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Breastfeeding and Decreased Milk Production — an article on the Smart Living Network
June 27, 2011 at 9:44 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Breastfeeding and Decreased Milk Production

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At some point, most nursing women will have issues about decreasing milk supply.  It is important to remember that this can be a natural part of breast feeding, and if it happens to you, it does not mean you need to quit breastfeeding! 

There are 3 questions to ask when your milk supply is slowing down, but you are not ready to quit breast feeding yet:

  1. How is the baby doing?
  2. Are there any reasons why my body is making less milk?
  3. What can I do to increase supply of my breast milk?

How is the Baby Doing? 

If you think that your baby is not getting enough milk, it is important to bring the baby into his or her doctor. One of the most important things they do at the doctor’s office is weight your baby.  Looking at how the weight has changed since the last visit helps us know if your baby is getting enough nutrition.  It is amazing how often it seems like babies are not eating enough, or are spitting up "everything" they eat, yet are still making good weight gain.  If they are making good weight gain, then we know they are getting enough nutrition. If they are not making good weight gain, then we know there is a problem.

7 Factors That Can Decrease Milk Production

A lot of factors can cause breast milk production to slow down.  The most common factors include: Poor diet, fatigue, anxiety/stress, excessive caffeine, smoking, medications, other drugs, or a hormone imbalance.  

  1. Diet.  Remember to take the time to take care of your physical needs.  Make sure you are eating at least 3 meals a day, with healthy snacks in between.  I recommend focusing on Fruits, Vegetables, adequate protein intake, and plenty of dairy.
  2. Fatigue.  This is easier said than done, but getting sleep when you can is very important.  As a mother of a newborn, you should never feel guilty about getting sleep when you can, you and your baby need you to have adequate sleep.
  3. Anxiety/Stress.  Anxiety and stress are very common both during pregnancy and after delivery.  It is important to teach yourself healthy ways for managing your stress and anxiety.  I recently wrote a blog about meditation as a natural technique to help control stress, anxiety, and panic attacks.
  4. Excessive Caffeine.  If you are having more than one caffeinated drink a day, then you should probably decrease your caffeine intake.
  5. Smoking & Other Drugs.  These should speak for themselves, they can be easy for people to get sucked into and hard to get out of.  If you ever find yourself getting sucked into any of these, it is important to find people to help you get out of it.
  6. Medications:  If you are on medications, it is good to ask your doctor if they might be affecting your milk supply.
  7. Hormone Imbalance:  These are relatively rare, but do occur.  If you think you might have a hormonal imbalance than talk to your doctor.

3 Tips for Increasing Milk Supply and Demand

It is important to remember that the breasts work on the principal of supply and demand.  If the milk is asked for, then the breasts will eventually make it.  This is how mothers of twins can make enough milk to feed both of them.  So even if one of the above factors are slowing down milk supply, you can use the principles of supply and demand to work for you.  Here are some tricks to keep in mind:

  1. Encourage baby to feed as much as possible:  The best way ask your breasts to make more milk is to have your baby feed as much as possible.  If you baby is falling asleep early in the feeding, then try to stimulate the baby and wake them up.  Try switching back and forth on the breasts, to get an even amount on each breast.  Younger infants will need to feed every 2 to 3 hours, but older infants can space out their feedings.  I would try to focus on expressing more milk at each feeding instead of increasing the frequency of feedings.
  2. Don't fall into the "supplementing" trap:  A lot of times when breast milk production is down, we as parents are tempted to make sure the baby is getting enough by supplementing.  It is important to remember that when parents supplement, they are decreasing the demand on mom’s breasts to make milk, so they are making it less likely for her breasts to increase the milk supply.  If you do need to supplement, it is very important that you do extra pumping to assure the breasts are feeling the demand.
  3. Time pumping:  One way of increasing demand is by pumping on top of breast feeding.  If you are going to do this, it is important to time the pumping to maximize the milk supply at the next feeding.  A lot of women have been told to pump in between feedings to increase demand, but I disagree with this. By pumping in between feedings, you are potentially decreasing the amount that your baby will have at the next feeding. You are also teaching your breasts that the "baby" wants smaller more frequent feedings, when we really want larger feedings.  Pumping between feedings also decreases the amount of time you have for much needed sleep.  Instead of pumping between feedings, I recommend pumping for 5 to 10 min on each breast immediately after each feeding.  This will be a more efficient use of your time, it will also teach your breasts that they need more milk at each feeding.

Be patient: Even if you are doing all the right things, it can take several days to a week to reestablish milk supply when it has slowed down.  Remember, as long as you keep the demand up, the milk will follow!

Stay Healthy,

Dr. Jeff M.D.

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