Why Decreased Breast Milk Supply Can Happen

If you've noticed a drop in your breast milk supply, don't worry! Here's some common reasons why it may be happening, and what you can do about it.

Reasons Why Decreased Breast Milk Supply Occurs

If you are around six months postnatal and have been noticing a drop in breast milk supply, don’t worry! This is completely normal, with many moms experiencing a change in their breast milk supply around 6 months after delivery. Though every breast milk feeding journey is unique, a decrease in breast milk supply frequently happens around the six-month postnatal mark due to a combination of three major factors. Knowing what to expect ahead of time and how you can best prepare for these challenges can help you seamlessly continue feeding your little one breast milk for as long as you choose.

  • Returning to Work: Though you may have returned to work much sooner than six months, it takes time to get back into a regular routine. Once back into the swing of things at work, it can be difficult to nurse and pump as often as you did when you were on maternity leave or transitioning back. Because breast milk is produced on a supply-and-demand basis, eventually your body will begin recognizing that you are not expressing as much milk as before and then adjust accordingly by producing less. Additionally, the increased stress of being back at work and balancing work, home, and life with a new baby can also take its toll on your breast milk supply.
  • Shifting Postnatal Hormones: You may not realize it, but your hormones are likely still shifting! In fact, they will continue to shift for months after giving birth, even at six months postnatal or longer. These changing hormones can slow breast milk production as your body transitions back to its pre-pregnancy state. Some women see a breast milk supply drop around the time that they re-start their monthly periods, but increasing your number of daily pumping sessions during this time can help avoid a sudden decrease in breast milk supply.
  • Introducing Solid Foods: As your baby begins to eat solid foods, he or she will be nursing less frequently as they transition onto purees and other complementary foods. This naturally minimizes the need to be fed breast milk, though many moms ensure their little one still receives all its nutrients by mixing it with solid foods, adding it to purees, and continuing to give breast milk.

Because decreased breast milk supply happens frequently around this time, some moms may think that their breast pump is having sudden suction issues or may be incurring other defects because they are unable to express as much milk as they were earlier in their postnatal journey. Though every situation is different, this is more often due to decreased breast milk supply than a defective breast pump. To be sure, we usually first recommend trying different vacuum levels to encourage breast milk production – pumping often tells your body to continue making breast milk and may even provide a boost to your supply. Finding the Maximum Comfort Vacuum™ on your Medela breast pump can be done by gradually increasing your pump’s suction until it becomes slightly uncomfortable, and then dropping it down a notch.

Finally, you may also notice your little one becoming more active around this time. Not only are they starting to notice the world around them and crawling, scooting, and exploring, but many babies also experience a growth spurt around the six-month mark. This means that they will likely need more calories and may even want to nurse more frequently. If you’re back at work, it can be tough to meet your little one’s demands – often leading to many moms weaning as they start introducing complementary foods.

Only you know what’s best for you and your baby, so whether you wean or continue breast milk feeding is entirely up to you. If you prefer to continue breast milk feeding, pumping as much as possible can minimize the likelihood of a sudden decrease in breast milk supply. Revisiting the use of a convenient feeding and pumping log and brushing up on current breast milk storage guidelines (also available in Spanish) can be helpful during this time to ensure you're keeping track of your pumping sessions, the amount of breast milk your little one is consuming now, and storing your expressed milk safely.

Signs of Low or Decreased Breast Milk Supply and What You Can Do

If you suspect that your baby is not receiving adequate breast milk while nursing and after your pumping sessions, there are a few key signs of low milk supply to consider. Keep in mind that newborns feed often, so a desire to nurse frequently – whether for a short or longer period – isn’t indicative of low milk supply, despite what many moms may have heard. The signs of low milk supply that should be taken into consideration include:

  • Insufficient wet and/or dirty diapers, or a daily number of soiled diapers that is significantly lower than average
  • Reluctance to nurse
  • Long-term inadequate weight gain for your little one
  • Dehydration, often indicated in babies by dark-colored urine, jaundice, and/or lethargy

If your baby is displaying one or more of these symptoms, it is not always due to decreased breast milk supply. These may also be signs of your baby fighting an illness or cold, or even a temporary nursing strike. The only way to know for sure if these are signs of low milk supply or something else is to talk to your doctor and a lactation professional right away. If you’re concerned about decreased breast milk supply, you can also use:

  • The Medela Family app to easily track important stats for pregnancy, baby, and breastfeeding. This resource provides timely tips and valuable support to help you meet your unique goals and includes cool features like virtual milk storage, seamless connectivity to some Medela breast pumps, and an in-depth knowledge center with tons of great content to help guide you through your prenatal and breastfeeding experiences.
  • AskTheLC.com, another helpful (and free!) Medela resource, to consult one-on-one via e-mail with a lactation consultant for professional insight and answers to your breastfeeding questions and concerns. It's available on the Medela website for all parents to use whenever needed.

Remember, Medela is here to support you through your breast milk feeding journey and all its challenges and triumphs, no matter how short or long your journey.

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