When you are your baby’s sole feeding source, there’s nothing scarier than a sudden drop in milk supply!
As a mom of two, I’ve been through a few milk shortages. These situations were most common with my first daughter, mostly because I wasn’t sure what was causing it or how to get my milk back. By the time baby #2, rolled around, I had learned to recognize the signs and had a few tricks up my sleeve.
Needless to say, my mama heart goes out to you. Any breastmilk shortage is scary, but especially when you’re a new mom and not entirely sure if you can even get your milk back.
In this post we’re going to go over possible reasons why your milk supply is suddenly and how to increase your milk production fast. We’ll also go over some signs that your milk supply is decreasing. That way, you can be prepared if it happens again.
This article is infused with techniques and tips that I have personally found crucial.
Before we begin, I just have to say that the BEST decision I made during my time breastfeeding was visiting a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant diagnosed my firstborn with a tongue tie and helped my second baby improve her suction (both of these issues can lead to a drop in milk supply). If you’ve been on the fence about visiting your doctor or a LC, I hope you take this as a sign to do it!
Anyway, without further ado, let’s get into it!
Why Does Milk Supply Decrease?
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A woman’s milk supply is a delicate balance of hormones and the simple law of supply and demand. So, if your milk supply is decreasing suddenly, there’s a good chance it has to do with those two factors.
There are a ton of reasons why your milk supply can hit rock bottom. While we don’t have enough time to go over all of them, here are the most common ones:
- Not enough water (We’re not going to cover this one because it’s pretty self-explanatory, but keep in mind that dehydration is extremely common and easy to overlook)
- Insufficient Diet
- Incorrect Latch
- Your Baby’s Age-Related Milestones
- Missing/Dropping a Feed or Forgetting to Pump
- Ignoring Your Baby’s Hunger Cues
- Birth Control
- Lack of Proper Breast Stimulation
Let’s dive into a few of these issues and see if one of them sticks out to you!
1 Your Period
Not every woman experiences a drop in milk supply during her period…but I sure did! It was, by far, the worst perpetrator for my breast milk shortages.
If this is your issue, you’ll probably notice a drop 2-4 days leading up to your period and even up to 2 days after it starts. Doctors believe that this milk production decrease may be caused by the higher levels of estrogen. When I knew that my period was coming, I tried to prepare by pumping a little extra after my daughter’s feed and being extra aware of her cries.
During your period, your calcium levels also drop, which can lead to a sudden decrease in breastmilk production. Calcium and magnesium supplements can help minimize this.
2 The Latch
A good latch ensures that your areola are stimulated properly for milk production and your baby is draining your breasts effectively.
A bad latch can cause a decrease in milk supply. If your baby is consistently leaving milk in your breasts, your body will take that as a sign to produce less milk.
Not to mention, a bad latch comes with a whole host of other issues, such as sore or bleeding nipples and the dreaded clogged ducts (if you don’t dread them now, you probably will. Blocked ducts are awful!)
Here’s a couple issues that could be causing a bad latch:
- Tongue tie: While relatively uncommon, tongue ties and lip ties do happen. Some tongue ties don’t even require treatment. Others may prevent your baby from latching properly and hinder her sucking strength. Read about the symptoms and treatment here.
- Cleft Lips or Palate
- Inverted or Flat Nipples
- Premature Baby
- Poor Positioning
This is why visiting an IBCLC can be incredibly helpful if you’re having supply troubles. They know exactly what to look for and can diagnose any anatomy quirks that may be hindering your baby’s latch.
3 Your Baby’s Age
During growth spurts, your baby’s appetite will increase. When he begins to eat normally again, it can be a little shocking, because he’s not demanding as much breast milk. This, technically, isn’t a true supply drop. It’s just the natural ebb and flow of breastmilk.
However, there are a few milestones where a true drop in milk supply is more common:
- 6 weeks: Some women notice a sudden decrease in milk supply at 2 months. Before the 6 week mark, milk production is driven primarily by hormones. After 6 weeks, production is determined by supply and demand. Your body might need to adjust to this change. Or, if your baby is suffering from a tongue tie, maybe your supply has dipped because your baby is unable to drain your breasts properly.
- A sudden drop in milk supply at 4 months is also common. This is a popular time to begin feeding solids. It’s also during the dreaded 4-month sleep regression when mom and baby are stressed out.
