When you’re a breastfeeding mom, experiencing low milk supply can feel grueling, emotionally and physically, for breastfeeding moms. Yet when it comes to breastfeeding, success doesn’t have to look just one way. You have a lot of options in front of you.
Supply and demand: The physiology of breastfeeding
Before we talk about the best ways to handle low supply, let’s take a quick refresher at how milk supply works in the first place.
Milk storage capacity
All mothers’ breasts have a certain number of storage containers (mammary glands, which are made up of lobules and ducts, to be scientific about it) that store milk between feedings. A common analogy used to describe this is cups — some mothers have shot glasses, some have juice cups, others have tumblers. All are equally capable of providing breastmilk, but some babies might have to belly up to the mama bar a few times before they get enough milk.
(Note: breast size doesn’t equate to mammary glands. Size has mainly to do with fatty tissue.)
Hormones play a big role in triggering lactation. Two of the major players are prolactin and oxytocin:
- Following birth, prolactin triggers milk production to begin and will continue to support lactation with each feeding
- Oxytocin helps induce letdown
Supply and demand
Let's go back to the cup analogy. When your baby empties your "cup," that tells your body to that it's time for a refill. However, the longer between refills, the less milk your body produces. After all, it's not being told to make more! It thinks that you're full up. This is the supply and demand nature of breastfeeding at work.
How to deal with low supply
Consider: you may not have low supply
Don’t get caught up in the comparison game. Stories and pictures of oversupply moms who pump 10oz in one session can easily make you think that pumping 3oz isn’t enough. But just because you may pump less doesn’t mean that you actually have low supply. Instead of looking at your per session output, look at how much you pump total. This will give you a more accurate picture of your supply.
And, of course, the most important question: is your baby gaining weight and producing enough wet and dirty diapers? If they are, then take comfort that your baby is getting enough to eat, not the size of your milk stash.
Set your goals
Lots of moms feel like they have to breastfeed just one way or for a certain amount of time to be successful, but that’s simply not the case. Your breastfeeding journey is all about what works for you and your baby, not every other breastfeeding mom.
That being said, what do you want to achieve? Are you looking to recover your supply after experiencing a bout of mastitis? Are you wanting to maintain your milk as you transition to weaning? Do you need to boost and regulate a low supply?
Come up with an action plan
Get in touch with a lactation consultant
Lactation consultants can help you figure out how much milk you’re producing by doing weighted feeds. During those feeds, they will also assess your baby’s latch, feeding position, and other elements that would influence how much milk they are transferring — which, in turn, impacts how much milk you’re producing. They’ll ask you about how often you’re nursing or pumping, how many wet diapers your baby has, and other questions to fully understand your breastfeeding situation.
Lactation consultants will also assess you, mama, for any underlying conditions that might affect how much milk you are producing.
Build a better breastfeeding schedule
When it comes to breastfeeding (whether pumping, nursing, or both), it’s all about supply and demand. And the greater the demand, the greater the supply.
So how does a busy mama find more time for breastfeeding? The key is to start small. Add in an extra pumping session after nursing. (If you’re nursing.) Make one pumping session a day a power pumping session.
Timing your schedule is important as well. Although it can be grueling to wake up in the early, early morning, you’ll actually see some of your best output during this time due to your prolactin levels.
Writing down your schedule lets you structure your time by committing blocks of time to pump. If it helps, use your calendar app to remind you of your schedule. Some mamas have also found that keeping a pumping journal provides some positive reinforcement for the schedule — it’s rewarding to see how much milk you’ve made, plus it can help you track your supply.
Take care of yourself
Any breastfeeding resource that doesn’t mention taking good care of yourself is skipping an important, if frequently given, bit of advice. Yes, moms everywhere are told to take care of themselves. It’s because we need to!
That means the following: sleep enough, drink lots of water, eat well, and exercise — to the best of your ability. Now, more than ever, you have to take care of yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup.
And when it comes to breastfeeding, that especially true. Now, eating a balanced diet itself won’t magically make you an overproducer, but it will help you have more energy and it will help you have better sleep quality, which in turn, will make you less stressed out.
Seek out community
No matter what your milk supply is like, having a support system for breastfeeding is invaluable. It’s hard work and no one knows that like another breastfeeding mama. Especially when it comes to issues to supply.
Where does one find their community? Well, right now, online is the safest option. Thankfully, there are tons of options:
- LaVie Facebook Group
- Dairy Queens Breastfeeding Support
- One Ounce at a Time
- Exclusive Pumping
- La Leche League
Some of these groups are open, some are private but you can request access. Join accordingly.
Your relationship is more than milk
Low supply can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to define your breastfeeding journey. It’s simply one aspect of it. What’s more important is that you feel confident in what you’re providing your baby — love, comfort, and care in every single drop.