Are you experiencing a sudden drop in milk supply? Are you worried that your milk supply is decreasing? It’s understandable to be upset – and in this article, we share everything you need to know about why it happens and what you can do to generate enough breast milk for your baby.
Decreasing Milk Supply
One day your child is nursing like a champ, and the next day, it’s like your milk completely disappeared.
A sudden drop in your milk can be startling and even depressing – especially when you aren’t sure why it’s happening!
I remember when this happened to me when my second child was about 10 months old. He went from being able to nurse whenever he wanted to not being able to get a let down until he switched sides about 10 times.
I think both of us were in tears!
It’s important to know some of the “hidden” causes of a decrease in breast milk, why it happens, and if it’s a problem. As a Certified Lactation Educator and Certified Breastfeeding Specialist – this is one of the most common issues I see new moms encounter.
The good news is that when you’ve identified what the issue is, you can almost always recover – it might just take a little bit of time and patience. I will discuss some possible causes of why you are not generating plenty of milk.
- Decreasing Milk Supply
- Why is My Milk Supply Decreasing
- Mirena IUD
- Not Nursing on Demand
- Not Pumping When You Miss a Feed
- Wrong Size Flanges
- Low Milk Supply During Period
- Lack of Hydration
- Not Eating Enough Calories
- Too much exercise
- Signs Your Milk Supply is Decreasing
- Milk Supply Drop Overnight
- One Breast Producing Less Milk Suddenly
- Ages Milk Supply Drops are Common
- How do I Know if My Milk Supply is Low?
- When Does Milk Supply Regulate?
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Why is My Milk Supply Decreasing
This is seriously huge when it comes to milk supply. And unfortunately, the stress of when your breast milk supply decreases can make stress levels even higher! Moreover, the lack of lactation support is responsible for hampering your child’s health and wellbeing.
My lactation consultant said she always recommends moms go to get massages when they are dealing with a decrease in supply, simply because it helps them relax. If you are noticing a big drop in supply, try and eliminate any and all extra stress you might have. Your mental health will thank you, too!
Mint or peppermint is a known substance that can cause a decrease in supply…though there’s some debate on how much it actually takes.
Circumstantial evidence – one day when Oliver was about three months old, I noticed that my electric pump output was lower than usual. It seemed weird…and then I remembered I had eaten almost a whole bag of mint M&Ms. I don’t know if it was related… but who knows.
I have read it has to be actual mint or mint extract – not artificial. And so, you should avoid the herbal supplements that contain mint.
“What? I thought fenugreek was supposed to help your supply!”
Ah yes…Fenugreek. It’s often the first thing mothers turn to when they are struggling with their breastmilk supply. I did, too!
And for some moms, it can help. However, it can have the opposite effect – especially with women who have a thyroid problems. Fenugreek can “influence the active thyroid hormone your body uses. This [can] make hypothyroidism worse and reduce milk production.” (source)
If Fenugreek is going to work, it will typically show a good sign in 24-72 hours…so if you aren’t feeling like it’s helping or hurting after that…I would probably just stop. It’s not worth smelling like maple syrup or causing you and/or baby gastric distress!
It has some other unsightly side effects, which I don’t love. According to Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs and Natural Supplements, by Linda Skidmore-Roth, it may also cause reduced absorption of medications.
While I’m not a huge fan of taking supplements for milk supply, there is a line of supplements from Legendairy Milk that is fenugreek free. I know a lot of people who rave about them.
Parsley is another herb that is thought to decrease milk supply…so just be careful eating too much parsley in your meals! If you are experiencing a decrease in the pumping session for a long period of time, the best way of reviving would be to cut out the parsley.
I think most mothers know that certain forms of hormonal birth control can cause issues with supply. Especially the birth control pill.
This is why the mini pill is often prescribed to breastfeeding mothers because it doesn’t typically have an effect on breast milk supply.
A lot of moms are told to get an IUD, which can be a great form of birth control. However, there are many mothers who report having a drop in supply while using the Mirena IUD.
There was an article I read a while back that discussed this topic, though the website seems to be down. The author suggested that there are more moms who have their milk negatively impacted by it than we may realize, simply because they don’t realize Mirena is the culprit.
There are plenty of mothers who can use the Mirena IUD with no effects whatsoever…but it’s impossible to know if it will affect your body or not until you try (and I’m not sure it’s worth the risk).
The copper IUD (Paragrad) is non-hormonal and should have no impact on your milk supply.
Sage is yet another herb to be careful with. A small amount shouldn’t do too much harm, but a large amount will have negative consequences.