- 6 months: Again, 6 months is a popular time to start solids. When your baby starts solids, you might notice a decrease in your milk supply. I experienced this as well. To protect my supply and ensure that my baby stayed well-hydrated, I nursed my baby first, then gave her solids.
4 Dropping the Night Feed
Not to be confused with “missing a feed.”
When your baby sleeps through the night for the first time (read: wakes up at 5am instead of midnight!) you might notice a dip in your supply. Your baby is consolidating her feedings. As long you continue to feed your baby as she demands it during the day, your supply should catch up. If you’d like to play it safe, you can also wean your breasts from the feeding by pumping and gradually decreasing the time.
5 Missing a Feed/Pumping Session
If you’ve just started solids, supplementing with formula, or you’re a working mom that pumps, it can be easy to miss a feeding or pumping session.
If you’re supplementing with formula, try to remember to pump for every feeding you supplement. If your baby isn’t demanding enough milk daily, your breasts may take that as their cue to begin weaning.
This goes for pumping too. It’s super easy to skip a pumping session at work when things are busy. You can make it up later, right? Well, kind of. Pumping later will remove the milk from your breasts, but you’ve already told your body that the earlier feed was unnecessary.
Miss or delay enough sessions and your breasts will begin to produce less.
6 Strict Feeding Schedule
There’s a huge difference between a strict schedule and a flexible feeding routine.
With a flexible feeding routine, you and your baby can benefit from a predictable day and still breastfeed. I used a flexible feeding schedule and breastfed my girls for 13 months!
If you follow a strict feeding schedule and ignore your baby’s hunger cues, your supply will plummet very quickly.
So, what do I mean by a flexible feeding routine? Just aim to feed your baby about every 2-3 hours during the day (depending on your baby’s age). If your baby gets hungry earlier, don’t sweat it. Just feed her. This safe-guards your supply and maintains a healthy trust with your baby. The 2-3 hour mark is a goal to work towards. But it isn’t the law.
If you plan on using a feeding routine, it’s important to have realistic expectations. Your little one will deviate. She will have growth spurts that prevent you from feeding only every 3 hours. Just stick to this rule: feed your baby when she’s hungry!
A few really good books that offer a healthy feeding routines include:
- On Becoming Babywise
- Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Traci Hogg
- Taking Cara Babies Newborn Sleep Class and Navigating Months 3 & 4 (Online class that helps you sleep train your baby and develop a healthy feeding routine…I loved these)
7 Your Diet
I know, I know. Everyone says that a poor diet can cause a drop in your milk supply.
But I’m not just talking about your growing obsession with Doritos and pizza (or whatever carbalicious cravings you might be having right now).
There are foods that may seem innocent enough but are actually known for inhibiting your milk production.
Herbs that can cause a decrease in supply:
- Lemon Balm
Keep in mind that some decongestants have also been linked with a “significant” decrease in milk production.
Dieting can decrease your milk supply
You need an extra 300-500 calories per day in order to maintain your milk supply.
Several diets can cause problems with your breastmilk supply, but keto especially seems to get a bad rep. It’s not that Keto itself is bad, it’s just that the foods you consume on a keto diet tend to fill you up faster, making it difficult to consume your necessary calories. You also need to drink a ton of water on the Keto diet, so there may not be enough for baby’s milk.
I’m not saying don’t diet while you’re breastfeeding. Just keep in mind which nutrients are necessary to protect your supply.
8 Stress Or Lack of Sleep
If you’ve already done research into causes of a sudden drop in milk supply, you’ve probably read that stress can decrease your milk production.
But seriously, when are moms not stressed? Because motherhood in of itself tends to be stressful, it’s easy to overlook this cause.
Let me explain how stress affects your milk supply.
Your body produces a hormone called oxytocin, which is essential for your initial letdown.
If oxytocin is a superhero, cortisol (the stress hormone) is its arch-nemesis. When you’re stressed or anxious, adrenaline floods your system, inhibiting the production of oxytocin. Without oxytocin, your supply dwindles and it becomes difficult to release your milk.
THAT is why sleep and relaxation is so important. Below, we’ll go over a few ways you can increase your oxytocin and safe-guard your supply from stress-related issues.
9 Birth Control
Remember how high levels of estrogen can cause your breast milk production to get a little crazy? This is why birth control pills containing estrogen and progestin may cause some women to notice a dip in their milk supply. Some doctors recommend progestin-only pills for breastfeeding moms.
Typically, IUDs aren’t believed to affect your supply too much.
