I cannot emphasise this enough. Apologies for the capital letters. Every day mothers panic and end breastfeeding or start using formula and there is not an underlying problem with their milk supply. But of course – once they start using formula without correct support, they often will start to send signals to their breasts to really reduce supply.
These are the things that REALLY tell you a mother might have low milk supply:
Have a look at the chart in your red book. Notice how we have birth weight line and then a space where the curvy lines don’t go and they start again at week two. Just because your baby was born on the 75th percentile, that doesn’t mean we would expect them to definitely re-start on the 75th after that two week gap. That’s why the lines don’t continue. That’s why we have that space. We start again at two weeks. Your baby might be on the 50th then. They then ideally will roughly stick in the same vicinity. But babies wobble around a bit. They might dip below. They might get close to the 25th. And then they might bob back up again. We don’t expect all babies to hug a line exactly. This chart is a guide. It’s about averages. It’s not about mathematical certainties.
Weight gain and nappies. That’s it. Those are the only things that tell us about milk supply. You may hear people say that ‘babies should be settled after a feed’ but some babies get wind or need to poo or have reflux or wake up and want second helpings. Let’s be careful about even saying that. Let’s look at weight gain and nappies.
So let’s now assume you do have low milk supply. How many of you are still with me? I’m sorry if you are. I’m sorry if your baby only put on 60g last week and 90g or less or nothing the week before that and they are slipping down the percentiles. I’m sorry because I know how scary that can feel. Nothing feels like it matters more. There are things we can do.
You can take an hour and do some ‘cluster pumping’ or ‘power pumping’. Pretend to be a baby having a cluster feed. Pump for ten minutes. Break for five. Pump again and repeat. Just check your pump is the best one available. If it’s second hand or you have had it a while, it might need servicing or replacement parts. You also might want to consider hiring a hospital grade double electric pump from someone like www.ardobreastpumps.co.uk to give yourself the opportunity to pump both sides together as effectively as possible.
Pumping shouldn’t hurt. Make sure your flanges are the right size – that means they are the right diameter for the size of your nipple. Don’t think that cranking up the suction will automatically do better things. And don’t think, “I don’t want to pump because I will empty my breasts and baby will have less milk.” Certainly they might be less appreciative if you pump just before a feed is due and you leave them with an emptier breast full of thicker fattier milk but pumping overall will increase milk supply and stimulate milk production. You are not ‘taking their milk away’.
You might also be someone who always gets better results with just using hand expression so stick with that. Of course, you might not want to pump at all and just focus on feeding baby more effectively and frequently.
Do you have PCOS? Some women with PCOS (not all) have a reduced milk supply.
These are times when it’s worth finding an IBCLC and getting technical.
Some doctors will do hormonal testing for you. There are medications that can help develop breast tissue especially in pregnancy.
What about your thyroid levels? This is something relevant for more people than you might realise. If you are trying everything and low milk supply continues to be a problem, ask your doctor to check your thyroid levels. There are sometimes medical reasons mothers have a low milk supply and doctors and lactation consultants may be able to help you. These are not the most common reasons why people have low milk supply by a long shot. Hence the need for the flap.
Most people who genuinely have low milk supply got themselves into a pickle with using artificial nipples or not breastfeeding enough or breastfeeding ineffectively. And it can almost always be reversed.
Also remember that just because you had low milk supply in your first breastfeeding experience, it doesn’t mean a subsequent lactation will also be a struggle. The development of all that breast tissue first time round often helps.
Hold in your mind the fact that women can relactate after not breastfeeding at all for several weeks. We CAN send signals to increase supply again in the vast majority of cases. There are tons of us in real life and online who want to support you.
Article written by IBCLC and ABM BFC Emma Pickett