These are designed to dry up your sinuses….and unfortunately, they will dry your milk supply right up alongside them. Fortunately, you should be able to recover, but it’s best to avoid them as much as possible while breastfeeding. Mothers who have older babies and are trying to dry up their milk supply are often told to use a decongestant because it does a pretty darn good job. But when you need more breast milk to nurse your baby you better avoid decongestants.
Here is some good advice on cold and cough remedies compatible with breastfeeding.
While it is possible to breastfeed while pregnant, many moms experienced a very big drop in milk supply – especially around the 12 week mark. If you experience a drop out of nowhere, you may want to take a pregnancy test and look for other early signs of pregnancy.
Not Nursing on Demand
Timing schedules and not listening to your baby’s cues can make your supply suffer. It is SO important to feed on demand.
When you try and schedule feeds or limit when baby is eating – especially in the beginning – it goes against the natural process of milk production and your body may not make milk when it needs to.
The best advice I can give new moms is to stop watching the clock and just feed their baby when they want it (while, of course, knowing the signs that their baby isn’t getting enough).
Not Pumping When You Miss a Feed
Breast milk production is a supply and demand process – if you miss a feeding or a pump session, you are essentially telling your body you don’t need to make milk then.
Now, if you miss one pump session, it *probably* won’t affect things too much (though I do know some women where it has). However, it’s important to make sure you are regularly stimulating the breast to keep up your supply.
I recommend that you don’t go more than three hours during the day without nursing or pumping.
And if the baby gets a bottle instead of nursing, it’s important to pump around the same time. Even if your baby is eating from a bottle, your body doesn’t know that. You have to pump to tell your body, “Yes! Baby needs milk still!”
If you have trouble with pumping or aren’t sure how to use it, click here to check out our pumping and milk supply. class.
Wrong Size Flanges
So many mothers use the wrong sized flanges, and as a result, the pump isn’t able to remove milk as efficiently as it could be. As a result, if your body isn’t removing the milk as it should, it will start to think you don’t need as much milk.
Here are some fantastic flange fitting resources to help you navigate this problem.
Yet another herb that’s associated with decreasing milk supply. Don’t go too crazy with your next Italian meal! This is also an essential oil to make sure you avoid while breastfeeding.
Low Milk Supply During Period
This is probably the most common reason I see women seeing a sudden drop in milk supply. However, in my experience, it is more
Per Kelly Mom: “For women who have this problem, calcium/magnesium supplements may be helpful. This practice has also been reported to eliminate most uterine cramping and some premenstrual discomfort such as water retention.
Calcium dosages this high should not be taken alone but as a calcium/magnesium (or calcium/magnesium/zinc) combination. Otherwise, the calcium will not be adequately absorbed into your body.”
It is recommended to start this regimen when you ovulate through the end of your cycle (source). Of course, please consult with your doctor before starting any new vitamins.
Here is some more information: Breastfeeding and Your Period: Everything You Should Know.
Lack of Hydration
There are a lot of misconceptions about breastfeeding and hydration. You actually don’t need to drink a ton more – just to thirst. Around 64 ounces (plus a little more) can help. However, a lack of water intake decreases the amount of liquid in your body. And it could be partially responsible for the decrease in supply.
Here is some more information about hydration and breastfeeding.
Not Eating Enough Calories
It is suggested that breastfeeding mothers eat 300-500 extra calories a day. I recommend figuring out your BMR (basically, the number of calories you burn just being alive) and adding extra calories to that amount.
With a lot of the lactation cookies and other lactation foods out there, I also think that the main benefit of these just come from them adding more calories.
Here are a few helpful resources:
- Exercise and Breastfeeding 101: What You Should Know (Plus Workouts!)
- 80+ of the Best Breastfeeding Snacks (That Won’t Leave You Feeling Gross)
- How to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding (Without Losing Your Supply)
- The Best Menus for Breastfeeding Moms
- 9 Best Protein Powders for Breastfeeding Moms
Too much exercise
This one kind of goes hand in hand with not drinking enough water or eating enough calories.
Often, when a new mother starts a new exercise regimen, it can be hard to know if you are eating and drinking enough. Moderate exercise shouldn’t affect your supply too much – just make sure you keep up those calories and drinking – and read these tips about exercise and breastfeeding.
The time I see exercise affecting a mother’s milk the most is when it’s a sudden change, and it’s a lot of intense exercises (such as Cross Fit).
Many breastfeeding mothers do these types of exercises and do just fine, but you have to make sure you are eating enough and not losing all your extra water through sweat!
When you are sick, it can be hard to eat and drink enough, and, quite frankly, even want to nurse. It can be common to see a drop in supply during this time. One thing to remember is that with most illnesses, you can still nurse your baby – in fact, it’s recommended so you can create the antibodies they need to fight it!
