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What are some false alarms of low milk supply?

A perceived low milk supply is a major reason for introducing many unnecessary interventions that unfortunately sabotage a breastfeeding relationship.

It is commonly observed that new mothers tend to doubt their supply often. It is heartbreaking that women are not encouraged and/or supported enough to trust their own bodies to provide nourishment for their babies. A mother who carries and grows her baby in her womb for 9 months and gives birth to her, can also produce breast milk for her baby and continue to nourish her.

Some of the false alarms (mistaken indicators) of low supply are as follows.

1. Baby is crying.

    Babies cry for a variety of reasons. The only mode of communication for them is crying and they use it to convey everything. It doesn’t always mean that the baby is hungry. The baby could be feeling hot, cold, gassy, or uncomfortable in general. The baby could be needing a nappy/diaper change. The baby could be wanting closeness with the mother, could be needing warmth and a sense of security. The list is endless. In short, always offer to breastfeed when the baby is fussy (as nothing calms the baby down like breastfeeding), but don’t be quick to assume that the baby is hungry and you don’t have enough milk.

2. Baby wants to feed often.

Babies have different eating habits, just like adults. Some babies are light snackers who drink less milk in one go and feed often. Some babies drink a lot in each session and go longer between feeds. So, yes, the baby is asking to nurse often due to hunger. But it does not imply that the mother has less milk.

3. Baby keeps nursing for hours together.

    This is normal infant behavior. Babies go through growth spurts. They cluster-feed. It’s all normal. Read more about cluster feeding here.

4. Baby’s weight gain is slow.

    Even though a baby’s weight gain is an indicator of whether or not the baby is getting enough; a slow weight gain cannot necessarily translate to the mother having a low supply. There could be other reasons causing a less than desired weight gain. E.g. poor latch, ties, switching breasts every now and then while nursing etc. These factors can eventually hit the supply, but if corrected in time, the baby’s weight gain can be facilitated without needing to work on the mother’s supply.

5. Baby guzzles down a bottle of top milk after breastfeeding.

    When a baby is nursing directly at the breast, the baby is in full control of her intake. But that’s not the case with a bottle. Baby cannot control the flow of the bottle and a lot of times ends up guzzling down as much top milk or EBM as offered due to lack of control and not because the baby was hungry and the mother didn’t have enough milk.

6. Mother is unable to express any milk or her expressing output is very low.

    This can be a very convincing reason for the low milk supply, but also a very misleading one. The amount of milk a lactating woman can hand-express or pump is not an indicator of her actual milk supply. A baby who latches on to the breast well and breastfeeds directly can get way more milk than what even a hospital-grade pump would yield.

7. Mother’s breasts don’t feel as heavy and full as before.

    As time passes, the breasts get accustomed to breastfeeding and become more efficient at making and storing milk. They don’t feel as heavy and as full as before because they have attained more efficacy. Second-time mothers may not feel fullness even in the initial days post-birth.

8. Breasts don’t leak.

    A lot of women do not leak at all. Some stop leaking a few days or weeks into breastfeeding. This does not mean that their supply is low.

9. Baby doesn’t sleep through the night.

    Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone that all babies reach at different times. Young infants are designed to wake up often to nurse. Later, the baby could be going through growth spurts or sleep regressions. They do not indicate low supply.

10. Baby is behaving fussy, unlatches, and pushes the breast away.

    All this can happen due to various reasons like oversupply or a fast let down, an uncomfortable position of the baby, a nursing strike or reflux.

11. A baby older than 3 months bringing hands to mouth, sucking fist etc.

    This is a developmental milestone that babies achieve around 3 months of age and does not indicate that the baby is hungry and the mother has less milk. More information can be found here.

12. The baby of 4-5 months and older is not interested in nursing.

    This is a classic distraction phase that babies go through around this time when they become easily distracted. This too is a developmental milestone and the baby’s excessive distractibility and lack of interest in nursing do not indicate low supply.

13. People commenting that the baby looks lean (or not chubby enough).

    Every baby is genetically designed to develop and grow in a manner she does! Also, each baby follows her own growth curve. A baby is thin because the mother doesn’t have enough milk is a preposterous statement.

14. Mother’s breasts are small.

    The size of the breasts does not determine how much milk they can make. Also, breasts are not warehouses where milk is stored. Thus, a woman with small breasts can easily make as much milk as her baby needs.

15. Mother has had an unsuccessful breastfeeding journey with previous child(ren).

    If the rare medical causes are ruled out, there is no reason why a mother who hasn’t been able to breastfeed her previous child(ren) cannot breastfeed her newborn, A mother who has suffered true low supply in the past can also make enough milk the next time around if she follows the thumb rules diligently.

16. Baby chews on the nipple.

    When the baby chews on the nipple, it can also be because of a poor latch and not because the mother doesn’t have enough milk.

How to ensure that the baby is getting enough?

When in doubt, always turn to reliable indicators. The only reliable indicators of whether or not a baby is getting enough is –

  • Urine output
  • Stool output
  • Weight gain

However, these keep changing as per the baby’s age. To get an accurate idea about whether or not a baby is getting enough based on her age, check our article on ‘Getting Enough’.

Another thing to note here is that baby not getting enough is not always synonymous with a mother not making enough. There can be many factors at play that need to be examined while prioritizing the baby’s intake. At BSIM, we often say…..

“Breastfeeding problems have breastfeeding solutions”.