Breast milk is a special commodity to a nursing mom. Every mom wants to ensure she has plenty of breastmilk to feed her baby. If you have had a sudden drop in breast milk supply, it’s important to realize the causes and determine if it was indeed a drop in supply, or if your baby is just nursing more, going through a growth spurt, or teething.
Around 84% of moms start breastfeeding right after delivery, but only 58% breastfeed at six months. The fear of not producing sufficient milk is one of the most common reasons they stop breastfeeding their newborns.
The truth is, most moms produce enough breast milk to fill the appetite of their little ones. If you establish a healthy breastfeeding relationship within the first four to six weeks, you can have a very successful breastfeeding journey.
It does take about 3 months for your milk supply to regulate. You can use this post and refer to my e-book The Ultimate Guide to Increase Milk Supply Fast, to determine what to do if you experience a sudden drop in breast milk supply.
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Are There Certain Times When Milk Supply Drops Suddenly?
There are reasons why your milk supply can drop suddenly. For instance, milk supply can drop when you are under an extreme amount of stress, such as when you return to work for the first time after having a baby.
This can cause a decrease in oxytocin (the feel-good hormone that releases milk). Your baby may also go through a growth spurt, and while your milk supply doesn’t drop during this time, typically your baby is consuming more milk which may make you feel like you aren’t making enough.
However, you are actually making plenty, your body just needs time to respond to your baby’s needs and cues. When this happens, continue nursing as often as possible so your body responds to your baby’s needs.
You may discover key milestones at 2 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and onward when your baby goes through growth spurts. These may not happen at exactly this time, every baby is different, but keep an eye out for any change in your baby’s behavior, such as nursing more, not sleeping as well, or sleeping more.
Reasons For a Sudden & Dramatic Drop In Milk Supply
Milk supply is based on a supply and demand theory. The more milk you or your baby remove from your body, the more your body will produce in theory.
Sometimes things happen that cause a sudden and dramatic drop in milk supply. If this happens to you, try not to panic. First, understand if it is a true drop in supply, or a perceived drop in supply. For example, a baby nursing more or cluster feeding is often associated with a perceived notion that you’re not producing enough milk– and that is NOT true!
If you are worried your baby isn’t getting enough milk, you can also check out my e-book The Ultimate Guide to Increase Milk Supply Fast, which includes how to assess if you’re milk supply is low, and includes various ways you can increase your milk supply if you do have a sudden drop.
Now, let’s review some things that cause a sudden drop in milk supply.
Baby Sleeping Through the Night
If your baby starts sleeping longer stretches during the day or at night, this may cause them to nurse less often. All babies are different in terms of when this might start happening, but once it does, you may start feeling engorged or leaking milk.
This is normal as your body responds to the decrease in milk demand. If your breasts feel uncomfortable and to avoid getting a breast infection, gently hand express or use a manual pump to release the pressure/excess milk from your breasts. It will take a few days, but this will cause your body to naturally produce less.
If you think this pattern is temporary or if you want to save some breast milk, this is an ideal time to pump to preserve the milk. You can then use it at a later date or when you want a date night with your partner. Your prolactin levels are the highest between 2 and 5 am, so if you choose to pump during the night, try doing it during this time to maximize milk output when your baby is sleeping.
Stress in your life can cause your milk supply to drop due to its effects on your hormones. There are many reasons why you may be stressed as a new mom.
You may be a first-time mom, going back to work after having your baby, or maybe you’re afraid of leaving your newborn behind for the first time. You may also be worried about losing the baby weight, which takes time. These stressful feelings are all very normal, but unfortunately, they can also take a toll on your milk supply if you’re not taking time for yourself to de-stress.
Introducing New Medications
Any time you introduce a new medication or herb into your diet, you may experience changes in your breast milk supply. Sometimes it can cause a decrease in supply depending on the type of medication it is.
There is an app called MommyMeds if you are curious as to how a certain medication can affect your milk supply. Even some lactogenic herbs can have a negative effect on some moms. Be sure you keep an eye on your milk output and baby’s diaper output to ensure your baby is still meeting milestones.
Skipping a Nursing or Pumping Session
Even skipping one nursing or pumping session can cause a sudden drop in breast milk production. When you skip a session, you are telling your body your baby isn’t in need of as much milk.
This will tell your body to make less milk. If you are going to be away from your baby for work or play, make sure you pump while you are away. Your baby will be taking a bottle while you’re away, so you want to pump to replace that bottle they are drinking.
This will help to ensure your production stays where it should be. A tip I give to new moms that are going back to work is to nurse their babies at night and on the weekends often. Sit on the couch, relax, and have a nursing vacation. This will help tell your body you still need to continue producing milk.
Hormones released during breastfeeding can delay menstruation. Some women do not have periods throughout their nursing experience, while others may get irregular periods.
When your periods return during breastfeeding, you may notice that your baby is feeding less or stays fussy most of the time. It is most probably associated with the low milk supply that happens in most women or due to the change in breast milk taste.
A decrease in breast milk supply occurs a few days before your period, and stays the same until the end of your period. This fluctuation in milk production varies from woman to woman.
The main reason behind milk supply reduction is mostly the drop in calcium levels in the blood (which happens during menstrual cycles). A magnesium/calcium supplement can help alleviate this issue.
Do I Have To Stop Nursing If My Milk Supply Decreases All Of a Sudden?