10 Lack of Stimulation
Remember how a bad latch can affect your supply?
Incorrect or extended use of nipple shields can cause a gradual decrease in milk production as well.
If you’re a pumping mom, you should also make sure that you’re using the correct flange for your breast size. A flange that’s too small might constrict your breasts and the milk flow. A flange that is too large may not be able to empty them.
How to Increase Your Milk Supply
So, your milk supply suddenly dropped. Now, what do you do about it?
Let’s go over some methods that can increase your milk supply fast. I actually wrote a whole article on increasing your milk production here, but below are a few of my favorite ways.
Not to be a broken record, but let me just tell you one more time: don’t hesitate to visit a lactation consultant. These tips worked for me, but a trained lactation consultant can give you a wealth of knowledge and experience that can only help. She can watch you feed your baby and know if the problem is positioning, your baby’s anatomy, your breast anatomy, or anything else.
1 Suckle, suckle, suckle
The best cure for a sudden drop in milk supply is to increase demand!
Does your baby use a pacifier? BE the pacifier. Not only does this eliminate the possibility of nipple confusion, but it also increases skin-to-skin contact and increases oxytocin.
The duration of your nursing sessions matter too. Experts recommend feeding your baby at least fifteen minutes each session.
It’s important that your baby has full sessions, not just five minute snacks. Your baby needs hindmilk and foremilk. Foremilk is released in the first five minutes of nursing. It primarily hydrates your baby. Hindmilk is the yummy, nutritive stuff that makes him gain weight.
Full feedings also ensure that your breasts are being drained adequately.
Do you remember oxytocin and how good it is for breastfeeding?
Guess what increases oxytocin? Holding your baby! Not just snuggling, but skin-to-skin contact. In addition to increased oxytocin, skin-to-skin is amazing for several reasons:
- It encourages your baby to nurse
- Promotes a better latch
- Skin-to-skin produces massage-like movements over your areola and nipples, which can promote milk production
- Transfers “good” bacteria from mother to baby
RELATED POST: Kangaroo Care 101: How to Do Skin-to-Skin with Your Baby
3 Pump between feeds.
I love power pumping. In fact, it’s one of the techniques I used to double my milk production in three days! I learned this trick from Milkology, a breastfeeding class for moms. (If you haven’t taken a breastfeeding class I highly recommend this one!)
In a nutshell, you basically pump for 10 minutes, rest 10, then pump 10 more. Do this for an hour. The more you pump, the more you increase production.
If you’re exclusively breastfeeding and not pumping, you can try feeding your baby, burping him and bouncing, and then try another feeding in 10 minutes.
4 Breastfeed/Pump in a Relaxing Place
Let’s circle back to increasing that important hormone, oxytocin.
If you notice a sudden drop in your supply, analyze where you’re pumping/nursing. Believe it or not, your nursing environment can directly affect your milk output.
Working moms and moms with multiple kids (I see you!), struggle with this the most. You don’t have time to nurse in a dark, relaxing room. Or, if you’re a working mom, that just isn’t available. Work with what you have to create a relaxing environment.
Turn off the light at work (or bring your own night light), look at a picture of your baby, and even SMELL her blanket. All of these things stimulate oxytocin production and decrease cortisol.
If you’re at home with multiple kids, now is the time to break your solemn vow of “no screen time.” Either that or practice “quiet time.”
Galacta-what? I promise this isn’t a weird thing from Star Trek.
Galactagogue literally means “promoting the production of milk.”
There are three types of galactagogues you can take:
- Synthetic galactagogues: Typically, pharmaceutical medicine that increases prolactin.
- Plant-based galactagogues: Herbs, spices, and specific foods.
- Endogenous galactagogues: This is the best galactagogue of all. These come from your own body. Basically, this is what the rest of the post is about. Pumping more, relaxing in order to release more oxytocin, etc.
Usually when people talk about galactagogues, we think of plant-based…the spices and herbs that increase production. But technically, any food that increases milk can be considered a galactagogue (oats for example.)
Here’s a few galactagogues that I’ve used:
- Brewer’s Yeast
- Flaxseed (I recommend flaxseed anyway! It’s high in fiber and it’s just a great food to have around)
- Mother’s Milk Tea (I always saw an increase in milk when I started drinking Mother’s Milk. Some women don’t though.)
