You've been swimming along in newborn land, adjusting to your new "normal". Breastfeeding and/or pumping is going well (with a few bumps along the way) when all of the sudden, your milk supply DROPS. While your body is incredible at doing what it needs to do for baby, there are several things that can really tank your supply, even if just for a short time. These are worth exploring with your local IBCLC if you're currently experiencing supply issues.
First Menstrual Cycle
When you begin to menstruate again, your supply may temporarily dip as a result of the changing hormones. It's totally normal and for most women, it will even out within a few days.
High Stress (Emotional or Physical)
Physical or emotional hardship-or both-can both cause a lot of stress. Stress has real effects on our bodies. When the body feels under stress, it will conserve energy for what it considers most important. From something simple like the flu all the way to physical or mental trauma can put your body into "seek safety" mode. Nutrients and energy used for creating breastmilk will be redirected towards things deemed "necessary for survival". The best thing you can do during these times is to continue nourishing yourself and get rest & peace whenever possible.
Hormonal Birth Control or Other Medications
By altering hormones within the body, you can inadvertently affect the hormones that are responsible for milk production. Common allergy and OTC cold and flu medications can also be responsible for a drop in supply. Always check with your doctor before starting a new medication so you can assess the pros and cons in relation to your breastfeeding journey. You can also check the potential side effects and use while breastfeeding at this site: Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed®) - NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
This one is fairly self-explanatory! Again, we have to thank hormones for this interference with breastmilk supply. As your progesterone rises, it may impact prolactin production. While many people successfully breastfeed during pregnancy (called tandem nursing), many women find it difficult due to the extra nipple sensitivity. In addition to that, the composition of your milk will gradually change as the weeks go on, and this can change the flavor of your milk, causing your little one to nurse less. Less emptying=less production.
Working out and prioritizing healthy food is great and will have a positive impact on your breastmilk supply. However, you do need to give your body what it needs to actually CREATE the breastmilk, and that means sufficient caloric intake. Be mindful of the intensity of your workouts and adjust accordingly if you notice a drop in supply around the same time as you amp up certain regimens.
Not Removing Milk Often Enough
Breastmilk production works, in simple terms, on a supply-and-demand basis. Dropping a nursing or pumping session can affect your supply, especially in the first 12 weeks. Note when you adjust your normal schedule and your output over a week or so. There is a very individual thing-some women must pump/nurse frequently to maintain their baseline needs, while others can go a little longer between removal and not suffer long term consequences.
There are many conditions that may affect breastmilk production, especially conditions dealing with hormone production, like thyroid conditions and diabetes. While it may require a little more effort on their part, many mothers are able to successfully breastfeed despite their health issues. If you are not one of those lucky ones, please know that you are NOT a failure and that some things are simply outside of your control.
Smoking and Alcohol Use
While the use of these things while breastfeeding is a matter of debate, we are only speaking to its potential consequences on your breastmilk supply. Anything containing nicotine, alcohol, and even caffeine can affect your milk production. Some women are more sensitive to these effects, but it's worth bringing with your IBCLC or doctor if you are experiencing breastfeeding issues.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list or medical advice. If you've been dealing with supply issues, we always recommend reaching out to a lactation literate medical professional with your concerns, and perhaps something on this list would be helpful in your discussion.
Have you ever had a big supply dip? Did you learn the cause, and if so, how did you work through it? Let us know in the comments!