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Lactation Problems & Lack of Milk for Breastfeeding

By Bridget Coila ; Updated June 13, 2017

At some point during breastfeeding, many new nursing mothers wonder whether their milk supply is enough to satisfy their baby. Unfortunately, there are many myths and misconceptions regarding milk supply, causing unnecessary worry and stress. Even if you experience a true lack of milk, there are usually simple solutions that can help build up your production and keep your baby well nourished.

Myths and Misconceptions

One common misconception about milk supply is that the size of the breasts determines the amount of milk a woman can produce. However, even small-breasted women can produce more than enough milk for any babies, even in the case of twins or other multiples. The amount of milk you can pump also does not reflect how much you make, since some women are just poor pumpers. Also, if your baby is nursing more or weighs less than his peers, these are also not signs of a lack of milk. As long as your baby is gaining weight at an appropriate rate and produces four to f

Actual Milk Supply

A nursing mother's milk supply is primarily based on the amount of time her baby spends at the breast. When the baby sucks at the mother's breast, it causes a release of the hormone prolactin, which causes the body to produce more milk. The more often and longer a baby nurses, the more a mother's supply builds up in response. If the baby does not empty the breasts, the milk left in them dampens the effect of prolactin and causes milk production to slow.

Lack of Milk

In some rare cases, a mother may truly be unable to produce enough milk to supply her child. This may occur when infant health problems or latching issues prevented the baby from efficiently clearing out each breast during early feedings. Another potential cause of an unexpected loss of milk is when the mother engages in a rigorous weight-loss program while breastfeeding, as a mother who doesn't take in enough calories might cease producing milk. A tiny minority of mothers are completely unable to produce sufficient milk no matter what they do. However, most causes of lack of milk in a breastfeeding mother are reversible.


Allowing a newborn to nurse every two to three hours helps establish a large milk supply, but even if you cannot provide this in the early days, you can still increase your milk supply later through frequent nursing. Some women take a "babymoon," in which the mother secludes herself with her baby in bed and offers feedings every one to two hours for a total of 24 to 48 hours. Galactagogues, substances that boost milk supply, might help improve the milk supply when used in conjunction with frequent feedings, but they do not work if feeding frequency is not increased as well. Common galactagogues used by breastfeeding women and recommended by some lactation consultants include fenugreek, blessed thistle, alfalfa and oatmeal, although little research has been done to determine whether they actually work.

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