- MotherLove More Milk Plus
- Lactation Cookies (I made my own with Brewer’s Yeast and Flaxseed, but you can also buy the mix Mommy Knows Best)
- Goat’s Rue
- Tumeric (helps with circulation)
- Fennel Seed: One study found a higher content in milk volume, fat content, and infant weight gain. But no increase in prolactin.
The best “galactogogues” are healthy foods that nourish your body. We’ll go over those below.
6 Change Your Diet
When I was nursing, I could have happily lived on bread alone. But, my milk supply needed more. So does yours.
Eating a balanced diet is extremely important when you’re breastfeeding.
There’s a great article at Milk Dust that talks about which foods are the healthiest (and yummiest) to eat while breastfeeding. I also wrote an article on some delicious lactation-boosting meals to try!
Just to give you an idea, here’s what to look for:
- Whole grains
- Drinks lots of water. I used to keep a 32 oz tumbler with me. I drank before and after breastfeeding sessions, then throughout the day whenever I was thirsty. I think I filled my tumbler up about 4 times a day.
- Dark Leafy Greens: Arugula, spinach, kale. (All the nasty stuff my toddler hates.)
- Proteins are important: lean meats like chicken, fish (low in mercury). If you don’t like fish, consider taking Omega-3 supplements.
- Healthy fats like almonds, avocado, and olive oil: These are essential for your baby’s brain and nervous system development as well as your milk production.
7 Prescribed Supplements
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, speak to your doctor or a lactation consultant about your low milk supply. Especially if none of the techniques listed above help.
Your doctor may discover that you suffer from low prolactin levels.
Reglan, Motilium, and sulpiride are commonly prescribed medicines to encourage milk production. Keep in mind that these medications are considered a last resort as they do come with possible side-effects like depression, stomach troubles, and twitching.
Signs of A Sudden Drop in Milk Supply
Last but not least…how can you tell if your milk supply is decreasing?
Recognizing these signs is important. Next time your supply dips, you’ll be able to identify it early and bolster your production. I’ve categorized these signs into two different types: signs you will notice in your own body and signs your baby may display because your supply is low.
Signs you might notice in your own body:
- Breasts may feel softer
- If you usually feel your letdown, you might not feel it
- Not pumping as much milk
Signs Your Baby Isn’t Getting Enough to Drink
Not Enough Wet Diapers.
Below is a rough guideline of what to look for. Keep in mind that these diapers should be saturated.
- Day 1: 1-2 Wet Diapers
- Day 2-3: 2-4 Wet Diapers
- Day 4: 4-6 Wet Diapers
- Day 5–forever: 6+ Wet Diapers
Insufficient Weight Gain
Aside from buying an infant scale, this can be a difficult metric to track, but you can kind of get an idea by checking your weight on a regular scale and then checking again while holding your baby.
A general rule of thumb is that from birth to 6 months, a baby should be gaining 5-7 ounces a week. From 6-12 months, you should see your baby gain about 3-5 ounces a week.
Look for specific signs of dehydration, such as cracked lips, no tears when crying, elevated heart rate, sunken fontanel (soft spot) and lethargy.
Identifying your baby’s hunger by screaming can be difficult because, well, babies scream a lot. They scream when they’re tired, have gas, or just bored.
Having said that, you may notice a distinctive scream toward the end of the feeding (not to be confused with the high-pitched squeal of gas).
My daughter used to scream with hunger at the end of our feeding and lunge toward my breast. She would continue screaming for the rest of her awake time, until my milk replenished enough to give her a second feeding. This scream was more of a long wail.
Waking from Naps Early
It can be difficult to know if your baby is waking from sleep issues or hunger issues. Especially around the 4 month mark when you’re combating a sleep regression. If your baby is suddenly waking from naps early, feed her to make sure she isn’t hungry. This protects your supply and ensures that your baby’s hunger cues are being respected. If she doesn’t take much of a feeding, then you know for next time that the early wakings are sleep-related.
A Sudden Drop in Milk Supply Doesn’t Mean the End of Breastfeeding
Mama, I know a sudden drop in your milk supply can be scary.
I remember feeling so helpless and terrified that my baby was starving. Looking back, I think it’s important to keep calm (remember, stress hurts your supply too), nurse/pump as much as you can, and consult a professional.
Many pediatricians actually keep lactation consultants on staff. They understand how serious a dip in your supply is and prioritize helping new moms. You will never regret getting reassurance from a professional.
I sincerely hope that this post gave you some fresh new ideas to try and helped ease your fears a little. If you have any questions about my experiences, just let me know in the comments.
Good luck, Mama!