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Breast milk Undersupply: What isn't a sign of under supply

This is every new-to-breastfeeding mom’s fear. Do I have enough milk? It’s hard to tell if you do. Because, unlike a bottle where you can measure what baby is drinking, your body doesn’t come with measurements by the ounce.

What Isn't a sign of Low Milk Supply

To begin, let’s make something clear. “Your milk supply is considered low when there is not enough breast milk being produced to meet your baby's growth needs.” Not when you can’t pump a full bottle after baby is fed.

Did you now that “On average, a woman will make 1-1.5 ounces of breast milk every hour, which means 3-4 ounces every three hours is typical.” Vanessa Shanks, MD neonatal & lactation specialist says  “I get particularly annoyed when I see pictures of women pumping and there are five or more ounces in each bottle. That is not the message we should be giving our pumping moms, because it is unrealistic.” She also points out that “Images like these make moms think they don’t make enough milk, when in fact they are doing just fine.”


What isn’t a sign of low milk supply

 1) Your newborn want's to feed every couple of hours

in the early days babies can be very unsettled, and will feed 10+ times in a 24 hour period. Why? Baby’s stomach is small and fills quickly, baby is also new at feeding (just like you). Their physiological requirements require them to feed often. Babies also suckle for comfort. And Frequent feeding is necessary to establish a good milk supply. This is nature at work.

2) Your breasts are soft

When your milk supply adjusts to your baby’s needs your breasts may not feel as full (this may occur anywhere between 3 to 12 weeks following birth). The excessive fullness we experience in the early days of breastfeeding is about vascular engorgement (blood and lymph) and it’s about the body inefficiently storing unnecessary amounts of milk between feeds. As time goes by, the breasts get cleverer at storage (don’t forget milk is also made while a baby is actually feeding). As long as your baby continues to feed well, your breasts will produce enough milk for your baby. Breast firmness is not an indication of milk amount. 

3) Your baby has suddenly started to feed more frequently

As your baby gets older, they may want to feed more during a ‘growth spurt’, This is normal. And this increased feeding over a couple of days will help you to increase your supply.

4) Your baby only feeds for a short time

This is not a problem as long as your baby continues to grow. After two or three months your baby becomes more efficient at feeding and therefore will take less time at the breast. A longer feed doesn’t mean baby is eating the entire time. They could also be using you for comfort (as a soother/pacifier).

5) Your baby is taking a long time to feed

Speed is not an indicator of a good feed. More time at the breast does not mean it’s taking longer to get milk. Or that your milk is a slow trickle. Some babies are more efficient eaters and some like to sooth and fall asleep on the breast.

image from Here


6) You have small breasts. 

Breast size is irrelevant when it comes to how much milk you produce. Breast storage capacity varies from person to person. It is not related to breast size because storage capacity is created by glandular tissue not fatty tissue. 

 Breasts are made up of:

  • Fatty tissue: provides protection to the other tissues and structures within the breast
  • Glandular tissue (milk ducts): makes and and transports milk to the nipple
  • Connective tissue (muscles and ligaments): supports the structure of the breast
  • Nerves: provide the sensory response that is needed for milk ejection or letdown
  • Blood: brings nutrients to the breast to create milk
  • Lymph: removes waste products from the breasts

The size of any breast is determined mostly by the amount of fatty tissue in the breast. Fatty tissue is not involved in the production of breastmilk.

During pregnancy the amount and density of glandular tissue increases, that's why your breasts grow during pregnancy.  Needing bigger bras as the pregnancy moves along is a clear sign that glandular tissue is developing. 

While breast size doesn't influence milk production, storage capacity does indicate how much milk is available to your baby in one feed. 

image source here


When measured in studies, the storage capacity of breasts ranged from 2.6 oz (74 g) to 20.5 oz (606 g). Babies of mothers with a smaller storage capacity will need to feed more often. These babies get less milk with each feeding because the breast holds less milk. But this doesn't mean you have low milk supply. 


7) Your breasts used to leak but have stopped leaking

 Some mothers leak less than others. MOST mothers notice that leaking reduces at the weeks go by and the teeny tiny sphincter muscles responsible tighten. You might not experience leaky breasts again 

8) Your baby doesn’t sleep through the night

 Plenty of young babies feed with similar intervals day and night. Plenty continue waking every 2-3 hours for a while. Don't compare your baby to other babies. No two babies are the same!

9) Baby doesn’t want to be put down

This happens because being next to you skin-to-skin was nice and cosy and relaxing and warm and it smelt good. You're so much better than a bed. This is about comfort not fullness.  

10) When you pump you don’t get a lot of milk

Some breasts don’t pump. Baby could be a more efficient feeder than you are a pumper. Play with your pump settings. According to Emma Pickett IBCLC "Pumping and breastfeeding are surprisingly unrelated. Your baby removes milk in a completely different way. Plenty of women with healthy milk supplies fail to pump much at all. Their bodies can’t be tricked into eliciting the milk ejection reflex (or ‘letdown’). Plus pumps don’t always work. Suction goes as valves get old."


I hope you found this helpfull. Next weeks blog post will continue to discuss under supply.  


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