, or doctor when needed.
You may never know the exact amount of breast milk your baby is consuming, but you should be able to take comfort in seeing all the signs of a healthy, growing baby!