If you’ve recently welcomed a new baby into the world, or if you’re looking forward to such a happy event, you know how your heart swells with joy every time you think of your little one. While your baby sparks such elation, caring for your little one might sometimes present unexpected challenges. Many mothers find this time to be particularly trying because of the difficulties inherent in breastfeeding. Breastfeeding mothers often worry that their babies aren't getting enough nourishment. It's not always easy to tell if the baby is drinking enough milk or if you're making enough to satisfy their needs.
We'll walk you through the most common reasons your milk production might be lower than you expect, as well as ways you can increase your supply.
Why is my milk production so low?
If we want to enhance milk production, we need to know why it's so low to begin with. Most women who breastfeed worry that their milk production is too low, and indeed, periodic drops in milk production are common. There are several factors that can impact milk supply, such as a mother’s stress, hydration level, and nutrient density of diet. While some moms aren’t able to increase their supply, which is totally OK because every mom is different, moms who want to increase milk production can take steps to improve lactation.
Using a bottle for feedings
The science behind how a mother makes her milk is still a little mysterious. However, it seems evident from studies that the hormones produced through breastfeeding play a role in regulating milk supply. As baby suckles, your body receives feedback that milk is needed, and so you produce more.
The hormone prolactin stimulates milk production. When you nurse your infant, your body releases prolactin, which stimulates your breasts to produce more milk. Your body will naturally produce more oxytocin when you hold your infant close to your skin and when they are suckling. It’s a positive feedback loop where you feel good nursing, so you want to nurse more, and this in turn supports increased milk production.
There is nothing wrong with feeding formula to your baby, but moms who want to focus on breastfeeding should avoid using formula or even feeding breastmilk out of a bottle. Using a bottle or formula to supplement breastfeeding can cause a drop in milk production because the hormonal positive feedback loop gets broken. Pumping breast milk doesn’t support the same oxytocin release that suckling your baby does, so over time your milk production can decrease.
Avoid using pacifiers
Babies who rely on pacifiers may be less inclined to latch on to your breast for feedings. Not stimulating milk-producing hormones like oxytocin and the protein prolactin can reduce your milk production as well. Since pacifiers satisfy the need for baby to suckle without providing any nutrition, their natural instinct to seek milk becomes disconnected from the action of suckling, which may even lead to increased crying as a way to communicate their hunger.
You might be dehydrated
Many breastfeeding mothers don't know that dehydration can reduce milk supply, nor how common dehydration can be. Dehydration occurs when fluid loss exceeds fluid intake, and most people, not just mothers, are experiencing at least mild dehydration at various points each day. When you first wake up, for example, you’ve been in bed all night without hydration, and you’ve been losing water through your breath while you were sleeping. Breast milk production can decrease if you are dehydrated, so making sure you’re well hydrated is a big step towards supporting a healthy milk supply.
Approximately 80% of breast milk is water, and the other 20% is produced from the nutrients in your food, which means that if you don’t have great hydration, your breast milk production will suffer. Water with electrolytes remains the best strategy to ensure that the water you drink can pass through cell membranes and perform the many functions it’s needed for. Have a glass of electrolyte-infused water first thing in the morning, or as soon as you’re able if managing morning sickness, as part of your fluid intake plan.
Other health challenges
Milk production can be compromised in women with certain medical conditions, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, and other hormonal imbalances. Rare medical problems, including mammary hypoplasia and inadequate glandular tissue (IGT), can also lead to low amounts of milk production. These conditions are something to discuss with your trusted healthcare practitioner, and they will be able to discuss specific hydration and breastmilk production strategies suited to your needs.
Women who have had breast surgery or trauma may also have trouble lactating. If this describes you, you may still have enough glandular tissue to produce sufficient milk, but this isn’t always the case. Check with your healthcare provider to discuss strategies that will work for you.
Do not hesitate to visit your pediatrician or a lactation specialist if you are concerned about your breastmilk production (known as an IBCLC). They can help uncover the underlying source of the issue and establish a plan to remedy the situation.
How can you boost milk production?
Many mothers question how to improve milk supply, especially in the early days of breastfeeding. The vast majority of mothers are able to provide adequate breast milk if that is their choice. Assessing your baby's weight gain is one way to know if they are getting enough milk.
It's important to monitor your baby's weight increase with your pediatrician to make sure they are developing normally. The mother's ability to produce enough breastmilk should be evaluated if the infant is not gaining weight as expected. If your body isn't producing enough milk, a doctor can assist determine the underlying cause.
Besides addressing any underlying health issues, the four strategies presented here should help you produce more breast milk.
Lactation supplements and galactagogues
Some herbal supplements, known as galactagogues, can help stimulate lactation in nursing mothers. Examples of lactation aids are lactation cookies, flaxseed, blessed thistle, fenugreek, and brewer's yeast. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, these are known to be the most powerful ways to increase milk supply. You should consult your doctor before using any of these home treatments to make sure they aren’t contraindicated in your specific situation.
Improving baby’s latch
Having trouble latching can cause a drop in milk supply since it means your baby can’t suckle as strongly as necessary to trigger the hormonal feedback loop, and they might not be able to get enough milk. Help your infant gain a better grip on breastfeeding by consulting with a lactation expert. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing nursing positions, but discuss any possible issues with a professional who can assess yours and your baby’s needs. If your baby stops latching after only a few minutes, encourage them to stay latched longer, or switch breasts to increase the amount of milk they can get at a time.
Pump extra milk after nursing
Draining your breasts with pumping sessions after each feeding is another approach to boost milk production. Breast pumping after feeding sessions sends signals to the body to increase milk production. If your infant has trouble latching or only feeds occasionally, you can drain the milk supply with a breast pump. A pump will simulate your breast in the same way your baby suckles. While pumping shouldn’t be your only strategy for the reasons mentioned above, using it as an adjunct method can help increase your supply. If your baby is getting enough milk and you have extra milk after pumping, you can consider breastmilk donation for babies in your local area.
As discussed above, breastmilk is 80% water, so making sure you have plenty of water in your body is essential to making sure you can produce as much milk as your baby needs. Preventing dehydration is an important step in increasing milk production. Particularly in cases of chronic dehydration, a mother's milk production can diminish from a lack of fluids. Studies suggest that a shocking 75% of the US population suffers from chronic dehydration. That's why keeping an eye on your water intake is crucial.
Preventing even mild dehydration is the first step, so having water and electrolytes throughout the day will help you stay hydrated. Stay ahead of the dehydration curve by having water and electrolyte drinks before you’re thirsty. Have an electrolyte drink as early in the morning as you’re able, and make sure to get at least 80 ounces of water through the day. If you’re active or live in a warmer area, compensate with more water and electrolytes so your milk supply doesn’t decrease.
Key Nutrients Electrolyte Recovery Plus: Your Best Weapon Against Dehydration
It's natural for breastfeeding mothers to have concerns about their milk production and whether or not they're making enough. While the process of learning to breastfeed may be challenging, it need not be overwhelming.
Electrolyte Recovery Plus is an effective method of rehydration for nursing mothers whose milk supply is negatively impacted by dehydration. Restoring fluid balance after being dehydrated requires the optimal composition of electrolytes in the body. Our carefully calculated ratio of electrolyte minerals and vitamins are reviewed by a naturopathic doctor to ensure they’re a safe and healthy option for mothers who are breastfeeding.