Myths and Truths: Mother’s Milk Supply 

As an expecting mother, you’re probably worrying about buying baby clothes, setting up a nursery, and going to all your doctor appointments, but are you getting ready to breastfeed? Many mothers assume breastfeeding will come naturally to them, which is mostly true, but that doesn’t mean it will happen without some difficulty. Any mom who has struggled to breastfeed in the past can relate to feeling lots of pressure to produce milk, even by their healthcare providers. The truth is, breastfeeding is tricky, and moms can’t always do it all. You may need some extra support during your breastfeeding journey, which is why Emily Hannaman and other lactation consultants are here to help.


What factors decrease a mother’s milk supply?

“The number-one reason women may not have enough milk is usually because they don’t move their milk in the first couple weeks,” says Hannaman, a lactation consultant at Stork Baton Rouge. “This is because they are not receiving enough support. The mom hasn’t had anyone to show her an effective position and latch method to get milk production off to a good start.” 

Breastfeeding is a learned skill, and there is a lack of education among healthcare providers when it comes to developing this skill. Poor breastfeeding skills can lead to having a bad or shallow latch, which creates an effect of kinking a hose; the baby is suckling, but not enough milk is coming out. “We put a lot of pressure on new moms and their babies, always focusing on them not being able to feed their babies, when the spotlight should be on healthcare providers,” Hannaman adds. “Our hospitals need to step it up, too. Moms need to be shown how to breastfeed.”

Other factors of a decreased milk supply include thyroid issues and medications such as Benadryl and Sudafed. Specific herbs in excess (sage, mint, parsley) can have a drying effect on breast milk, but this is rare. An old or ill-fitting breast pump can also negatively affect your milk supply.


How do you truly know your milk supply is low?

“The main way we tell is by the baby’s weight gain, whether they’re losing too much or not gaining enough weight, and what their diaper input is,” Hannaman answers. Your baby should have a certain amount of dirty diapers per day and should go to the breast with good, rhythmical feeding. Your breast should feel lighter and softer after feeding, and your baby should be able to sleep on your chest without continuing to chew. If your baby is having long feeds around the clock without good naps or chunks of “happy time,” that is usually a red flag.

Painful breastfeeding is another bad indicator; if you have nipple damage or toe-curling pain while feeding your baby, something is wrong. A little discomfort at the beginning of your breastfeeding journey is normal, but, if it is truly painful, the damage can impact milk production. It is very important to call your healthcare provider and get help in this case.


What are some myths about breastfeeding that need to be debunked?

Whether you’re a first-time mother or an expert at breastfeeding, it’s likely you’ve heard of one of these myths or have first-hand experience with improper advice. For example, you may have heard that you cannot breastfeed if you have had breast surgeries like a reduction or augmentation. Contrary to popular belief, you can still breastfeed, even with implants! These surgeries may still impact your milk production, so it’s important to see a lactation professional from the beginning if you are concerned.

Other myths include women being too old to breastfeed or not making as much milk because they are overweight. “I’ve got older moms that breastfeed,” says Hannaman. “And it isn’t backed by science that overweight women don’t make as much milk. Most women make milk just fine. The problem is if they have a rough start, which makes breastfeeding tough.”

There are a couple things to look out for in your healthcare providers, too. “If you’re a new mom and someone asks you if breastfeeding is going well, they should make sure the latch is effective and the baby is positioned right rather than just popping their head in and asking,” Hannaman notes. “Also, lots of nurses will say the mother doesn’t have milk, that the baby is practicing on an empty breast and the milk doesn’t come in until a few days. This is not true because mothers make colostrum. It’s a small amount, maybe a teaspoon to a tablespoon at a time, but that’s what the baby feeds on to practice for the larger amount of milk that comes a few days later.”


What can a mom do to increase her milk supply?

The best way to increase your milk supply is with effective milk removal. This involves pumping or using your hands to express the milk even before you give birth. “Pumping or breastfeeding early in the morning is a great way to increase your supply,” Hannaman says. “Do a short pump or feeding session at 4 or 5 a.m. when your prolactin levels are high.”

Sometimes, estrogen birth pills can help milk production, along with lactation cookies, whole grains, and cooked greens. However, some teas and herbs such as fenugreek can have the opposite effect on your milk supply. Contrary to popular belief, drinking lots of water can be detrimental to your supply as well. Drink only to thirst, pay attention to your production, and stop consumption of any herb or tea immediately if you notice a decrease in your supply. 

As a lactation specialist, Hannaman cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is to get the right support from educated healthcare professionals within the first few weeks of giving birth.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel your baby is not breastfeeding properly. It may seem like every other mom is an expert at breastfeeding, but all experts have needed some extra help along the way.