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Breastfeeding problems – supply concerns

27 Nov, 2023

Does your baby want to feed more frequently or drink for shorter periods, or do your breasts seem softer? These are all completely normal occurrences but may worry you.

Around 35 per cent of all women who stop breastfeeding early state their main reason as not having enough milk. Ask your health professional or breastfeeding counsellor for advice before you stop breastfeeding, as there may be another reason for your lack of milk.

The following things may lead women to falsely assume they’re not producing enough:

  • Breasts soften and baby increases breastfeeding frequency (around 10-14 days after birth)
  • Breastfed babies feed more frequently than formula-fed babies
  • Feeds become shorter as baby gets older and more used to breastfeeding
  • Babies cry for reasons other than hunger

Actual signs baby is not getting enough milk:

  • Baby is not gaining weight despite breastfeeding 8-12 times in 24 hours
  • Baby isn’t having enough wet and/or dirty nappies. Babies 5 days to 6 weeks old should have: At least 3 yellow dirty nappies every 24 hours; At least 5 wet nappies every 24 hours

A lactation consultant should evaluate breastfeeding to rule out any problems. If baby isn’t producing enough wet or dirty nappies, is 1-2 weeks old and has not been seen by a doctor since leaving hospital, bring your baby in immediately for a health and weight check.

It’s important to understand how your breasts make milk. Milk is produced on a 'demand and supply' basis. How often and how much milk is removed from the breast are the main factors that influence your supply. In other words, the more often your breasts are emptied, the more milk you will produce.

If for any reason you’re not able to breastfeed, try to begin expressing milk as soon as possible with a double-electric pump every 2-3 hours. Frequent skin-to-skin time with your baby can help to decrease stress and enhance milk production.

If you think you may need herbs or medications to increase your supply, check with your healthcare provider first. Remember that sometimes a mum may think she doesn’t have enough milk, but most times, she really does.

Tips for a good milk supply

Your body regulates milk production according to supply and demand. The more frequently the breast is emptied, the more milk is produced. In the first two weeks after birth, breastfeed your baby 8-12 times in 24 hours to develop a good level of milk production. If you are unable to breastfeed immediately, use an electric breastpump to tell your body that production can start. Frequent skin-to-skin contact also has a positive effect on your milk production. If you want to stimulate your milk production with medicinal herbs or medicines, discuss this first with your health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor.

Reasons for reduced milk production and what to do about it:

  • Pain on breastfeeding: Every feed seems too long, which reduces milk production. Talk to your midwife, health professional or breastfeeding counsellor

  • Time limits on breastfeeding: Breastfeed your baby for as long as it wants when it's hungry. Healthy breastfed babies vary how often they feed. At first, they will usually want to feed 8-12 times in 24 hours. As they get older, their stomachs become bigger. Feeds will become less frequent and older babies will often drink for a shorter time

  • More frequent breastfeeding for a temporary period: Your baby may be going through a growth spurt. By feeding more frequently, your baby is telling your body that it needs to adapt the breastmilk volume and composition

  • Stress: Stress can be caused by many factors, such as returning to work. Try to discover the causes. Take a relaxed approach as possible to the next feed or time to express, or schedule an extra one when you can relax.

Find out more about Medela here

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