It is natural for breastfeeding mothers to worry that they might not be producing enough milk. Minor ups and downs in milk supply are normal. If a child is growing normally, then perhaps there is no need to worry.
It is vital not to discontinue breastfeeding just based on perceived insufficient milk (PIM). PIM is one of the most common causes of discontinuing breastfeeding.
In many cases breastfeeding mothers have false perceptions due to anxiety .
However, in some cases drop in milk supply may be pretty sharp and sudden. Such a sudden drop is readily identified and is a cause for concern.
After all, mother’s milk is not just a source of nutrition, and it has many other health benefits like boosting immunity and much more.
Some common reasons for a sudden decrease in milk supply
The sudden decrease in milk supply may happen due to many reasons. The cause for such a drop may differ in each case. Some of the most common causes might be:
- Return of periods – usually, in the case of non-breastfeeding mothers, periods return in 6 to 8 weeks. However, in the case of breastfeeding mothers, it is quite unpredictable. Nevertheless, many mothers might see a sudden drop in milk supply on the return of the periods. This drop will be temporary in most cases, with milk production dropping in the beginning and returning almost to the previous levels.
- Unplanned pregnancy – It might happen in some cases, especially considering that the return of periods is quite unpredictable in breastfeeding women. Pregnancy causes a sudden shift in hormones, leading to a sharp drop in milk production.
- Stress – psychological or physical stress is also a common reason for the sudden drop in milk supply. Physical stress may be the cause in some mothers, like those involved in professional sports. Most breastfeeding mothers are quite prone to emotional disorders like anxiety, mental fatigue, and much more. For some women, the task of looking after a child along with other duties may cause severe stress.
- Dietary changes or health supplements – It is not rare for women to experiment with various diet forms, consume natural health supplements while pregnant. However, it is worth knowing that many food items and supplements may have an effect of suppressing milk production. Some commonly used herbs like sage leaves or even parsley in large amounts might reduce milk supply. It is also vital to understand that some individuals might be more sensitive to such effects of herbs or supplements.
- The baby starts sleeping through the night – Which might be a huge relief for mothers or caretakers. However, this also means that child is not feeding that frequently. A considerable gap between the feedings may cause the milk supply to fall. This happens due to a negative feedback system in the body.
- Introduction of solid food – Solid food must complement breast milk but not replace it. However, children differ, and some may prefer solid food over breast milk. In such cases, a child may start feeding much less, which ultimately reduces the milk supply.
- Hormonal problems – In some women, this sudden drop may indicate a hormonal problem. It might indicate worsening of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), thyroid problem, diabetes, or even hypertension.
- Using hormonal birth control pills – Most women may not experience any change in milk supply on starting birth control pills. However, some are very sensitive to the hormonal changes induced by these contraceptives. If the milk supply has fallen after starting birth control pills, one may discontinue using them temporarily or start using other contraception methods.
- Medications – Some medications may also suppress milk production. Even drugs used to treat the common cold may influence milk supply. Some women may have unexplained reactions to certain medications, too. Thus, if the milk supply has dropped suddenly, one should think about the drugs or supplements that one has started using recently.
What can you do if your milk supply is decreasing?
As one can understand, the first step should be to identify the cause of the sudden drop in milk supply.
Below are some of the steps one may take to boost milk production.
- If such a drop is after taking some medications, hormonal drugs, or supplements, discontinue their use. If discontinuation is not possible, like in the case of some severe illness, then consult your physician for other options.
- Focus on stress management. Take lots of rest, have enough sleep. If one cannot have a good sleep during the night, try to have frequent naps during the day.
- Seek a helping hand. It could be another way of managing stress and improving the quality of life. If one cannot manage to complete various tasks, it is always a good idea to seek helping hands.
- Spend more time nursing your baby. In many cases, a sudden drop in milk supply could be due to lesser physical contact between the mother and a child.
- Drink more water, as it not only helps boost milk production, prevents dehydration but may also help fight stress. Some breastfeeding mothers may not be just drinking water sufficiently.
- Consider pumping, especially if you are not able to feed your child at regular intervals. Pumping few times a day may help boost the milk supply. If for some reason, you have to stay away from your child for a day or two, then it is a good idea to pump 8-10 times a day.
- Consider physiotherapy, like massage or applying warm compress on the breasts. It will help improve the milk flow and production.
- Consider herbal galactagogues. Many natural supplements can help boost milk supply like Fenugreek, milk thistle, garlic, moringa, blessed thistle, and many more .
- Consider dietary changes by including food items in the diet known to boost milk production like nuts, oatmeal, carrots, sesame seeds, garlic, ginger, and so on.
For most women, seemingly simple ways may work and help boost the milk supply. However, if nothing seems to help and there is a sudden and drastic reduction in milk supply, do not hesitate to seek medical help.
- Gatti L. Maternal Perceptions of Insufficient Milk Supply in Breastfeeding. Journal of Nursing Scholarship. 2008;40(4):355-363. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1547-5069.2008.00234.x
- Bazzano AN, Hofer R, Thibeau S, Gillispie V, Jacobs M, Theall KP. A Review of Herbal and Pharmaceutical Galactagogues for Breast-Feeding. Ochsner J. 2016;16(4):511-524.