Low Milk Supply

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Milk supply issues for 7 months, getting worse

May 2003

I have had milk supply issues from the start of nursing my first child. She is now just 7 months old and we have been giving her a combination of formula and breast milk for a while. I am recently finding that since I started menstruating (2 cycles) my supply has dropped even more. I try to nurse her as often as I can but she loses interest/ gets distracted very easily so that doesn't seem to be helping increase supply. I'm getting pretty depressed about it. I don't know if it is just sadness at the loss of this time in her life, if it is hormonal, and if there is nothing I can do about it but let it go. This is all not to mention all the stuff about feeling like I have failed her because I can't give her all the breast milk she needs for the first year.
Bummed about milk

I nursed my daughter for seven months and had a similar experience to you. You don't say whether you are working or pumping, which have their own challenges, but I'll try to address what you do mention. First off, starting menstruation definitely decreased my milk supply. My daughter seemed frustrated in the last couple of months of feeding. I needed to supplement with formula too. This affected nursing in two ways. My daughter was accustomed to the flow from a bottle and got impatient with the breast. Plus nursing less frequently and pumping were not as effective at stimulating production as was more frequent nursing. So I guess I'm trying to say that what you're experiencing isn't surprising.

That being said, I felt a bit emotional about the situation too. I really wanted to continue nursing but also knew that it was getting frustrating for my daughter. I was also sad to let the closeness go and wondered if I was failing her in some way. You could do what I did and go through all the work of trying to increase lactation through the various approaches, like increased frequency of nursing and taking fenugreek, etc. In the end, I was exhausted and it wasn't making enough of a difference to be worthwhile.

Please don't feel guilty about this. You haven't failed her! You've nursed for a significant amount of time and she will be all the better for it. It's now three months later for me and I can say that my daughter is incredibly happy and healthy, loving and cuddly. And while I do still miss that time of her life a bit, this new phase is wonderful in different ways. Also, you mention the hormonal side of this. I hadn't really thought about it, but I think that nursing did affect my emotions, so it might change if you stop trying to nurse. Good luck. anon

Try different herbs. Blessed Thistle, Fenugreek and Mothers Milk Tea really helped my milk supply when my period started. Also, I found that if I ate more protien that also helped. Andrea
In the absence of medical issues (like a prior breast reduction) and when formula is not used, true milk supply problems are very, very rare. Chances are, whatever made you think there was a problem led to your using formula, which caused your body to make less milk because less milk was being demanded (having been replaced with formula). This is why breastfeeding advocates are so down on formula -- it's often a slippery slope. Furthermore, although 7-month-olds very often are ''distractable'' nursers, your daughter may also be suffering from some ''bottle preference''. (This means that she has learned that it's less work to drink from a bottle than it is to nurse, and that if she fusses at the breast you'll give in and hand over the easier, but less good for her, bottle.)

In any event, what's done is done. There's nothing wrong with your body, you *can* make enough milk to nurse your daughter as long as you wish, and there ARE good ways to recover from a supply sabotaged by mistakes based on poor information or past bad advice. The very first thing to do is ditch the formula. Completely. If she's getting a significant amount of it, you may have to do this gradually. Talk to a lactation consultant, a La Leche League leader, or a breastfeeding-knowledgeable doctor for specifics. Nurse as often as possible and DON'T use bottles. (At this age, even if you work and she needs pumped milk or, if you can't pump, formula during the workday only, you can try switching to a sippy cup; it may help if part of the problem is bottle preference.) The best way to increase milk supply is to increase milk demand.

The next thing to do is make sure you are drinking plenty of water, and as much rest as you can, especially around 'that time of the month' (which does often cause a little dip in milk supply). And if you need a little boost, try eating oatmeal (cookies count!), drinking ''Mother's Milk'' tea, and/or taking fenugreek capsules. (Fenugreek will make you smell like maple syrup. But it works.) If all of that isn't enough, consider getting some domperidone, which is a galactagogue drug you'll have to order from outside the States -- it isn't generally available here, but it *is* considered very safe and is commonly prescribed in Canada and Europe for increasing milk supply.

You can get a lot more advice and support for the asking on the Usenet group misc.kids.breastfeeding (look it up on Google Groups if you don't know how to access Usenet directly).