I’ve observed that many mothers see a drop in supply around the 8-9 month mark. As I’ve thought about it, I have a few suspicions as to why. The first one is that solids are becoming more a part of the baby’s diet.
I do believe it’s important to introduce solids and encourage them (and I don’t love the phrase “food before one is just for fun), however, it’s very important that breast milk remains the primary source of nutrition. If the baby starts to replace too much milk with solids, your supply will definitely take a hit.
If a mom has a drop around this time, I typically recommend cutting back on solids for a while until you can regain your supply. Always offer breast milk first and then solids shortly after.
We personally always do baby-led weaning with our children, which I feel always was a pretty natural transition to eating more solids without hurting my milk supply.
Signs Your Milk Supply is Decreasing
If you notice any of the following signs, your milk supply may be decreasing. Keep in mind that it may also just be your supply regulating to what your child’s needs are – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
- Your baby is fussier than usual and seems unsatisfied after feedings
- Your baby is gaining weight more slowly than usual
- You feel like you have less milk than before
- Your breasts feel softer than they used to
- It takes longer than usual to get your milk flowing
- You don’t feel the let-down reflex as often as you used to
- You aren’t producing as much milk as you did in the early weeks postpartum
- Your baby is suddenly sleeping through the night and isn’t waking up for feedings anymore
If you suspect your supply is dropping, I would recommend working with a lactation consultant as soon as possible.
Milk Supply Drop Overnight
Rarely, a mom will experience a large drop in milk supply overnight. The most common culprits for this are:
- Menstrual cycle-related changes
- Something you ate
One Breast Producing Less Milk Suddenly
You may just experience a sudden decrease in one side – how strange! When this happens, it is likely due to:
- Less stimulation on that breast – this may have been over time or all of the sudden
- This can happen due to a breast preference (either mom or baby)
- Incorrect block feeding
If this happens, I would encourage you to start each nursing session on that side and possibly add in a power pump session.
Ages Milk Supply Drops are Common
A sudden dip in milk supply can happen at any age. There are some times that seem to be more associated with them:
- 6-8 weeks: This is when many mothers have their milk supply regulated, and as such, it seems like a drop when it’s just their body adjusting to their child’s needs
- 6-7 months: The introduction of solid foods can certainly decrease milk supply, esepcially when food is introduced quickly and breastfeeding sessions are dropped.
- 9-10 months: This is a stage where babies tend to be distracted, go through nursing strikes, or a mother’s period begins to return.
How do I Know if My Milk Supply is Low?
I think every mom worries about their milk supply at one time or another – it’s only natural to wonder if you are making enough (especially if you can’t know without looking
I’ve written about this topic in-depth in this post – The Ultimate Guide to Increasing Breast Milk Supply – but in general, here are a few basic tips for knowing if your milk supply has dropped:
- Baby is upset at the breast and can’t seem to get a letdown
- Lower weight gain (this does not always mean your supply is low – my boys had low weight gain because of reflux. But it’s certainly worth looking into)
One thing I often see is when a mother’s supply starts to regulate, it seems like her supply has dropped. Many mothers have a larger supply when their milk first comes in, and if they are pumping (which is generally not recommended until about 4-6 weeks), and suddenly go from making tons of milk to a lot less, they will think they are losing their milk.
This is not usually the case. The goal is to produce enough milk for your baby – and an oversupply is not as glamorous as you would think. In general, a mother who is pumping in addition to breastfeeding full time an expect to produce .25-2 ounces TOTAL from a pump session. In place of a nursing session, average is about an ounce or so an hour.
This is also why it’s important to practice paced feeding and keep bottles to 1-1.25 ounces per hour. I often see mothers who unknowingly “overfeed” their babies because they just give their baby all the milk they pump…and then when their supply regulates more, they worry because they can’t keep up.
When you keep to the 1-1.25 ounces per hour rule, it helps prevent this (and you can freeze that extra milk!)
I hope that this was helpful to anyone who is worried about a sudden drop in milk supply. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or concerns!
When Does Milk Supply Regulate?
Most women see that their milk regulates around 4-6 weeks.
OTHER BREASTFEEDING POSTS YOU MAY ENJOY:
- The Best Breastfeeding Tips for New Moms (Love, Moms Who’ve Been There)
- 13 Myths about Extended Breastfeeding
- The Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding as a Working Mom
Katie is a Colorado-native, BYU graduated, and most importantly, wife to one and mother to three beautiful boys. She is passionate about sharing her experiences with others – especially about pregnancy, breastfeeding, cooking, and crafts. She is currently training to be a Certified Lactation Educator. She loves spending time with her family and helping others find joy in family life.