Breastmilk production is the subject of many breastfeeding myths. There is a common misconception that a mother’s breasts are like big bottles that constantly fill with breastmilk by some magical process separate from baby and mom. Babies then feed on tap from this ever-full reservoir. However, the truth is more complicated. Rather than “supply and demand,” breastfeeding actually works by a method of “demand and supply.” A mother will produce only the amount of breastmilk that her baby wants.

A mother’s body is very efficient since there is no point in producing more breastmilk than the baby actually wants to consume! Mom will only produce the amount of breastmilk that her baby demands. It is true that hormones drive the production of very early breastmilk, called colostrum. However, in order to keep producing breastmilk, your baby needs to keep sucking from the breast. The overall level of milk production varies based on the baby’s amount of sucking and how much milk is actually removed. The amount of breastmilk a mother produces is tied to her baby’s genetics – since genetics determine growth rate and metabolism.

Over time, a mom’s body will increase or decrease the amount of breastmilk it produces in order to meet the baby’s exact needs. The key is to create a process, routine, and familiar environment for the baby to latch on correctly, reduce stress, and enable them to feed comfortably. This is one reason why having a breastfeeding sanctuary where mom and baby can relax and be comfortable can be important.

How Milk Production Works to Maintain a Good Supply

In the first days after birth, when milk ‘comes in’ your breasts may feel quite full, perhaps even too full! Over the next days and weeks though, it is normal that this feeling of fullness decreases. However, one of the biggest concerns of new nursing moms may be that their breasts never feel full and that they are subsequently not producing enough milk for their baby. This concern can be very stressful and that worry in turn affects the amount of milk being produced. Ironically, one of the ways to ensure a good milk supply is to not to worry about having a good milk supply. Understanding the way that breastmilk production works may also help to reduce stress.

Keep these basic principles in mind:

The more you breastfeed, and the more efficient the baby is in emptying the breasts, the more milk your body produces.

Your body will produce milk in response to stimulation of the breast.

Milk production speeds up in response to an empty breast.

Milk is being produced at all times, so the breast is never completely empty.

What Can Cause a Drop in Breastmilk Supply?

As we’ve discussed, most of the time, moms do not need to worry about making enough milk – their body will produce enough milk to meet the baby’s demand. However, a few situations can result in diminished breastmilk production, such as:

Bad Latch

A baby who is not latching well to the nipple will not stimulate milk production efficiently. In addition, a bad latch can cause nipple soreness, which can inhibit your milk letdown, leading to increased discomfort and a negative feedback loop. A bad latch can also be a result of tongue-tie, which affects the baby’s ability to drain the breast adequately.

Solutions: Adjust your baby’s latch to help make it more efficient. If you need help, ask your health care team or lactation consultant for advice. There are many techniques that these experts can teach you to improve your baby’s overall nursing experience and avoid problems with breastmilk production. You may also want to try nipple shields temporarily. Another resolution might be to try different nursing positions, as this will change the angle of how the baby latches.

Infrequent Nursing

As mentioned, your body will produce milk in response to stimulation of the breast. This requires a constant interaction with your baby. Therefore, if your baby is sleepy, ill, or you are separated from your baby for any reason, your milk supply will start to decrease.

Solutions: Put your baby to the breast as often as possible until your supply has increased. Feed on demand rather than on a schedule. This will ensure your baby is giving your body the necessary cues to produce the amount of milk she needs. Another great solution, particularly if you are separated from your baby, is to use a double breastpump that can pump both breasts at the same time. Medela options are Symphony, Freestyle or Pump in Style.

Stress

Cortisol is a hormone that is released into your bloodstream at times of stress and can possibly interfere with the production of breastmilk. Not only can too much stress be bad for health, but it can also be bad for breastmilk production.

Solutions: Identify and try to reduce sources of stress in your life. Getting enough sleep is an important part of stress reduction, so try to find ways to increase your sleep. Pump expressed breastmilk that can be fed to baby by your partner or someone else once or twice a day, allowing you to get some rest and get enough sleep. Here are tips on storing, freezing and reheating.

Time of Day:

Your breastmilk supply will change throughout the day. Typically, breastfeeding moms have peak milk supply during the earlier parts of the day.

Solutions: If you are trying to pump breastmilk to store for later use, try breastpumping in the morning, when your milk supply is at its peak, after your baby finishes his or her first nursing session.

How to Keep Breastmilk Supply Up in order To Meet Demand

The most important thing to remember about breastmilk production is that it all depends on the baby’s demand. If your baby is growing appropriately, then you are providing enough milk. So keep breastfeeding. We advise not introducing formula until the baby is at least six months old, if at all. Remember: for the first six months of life, breastmilk is nature’s “perfect food” that delivers all the nutrients and immune protection that your baby needs!

Stimulate production by emptying breasts by nursing more often and/or adding pumping sessions between nursing sessions. Pump after breastfeeding if the baby does not adequately soften both breasts. Feed on both sides and switch when the breast is soft to ensure that the baby gets hind milk – this milk fat, which steadily increases from beginning to end of each nursing session, is great for the baby’s brain development.

Finally, try to take good care of yourself so you can take good care of your baby. Take time for yourself every day. Relax and try to get some sleep. Drink lots of water and eat a balanced diet of nutritious food.

And remember, you are not alone! You have many options for breastfeeding support. If you are concerned about your breastmilk production, talk to your doctor, your paediatrician, or a lactation consultant.

Please leave a comment to share your thoughts on this subject, or join the discussion on the Medela Canada Facebook page.

Please Join the Conversation