Causes of Milk Supply Issues

This first part will seem a bit like boasting. I promise, that is not the goal. This is my milk journey. My journey has brought me experience in knowing why my milk production drops and how to bring that production back to where I need it for my baby love.

The Back Story

With our first baby, I was a full-time working mother in an office. Pumping became second nature. I started during my 6 week maternity leave to build a bit of a stash at home for when I started work.

When went back to work and started pumping, I was bringing home upwards of 30 ounces of milk for my baby. Several ounces more than she needed on a daily basis. Babies only need about 25 ounces of breastmilk a day and that’s for the entire day, not the 9 hours of work time.

By about three months of being at work and using my pump, I would bring home about 45 ounces of milk. That’s just during one work day! I donated close to 1000 ounces over a period of around 6 months. Baby love was about 9 months old when I gave my last, very large, milk donation.

I felt like super mom! It was incredible to be able to produce that much milk. Not only for my own baby but to help save the lives of other babies was an amazing feeling. The donated milk went to preemies at the hospital.

It was at that point when I decided I needed to reduce the production a bit. We were completely out of freezer space so I couldn’t store that much milk any longer. I would have continued to donate, but they would require another blood test and since they would only take my milk until baby love was 12 months old I decided to not get another test. I’d had my fill of needles over the last year.

So I changed the length of time I would pump. I would continually pump for 10 minutes before so I dropped it down to around 8 minutes or if the milk spray stopped. I was also pumping about 4 times a day to stay comfortable so I dropped down to 3 pumping sessions a day. I was pretty uncomfortable for a few days and leaked overnight while nursing, but this effectively told my body that it was making enough milk and reduced production.

The oh so glamorous life of a pumping, working momma.

For the next few months, things stayed steady. I kept a usual schedule of 3 pumping sessions at work for roughly 8 minutes per session. My output was a constant 20 ounces per day. Baby love usually drank around 18 ounces during the day while with our sitter so I was able to keep a nice stock pile in the freezer.

During all this time, I’d have a bowl of oatmeal every morning. I ate (and continue to eat) fairly healthy. Exercise? That was non-existent. Who has the time to exercise with a baby around? (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.)

Changes Underway

I had started a training program to prepare for a 5k with my sister. During that time, I saw a continual drop in milk supply. My heart dropped when one day, I was only able to produce 11.5 ounces for the day.

I know that is a lot for some mommies but it is not much for me. My baby love still drank 16-18 ounces during the day so my backup supply was slowly dwindling.

It had me very concerned as baby love and I were nowhere near ready to cut this aspect of our relationship. So…

What are some causes for milk production to be low in an established supply?

1 Hormone Changes

After the first 12 weeks after birth, milk production becomes mainly a supply-and-demand relationship. However, hormones still play a role in production even after lactation has been well established. I can tell the various points of my cycle based on my milk production such as when I’m ovulating vs when I’m not.

2 Oxytocin

A hormone? Yes! This hormone is responsible for telling your breasts it’s time to make milk. That feel-good, happy, love hormone. If your hormones are starting to level out, you may be seeing a drop in milk supply because this hormone is lowering production. Try taking a photo of your baby with you when pumping and think about holding your baby, smelling your baby’s head, feeling your baby’s little hand on your chest as you hold them.

3 Caloric In-take

Breastfeeding takes a good amount of calories. I know most women want to lose their baby weight after giving birth but don’t try to lose that weight by reducing your calorie count. Definitely make the calories worth it (as in limit the cake and sweets) by eating meals rich in vegetables, fish, oats, and other nutrient-rich foods.

Most breastfeeding women utilize 300-500 calories per day. That means, if you’re hungry, there is a reason for it! You’ll lose that weight by feeding your body healthy foods. Your body will become more efficient at utilizing those calories and the calories in your fat reserves. That means the weight will melt off!

Just remember that it took 9 months to put on the baby weight and it could take up to 9 months for that weight to come off.

4 Water

During the day, one of the biggest reasons I may have a “bad” pumping session is because I didn’t drink enough water. Most people don’t realize when they are becoming dehydrated since it can be so mild during the day. I get the best milk results when I’ve given my body the liquids it needs.

5 Pump Gear

This may seem obvious but I really don’t think it is. When you have a daily routine and you’re just going about your business, it’s easy to overlook your equipment.

The last time my milk supply began to drop, I noticed the white membrane had a small tear. I had been gradually increasing the pump strength with little results. As soon as I put a new membrane on, I turned the dial to the same level I’d been using and nearly jumped out of the chair! The suction level was a drastic difference from before.

Check that gear! Make sure it’s clean (including the machine), there are no tears in the membranes and everything is plugged in correctly.

6 Changes in your schedule

I almost always see a difference in my supply when my schedule changes in some way. I’m usually pretty regular at work but if I miss a session or am late for a session, I see a change. Although my baby love doesn’t feed on a set schedule during the weekend, we’re still very on-demand, she’ll nurse much more frequently than 3 sessions during the day at home.

7 Hand Expressing

Maybe your breasts don’t respond to an electric pump or you don’t have your pumping gear handy. Become friendly with hand expressing. it takes a bit of practice but it’s a life saver once you have it figured out!

8 Baby’s Latch

Your baby’s mouth should look like a fish when latched to your breast. If they don’t look like they’re about to give you fish kisses, try encouraging your baby to tip their chin up by putting their nose level with your nipple. This will automatically cause your baby to open wide with your nipple pointing to the roof of their mouth and give them a good mouthful of breast. When they feed, they should have more of the underside of the breast tissue in their mouth so that when their tongue works, it is massaging the milk up and out.

These are some of the most common reasons a pumping momma may see a reduction in how much milk she’s producing. Keep in mind any changes you attempt can take 2-3 days to show a change in your supply. Those changes are telling your breasts to make more or less based on how often and how long you pump.

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