One of the main worries I encounter when working with families is concern over low milk supply. Luckily, there are some great options to increase milk supply if you experience a dip. However, I want to talk about what may have caused the drop in your milk supply in the first place, and then offer solutions to help resolve (or avoid) these challenges before they occur.
An Ineffective Latch
Your milk supply works on a supply and demand basis. The more milk you remove – the more you make. A baby having difficulty latching can impact how much milk they are able to remove during feeds and lead to decreased milk flow. Some signs of an ineffective latch could be long feeds (+45 min to an hour) clicking, popping off and on the breast, slipping, nipple/breast pain or increased fussiness throughout the feed.
Solution: It is possible that your baby could be struggling with a Tongue or Lip Tie or you may simply need support with positioning or management of the feed. If you notice any signs of an ineffective latch, see a Board Certified Lactation Consultant to have your baby’s latch assessed.
In the beginning, implementing strategies such as sleep training too early, scheduling feeds or tightly swaddling to encourage babies to sleep longer can all throw your milk supply out of rhythm and potentially decrease your milk flow. Research has shown that frequent feedings and offering the breast often whenever your baby cues (especially in the first 2-3 weeks) is key to establishing sufficient prolactin receptors in the breast to ensure your milk supply reaches its full potential.
Solution: Focusing on feeding your baby when they cue, especially in the early days, is a lot easier with support. If possible, ask family and friends or hire a Post Partum Doula to help pitch in so you can get as much rest as possible allowing you to focus on feeding your baby and staying as healthy as possible. If your baby is having difficulty latching or removing milk, pumping or hand expressing temporarily after some feeds can help protect your supply until you can get some support.
Nipple shields are thin pieces of silicone in the shape of an extended nipple that covers the areola and nipple to make feeds easier when there are challenges such as nipple pain or difficulty latching. Although they can seem helpful at times, nipple shields can potentially decrease your milk supply by limiting the amount of milk that is transferred at every feed. Overtime, this can sometimes lead to slow weight gain, increased fussiness at the breast or increased risk of plugged ducts or preference. Furthermore, once a baby becomes accustomed to a nipple shield, transitioning them off the shield and back to breast only can often be challenging.
Solution: If you introduce a nipple shield try to use it carefully while you work closely with a Lactation Consultant, who can provide hands on support to help you wean off the shield and protect your milk supply long-term.
Ingesting your Placenta
The practice of ingesting your placenta has been on the rise for years with the belief that it can decrease the risk of postpartum depression and increase a mother’s energy. However, we now know that ingesting your placenta after giving birth can significantly decrease your milk supply due to hormones (progesterone) found in your placenta that prevent the milk making hormones (Prolactin) from doing their job. Taking such high amounts of progesterone after your birth can confuse your body into thinking you’re still pregnant, significantly reducing milk flow.
Solution: I encourage my clients to avoid taking placenta capsules while they are establishing their milk supply. If you choose to take them try starting at a low dose such as one capsule every few days to see how your body and milk supply reacts.
When the frequency of feedings at the breast decreases (usually less than 8 feeds a day) it causes a decline in the prolactin levels in your blood, and can trigger an earlier return of your period (1). Often mother’s will experience a dip in their milk supply a few days before their period every month and 2-3 days into their cycle, which can make your baby fussier at the breast.
Solution: Some herbs, such as Shatavari, can be helpful during this time to give you a boost when your milk flow decreases due to your period. All over the world women have been using Shatavari for fertility and as a lactogenic herb to increase milk supply while breastfeeding. For dosage, start with 1 to 3 500 mg capsules daily.
Stress and exhaustion are unfortunately something that most mothers experience at some point in their journey. It can impact your milk supply, especially when it combined with some of the other situations mentioned above.
Solution: Asking for support from friends and family so you can sleep, rest and take care of yourself is key to taking care of your baby. Something as simple as drinking plenty of water, eating a diet rich in grains and dark leafy greens and slowing down as much as possible will help support your body and keep your milk supply in check!
1. Simpson, Alicia C. “Boost your Breast Milk: An all-in-one guide for nursing others to build a healthy milk supply” The Experiment, New York (2017)
2. West, Diana and Marasco, Lisa. “The Breastfeeding Mothers Guide to Making More Milk” McGraw-Hill (2009)