Low Milk Production: Is It Fixable?

I’m back, people! It’s been a tough couple of weeks now that I’m officially teaching again. Two college courses and 45 papers to grade each week… oh, and a 3 month old at home who needs constant attention. No biggie!

As a breastfeeding mama, I’m always concerned about my milk supply dropping unexpectedly (I’m hoping to make it to at least 6 months!), and I know I’m probably not alone in this situation. Although I love breastfeeding my son, some days can be challenging when I am sleep-deprived, stressed, or when he’s fussy and impatient during a growth spurt.


Here are a few reasons why you might not be producing much milk lately:

Fatigue. Postpartum fatigue can interfere with breastfeeding and is commonly associated with a low milk supply.

Caffeine. Soda, coffee, tea and chocolate are fine in moderation, but large amounts can dehydrate your body. This may decrease the amount of milk you can produce. It can also build up in your baby’s body causing irritability and sleep disturbances.

Stress. Studies show that physical and mental stress can slow the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream of a breastfeeding mother. If this is your case, it is essential to find a relaxation method that works for you.

Hormones. Some mothers who breastfeed and take birth control pills find that any form of hormonal birth control (the pill, patch or injections) can cause a significant drop in their milk. This is more likely to happen if you start using these contraceptives before your baby is four months old, but it can also happen later on.

Herbs. Large amounts of sage, parsley, or peppermint can affect your milk supply.

Not Feeding at Night. While sleep training can work for some families, mothers vary a lot in how much milk they are able to store in their breasts between feedings. With no feedings overnight, their milk supply starts to drop. The level of prolactin (the hormone that signals the breasts to make milk) is also higher during night feedings, so the lowered overall prolactin can also contribute to a drop in milk. It’s hard to resist the lure of more sleep, but for many mothers, those nightly feedings are essential to keep milk production high (todaysparents.com).

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Some things you can try to increase milk production are:

Lactation Tea. I usually drink 2-3 cups per day and alternate between Traditional Medicinals, Yogi, and Earth Mama Angel Baby teas. They all contain fennel, fenugreek, blessed thistle, anise, and coriander (all galactagogues).

Fenugreek pills. Fenugreek capsules are more potent than tea. The recommended dose of fenugreek for the purpose of increasing breast milk supply needs to be at least 3,500 mg per day. Otherwise, it will have little to no effect.

Blessed Thistle. Blessed thistle is a plant commonly used to make medicine. The typical dose is up to 3 capsules 3 times a day.

Nonalcoholic Beer. Beer is believed to help increase milk production and to encourage the “let-down” reflex. Barley, from which beer is produced, contains a polysaccharide that stimulates milk ducts.

Oatmeal. Although there isn’t much evidence to back this one up, the side effects are nonexistent. Why not give it a try? Oatmeal is not only a comfort food (hence it relaxes you), but also contains an amazing array of nutrients, protein, fibre, and carbohydrates. It is also a great sources of iron and has the added benefit of lowering cholesterol levels. Take a look at my banana blueberry oat muffin and healthy apple crisp recipes!

Pumping in between feedings. This helps ensure that you are fully emptying both breasts and encouraging supply/demand. It is essential to pump regardless whether or not milk is coming out; the key is simply to encourage milk let down.

Using slow flow nipples only when using a bottle. As you start to introduce bottles, make sure to use slow flow nipples. The reason is simply that your baby may prefer the bottle to the breast (it’s easier to get milk from it). Slow flow nipples will force your baby to put in some work.

Getting enough calories per day. In order to produce milk, you need to make sure you get enough food (lean proteins, veggies, fruits, healthy fats). Aim for 300-500 more calories per day.

Drinking a lot of water. No secret here… The more hydrated you are, the more milk your body will produce.

Relaxing. Enjoy nursing time with your baby. Try to remain as calm as possible, even when your baby is impatient and doesn’t seem to be getting enough milk at the time. It may take a while for your milk to let down, especially during growth spurts, but the more relaxed you are, the better the experience will be for both of you.

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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