Why Has My Milk Flow Suddenly Lessened? How Can I Fix It?
A sudden drop in milk supply is worrying for any mother, especially one who prefers breastfeeding her baby to using formula.
There are many reasons why you might unexpectedly slow down lactation, such as breast surgery/implants, less glandular tissue than average, health issues, hormonal imbalances, medications (including birth control), your baby struggling with suckling, and your body regulating itself.
Most of these issues are easily treatable, and using this guide should have you on your feet and producing milk again before you know it.
Have You Had Breast Surgery/Implants?
It’s becoming more and more common for women to have breast surgery, whether it’s for medical reasons or for cosmetic purposes. Whatever the reason is, changing the physical structure of something, whether intentionally or through an injury, will affect it and how well it works.
Though both can affect milk supply, it is likely that breast reduction will have a more negative effect on your milk supply than breast enlargements. Piercings may also affect your lactation if they inadvertently puncture your milk ducts.
In many cases, it is enough to just take time to allow your breasts to heal and become fully functional once again. In some cases, your milk flow may be permanently affected, no matter how much time you give it. Using a breast pump outside of usual feeding times and supplementing with formula may be your best bet if this is the case.
Do You Have Less Glandular Tissue Than Average?
Again taking a look at the actual structure of your breast, the quantity of glandular tissue can have an effect on your milk supply. The tissue in your breasts contain the ducts that carry milk to your nipples.
Some women do not develop as much glandular tissue as others, and have fewer milk ducts as a result, slowing their flow.
In extreme cases, this is referred to as hypoplasia or insufficient glandular tissue (IGT), with symptoms that include widely spaced breasts (more than 1.5” apart), asymmetric breasts, stretch marks despite no breast growth during puberty and/or pregnancy, and tube-shaped breasts. Contrary to popular belief, your breast size has little to no bearing on hypoplasia or IGT.
Ways to work around hypoplasia or IGT include breast pumping outside of scheduled feeding times in order to have a supply ready, along with a prescription medicine that will treat your condition. Before taking any medication make sure you speak with a doctor or lactation specialist first, of course.
Do You Have Health Issues?
Various health issues can certainly affect your milk flow, especially if left untreated. These include anemia, postpartum hemorrhage, or a retained placenta. Smoking is also known to affect the quality and quantity of milk, along with higher instances of infant illness.
Any health issues should be looked at and treated by a medical professional. They will be able to advise you on how to best treat any issues that may be affecting your milk flow.
If you smoke, it is best to stop altogether for the health of you and your baby, but if that is simply not possible it is very strongly advised that you cut down on your usual intake, along with avoiding smoking around your usual breastfeeding times.
Do You Have a Hormone Imbalance?
Most women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) do not have problems breastfeeding, but they do have a significantly higher risk of lower levels of lactation than average.
Other hormonal issues with similar results include thyroid imbalances, high blood pressure, and diabetes. This is due to the breast requiring balanced hormones to correctly signal how much milk is needed.
While PCOS and diabetes cannot be cured, they are treatable diseases, especially with a doctor’s guidance. Prescribed medication and lifestyle changes recommended by your doctor may help with your symptoms and stimulate your lactation.
If these solutions do not work, it may help to know that a 2008 study found that although women with PCOS struggled to lactate as much as those without it, by the time their baby was three months old most mothers’ milk supply had caught up on its own.
Are You on Medication and/or Birth Control?
Medications prescribed during childbirth (such as Demerol or an epidural anesthetic) may affect your child, particularly their capability to latch on to your breast and suckle effectively. This, in turn, may affect the quantity of the milk you produce.
The use of birth control with estrogen (like the birth control pill, skin patch, and vaginal ring) has also been observed to negatively affect milk supply. This can occur even if you begin taking these medications after you have begun breastfeeding.
In cases of labor medication, this will likely resolve itself within your baby’s first month. If you are using estrogen-based birth control while breastfeeding, it’s highly recommended you switch to low doses of progestin-based birth control. You should also avoid medications with pseudoephedrine (commonly found in cold medications such as Sudafed).
Does Your Baby Have Trouble Suckling?
Your child may struggle when it comes to latching onto your breast. There are a variety of reasons this may be the case, such as a tongue-tie, which is what happens when the tissue under the tongue holds your tongue down too tightly.
Jaundice is commonly found in young babies; it causes them to sleep more than usual and, as a result, seek out milk less often, which affects your body’s supply as it works to meet demand.
In these cases, you should always directly consult a pediatrician before doing anything else. He or she will be able to best diagnose your child and recommend solutions going forward.
Has Your Milk Supply Naturally Regulated Itself?
According to Karyn-grace Clark, a lactation consultant and president of the British Columbia Lactation Consultants Association, your body may just be regulating itself.
When you first give birth and begin breastfeeding, you may find that your breasts are engorged with milk and leak frequently. What you initially thought was your body’s typical production of milk was actually overproduction. It’s perfectly natural and, in fact, normal for this to settle down as your body regulates itself.
There are many reasons you aren’t producing as much milk as you’d like, including breast modifications and/or injuries, issues with your glandular tissue, health problems, hormonal issues, lactation-impeding medication, suckling impediments, and your body regulating itself.
In addition to speaking with your doctor or a lactation specialist, it helps to use a breast pump in order to build up a supply of milk as a backup for those times when you just can’t produce enough.
Supplementing with formula (or weaning entirely) may help as well if you are willing to not rely entirely on breastfeeding.
More frequent feeding (at least every two hours) may get your milk flowing more easily through stimulation, along with simple breast massages, and discontinued use of nipple shields. In some cases, you may just need to wait it out and wait for your body to catch up with the program.
Most of these causes are not cause for serious concern, though you should always speak to a doctor if you have any concerns.
Have you experienced a sudden drop in milk supply? Do you have any tips or tricks you’ve discovered to help? Thoughts, questions, concerns? Make sure to leave a comment below with any feedback you might have!