Milk Supply False Alarms
February 29, 2016
When you're breastfeeding - especially for the first time - it can be hard to keep worries about milk supply at bay. Is my baby getting enough? Why does she want to nurse so frequently? Will I be able to pump enough?
The belief that you aren't making enough milk when you actually are is common enough that there is a name for it: ”perceived insufficient milk.” Often this occurs as a result of baby behaviors that may lead us to think we aren't producing enough milk, but that in reality are the result of other reasons. We thought we'd share some of these “milk supply false alarms” below.*
Frequent feeding. It's often a shock to new mothers as to how often babies eat. Their stomachs are about the size of their fist, and their metabolism is quick! If you've been taught that babies need to eat less frequently, or on a set schedule, you might be unsettled by normal baby behavior, which is driven by their needs and not the clock.
Cluster feeding. Babies frequently cluster their feedings together, especially in the early evening, and it's often accompanied by some fussiness. This is normal, but it might make you think that they are feeding more frequently because you aren't making enough milk.
Growth spurts. Babies have growth spurts - and feed more to support that growth - at two to three weeks after birth, at six weeks, and at six months. You might think that you aren't making enough milk because your baby wants to eat more frequently than usual. Remember that your baby is in charge of your milk supply. Let the baby drive, and your supply will increase to meet his needs.
Fussiness at the breast. There are many reasons why a baby might be fussy when feeding: passing gas or pooping, a fast let down, teething, cluster feedings, growth spurts, preferring one side, and many more. Fussiness at the breast can sometimes can indicate a need for more milk, but there are many other possibilities to explore as well.
Feeling less full. After the initial onset of mature milk (“milk coming in”) your breasts naturally adjust and are typically not as full as in the initial days of making mature milk. This is normal, but it sometimes causes mothers to worry.
Not having a let down sensation, or not leaking. Mothers often hear about a “let down” sensation and about leaking milk. While it is normal for these things to occur, it also just doesn't happen to some women, including those who are making plenty of milk. It's also normal for mothers who do experience these things to find that they lessen over time - also a normal change and not an indication of a milk supply problem.
Pumping volume. Here's a very common misconception: you can measure a mother's milk supply by her pumping volume. The truth is that women can respond very differently to a pump than they do to their own baby. Some women with plenty of milk pump very little, so don't assume that your pumping output is the same as your baby's intake!
Slower growth as the baby gets older. Babies’ growth rates naturally start to slow down as they progress through the months of their first year (if they didn't, they'd be truly gigantic in Kindergarten!). This natural slowing of growth after 4 months used to be mistaken for an intake problem. That's because up until not too long ago, most pediatricians used growth charts based on the growth pattern of formula fed babies, who experience less of this natural leveling off. Now we know better - and to be sure your pediatrician does too, make sure she's using the WHO growth charts.
These are some common milk supply false alarms, but there are more! Feel free to share others you've experienced in our comments section.
* This information is provided for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please see a lactation consultant or other healthcare provider is you have concerns about breastfeeding.