Absolutely not! You do not have to stop nursing if your milk supply decreases all of a sudden. In fact, I would recommend you do the exact opposite- nurse more to increase your supply again. That is truly the best way to increase your milk supply- the more you pump or nurse, the more your body will respond by producing more milk, unless there is some sort of underlying issue.
How To Increase Your Breast Milk Supply After a Sudden Drop
If your breast milk supply drops suddenly, there are ways to increase it quickly. The best way is to stimulate your breasts through pumping or nursing, but there are other ways that can help your body too.
Nurse More Often
Frequent nursing at the breast is the best and most natural way to increase overall milk production. Every time your baby sucks on your nipple, your breast is stimulated and the let-down reflex gets triggered.
The nerves in the nipple send the signal to produce hormones (prolactin and oxytocin) in the bloodstream. Prolactin works on the milk-producing tissue and starts milk production while oxytocin brings this milk down (let-down) by compressing the milk ducts.
The more you nurse the baby, the more milk your body will produce. Your body produces the most prolactin between 2am and 5 am. which is why it’s best to pump in the early morning before your baby wakes up and wants to eat.
Your morning pumping session will likely yield the most milk. You can also pump on one side while baby nurses on the other side for your first morning session.
If you’re experiencing any pain at the breast, be sure you check your baby’s latch as that can impact the amount of milk they are receiving from your breast if there is a shallow latch, for example.
Pump More Often
Using breast massage in combination with a double stimulating breast pump (like a Spectra or Medela) is another effective way to increase milk supply quickly. Similar to nursing your baby at the breast, pumping will also help to tell your body to increase milk production.
Other factors are at play with pumping, including checking your flange size for proper fitting and replacing any ripped or broken parts. Check with your pump manufacturer to see when your parts should be replaced.
In my e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Increase Milk Supply Fast, I teach you the best ways to pump including how to power pump, checking for proper flange size, and when you may need a supplemental nursing system.
Eat Lactogenic Foods
What you eat not only affects your health but also influences the quality and quantity of breast milk. There are certain foods that women have been using for centuries to stimulate milk production.
These foods have essential components in them that are well-known for bringing a positive change in milk supply. Thus, they are referred to as lactogenic foods.
Research also shows that a nourished breastfeeding mother is more responsive to her baby and plays with her baby more. Keep it simple by eating real, whole foods that your body can process and absorb. Foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pasture-raised and organic meats, and seafood are all great options.
Drink More Water with Electrolytes
Oftentimes we forget to drink enough water to maintain our bodily functions, including making breast milk. The recommended amount of water per day for a nursing mom is at least half your body weight in ounces.
If you weigh 150 pounds, drink at least 75 ounces per day of water. Add electrolytes to ensure you’re not depleting your body of key minerals like potassium and magnesium. You can add a pinch of Himalayan salt and a few squeezes of lemon to your water to get those electrolytes.
Remember that breast milk is made predominantly of water, so it’s important you are consuming enough for your own body and to produce milk.
Take Lactogenic Supplements
Lactation supplements, also called galactagogues, are supplements known to boost milk supply if they are consumed in the right amount. They may include medications, teas, cookies, etc.
As these supplements are not usually FDA approved, asking your healthcare provider is crucial before consuming them. Their dose and source of origin may also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
If you are still struggling after trying the other above methods, lactation teas and supplements are available to try. Work with your lactation consultant (I work as a virtual lactation consultant, if you need one) before introducing any new herbs into your diet. Each one may affect you differently. Here are a few of my favorite teas and supplements:
- Liquid gold: blend of organic herbs like goat’s rue, fennel, alfalfa, milk thistle, and anise. Its manufacturer, Legendary Milk, produces many similar products to assist breastfeeding moms.
- Mother’s milk tea: a commonly recommended herbal tea for lactating moms. If you are fond of herbal teas, then this is a good choice for you. Mother’s milk tea is a combination of different herbs like (fenugreek, fennel, anise, and blessed thistle). A small portion of these herbs is added to make a healthy mixture.
- Add a sweetening agent: You can drink 3 to 5 cups of this tea in a day. My two favorite brands are Traditional Medicinals and Earth Mama– both are organic and support healthy milk production.
- Moringa: a real food found in nature that comes from the moringa tree commonly found in Asia. This is one of the few lactation supplements that have research studies to prove its effectiveness. You can find moringa in the loose-leaf form to put in teas, recipes, or smoothies. Or, you can buy it in capsule form. It’s best to choose an organic variety that has been third-party tested and verified for good manufacturing practices.
What To Do About a Sudden Drop in Milk Supply When Exclusively Pumping
If you’re exclusively pumping and you notice a sudden drop in milk supply, be sure to check your flange sizes for proper fitting and look at your pump parts to ensure there are no rips or tears. Replace your pump parts as often as recommended by your pump manufacturer as that can impact your output if the suction isn’t optimal.
Also, refer to the user’s guide, so many times we use the pump settings incorrectly which can cause a decrease or less milk production. If you are still not seeing an increase in production, find time to relax and look at pictures of your baby.
Read a book or watch videos of your baby to help relax your body and release oxytocin. You can also try covering your pumping bottles with socks to avoid stressing about the amount of milk coming out while you’re pumping.
A sudden drop in your breast milk supply can be shocking. The good news is you can still continue nursing or pumping by following the tips above.
Nursing and pumping is the best way to continue making milk. The more you stimulate your breasts, the more milk your body will produce.
If you’re looking for more help to increase your supply, check out my e-book The Ultimate Guide to Increase Milk Supply Fast, which can help you determine the root cause of your low milk production and help you increase it.