Our bodies can do so many incredible things for us. While it can take a bit of time to find its rhythm, our milk supply adapts to meet the unique needs of our baby.
Unfortunately, perceived low milk supply is one of the biggest causes of women ending their breastfeeding journey early. In reality, the vast majority of us produce enough milk to nurture and nourish new life.
There’s a long way to go in understanding the realities of our milk supply and communicating this to the public. Breast milk is inherently difficult to quantify and measure. But there are helpful indicators that can help us pinpoint when we might be experiencing undersupply (and what we can do to navigate it).
What signs and symptoms can we confuse with low milk supply?
Genuine low milk supply is very rare. However, there are behaviours and experiences that we can confuse with undersupply, including:
Frequently feeding: especially in the first few weeks of life, babies can feed eight or even 12 times every 24 hours. Frequent feeding is actually a natural part of establishing a healthy milk supply, rather than being an indicator of undersupply.
Soft breasts: it can take anywhere from three to 12 weeks for our milk supply to adjust to the appetite of our baby. During this time, our breasts may feel soft from time to time. As long as your baby keeps feeding frequently, you’ll produce the right amount of breastmilk.
Sudden change in feeding habits: growth spurts or developmental leaps can cause an increase in hunger. If you notice an increased appetite, chances are your baby is experiencing healthy growth and development.
Short feeding times: as long as your baby is reaching their growth milestones, this isn’t a reliable indicator of undersupply.
How to tell if your baby is getting enough milk
To put your mind at ease, it can be helpful to know what signs indicate your baby is getting enough milk.
In the first week postpartum, you’d expect to see:
- Your baby is waking themselves for feeds
- Your baby is settling between most feeds
- Your baby is producing at least six to eight wet nappies per 24 hours
- Your baby is passing soft, yellow stool at least once per day
After two weeks, your baby should be back to their birth weight. After this time, babies are expected to gain approximately 150 grams or more per week (for the first three months of life).
The signs of low milk supply
While it’s unlikely, it’s also helpful to know what signs indicate it could be worth chatting with a lactation consultant about your milk supply.
Some potential signs of undersupply include:
You’re noticing your baby isn’t meeting their weight and growth milestones.
Your baby isn’t producing enough wet, heavy nappies each day.
- You’re noticing your baby isn’t making gulping or swallowing sounds during nursing. Although this isn’t necessarily an undersupply issue, it can be a sign of poor attachment or latch [link to our blog here].
If you notice dark urine, tearless crying, dry mouth or sustained irritability, this can be an indicator of dehydration. Make sure to contact your healthcare provider immediately if you notice these symptoms.
How to increase supply
As the name would suggest, our milk supply is a dance between supply and demand. The more we feed or express breastmilk, the more milk our breasts are likely to produce.
If you’re looking to boost your milk supply, it can be worth considering:
Breastfeeding or pumping more frequently to stimulate our milk-producing hormones. Plus, it can be worth expressing after feeding and storing this milk for later to ensure your breasts are properly drained, too.
Learn your baby’s feeding cues and let your baby lead their feeding schedule.
Switch up which breast your offer first and ensure each breast is completely drained before switching.
- Chat with your lactation consultant to see if a block feeding strategy might be helpful in managing your milk supply and matching this to your baby’s appetite.
In the majority of cases, your body and breasts will produce the right amount of milk to support and nourish your baby. However, if you’re concerned about supply, make sure to chat with a lactation consultant who will be able to produce tailored strategies and recommendations for your unique situation.