I empathize with the sadness of losing your milk. I've had a very eratic milk supply and had to supplement with formula starting at 6 weeks. There's not much information for those who find themselves unable to nurse consistently and a lot of judgement when you resort to a bottle. When my supply dropped, I felt like it was such a failure - how could I be incapable of feeding my own child? I was so determined to breastfeed I sometimes would put off giving him a bottle, hoping that my milk would somehow rebound. Luckily, another woman in my mom's group was having a similar problem, so we helped each other through. We used to joke that they should have nursing bras that had ''This isn't about you'' printed along the seam in the same way they put ''Back to Sleep'' on diapers. As she spent hours expressing milk to use in bottles, and as I took enough fenugreek herbs to create a foremilk imbalance, we realized that we were so focused on preserving our milk that we were losing sight of our kids. Nothing will ever be quite like breastfeeding, but there are other ways to be close. (My son likes to suck on his pacifier while nuzzling close to my breast.) Congratulate yourself on making it to 7 months, acknowledge that its hard to go to make this transition, nurse when you can, and follow your daughter's lead. As she starts to explore the world by crawling or cruising, you'll find that she will need more comfort time with you again (it's overwhelming sometimes to be mobile!) Together the two of you can find a solution that makes you both feel better.
I went through the same thing as you, 10 years ago, and I wish I knew then what I know now!!!! I had trouble producing milk when my daughter was 5-6 , months old. I ended up giving up. She's perfectly healthy and happy now, but I missed it very much at the time, and I always wished I could have continued for the 12-18months I had planned on nursing. At the time, I was just learning about Chinese Medicine. Now, I am a practitioner, and I know exactly why I was having trouble! First of all, we travelled to Europe for a month when my baby was 2 months old, to see family. Then, I had to return to work, which I was very sad and angry about. These stresses and emotions both deplete the body (it takes a lot of energy and nutrition to produce all that milk) and make it hard for the milk to flow. Acupuncture and Herbs are EXCELLENT for getting the milk to flow again, both by renourishing your body, and freeing up the flow! If you don't already know or have a Licensed Acupuncturist/ Herbalist, I would be happy to discuss this with you. You can also see more about me in the practitioner database at Acupuncture.com
Rhoda Climenhaga, L.Ac.
I was nursing a one year old on demand, as much as 5 times a day and eating right, and drinking tons of water and had lots of sleep and very little stress in my life, and my milk slowly decreased. I tried all the herbs and talked to lactation consultants, who just said, breast feed more. But my daughter finally gave up, there just was not enough milk there for the effort. It was VERY sad for me. This is my last baby and I had wanted to breast feed her MUCH longer, but I could not force what she did not want. (My mother had this same problem with feeding me, so maybe it is in our genes). To say that every woman can nurse for as long as they want, is just not true. Andrea
I too had milk supply problems and needed to supplement with formula for both of my children. I know of many women in addition to myself who were not able to provide enough milk. And yes, I drank water, used Fenugreek, did supplemental pumping, etc. I strongly believe in breastfeeding, but making sure your child is not hungry is even more important. anon

Not able to pump much for 6-month-old

Feb. 2003

I am breastfeeding my 6-month old daughter and working full time. I have a very low milk supply due to breast surgery - I typically come home with about 3 oz. after pumping 3 times a day for 10 minutes ea. at work. I have two concerns:

1. I love the closeness of breastfeeding, and that my baby is getting SOME of the good stuff, but I am wondering if its really worth trying to stick to it for another 6 months (my original goal) if she gets so little from me.

2. My husband and I will be taking a 5-day vacation to New York in a couple months sans the kids. I was thinking I would pump a few times a day, freeze the milk (provided the hotel has a freezer), and bring it back with me. However, my husband says that would be a hassle and I should just ''pump and dump'' to keep my supply up, ''if you think its even worth it''. So, I feel like I am not getting a whole lot of support from him. I am wondering (a) if I should even continue to breastfeed, and (b) if I do, how I should deal with the trip away from my baby? Thank You.

Should you continue to breastfeed? Of COURSE you should! ANY breastmilk is better than none, and that is no less true for an 18-month-old or a 6-month-old than for a 3-month-old. Also, though your breast surgery may mean that your supply really is low, many women cannot pump very much but nevertheless have perfectly adequate, even abundant, milk supply which their babies are perfectly capable of getting by nursing directly. The amount you are able to pump is most often not a good indicator of how much your baby is consuming when nursing.

As for your trip, only you can answer the question of whether pumping and storing the milk would be ''too much hassle''. I personally would not TAKE a 5-day trip without my 8-month-old baby, so the question simply wouldn't arise, but I know many parents are more comfortable with that sort of thing than I am. I do know that pumping and dumping, particularly for women who have a hard time pumping, can be very heartbreaking. So I would suggest you at least make the attempt to keep your milk for your daughter. Breastmilk can usually be kept at room temperature for up to 10 hours and in a refrigerator for 5-8 days, so you may not need to freeze it in order to bring it home. The hotel mini-fridge, and a cooler with ice pack for the trip home, may be sufficient.

Yes, definitely you should continue to breastfeed for as long as you & the baby want to. It is good for both of you, mentally & physically. However the issues you mentioned can make it a lot harder to do this and could impact on your supply. Whatever you do, you gave your baby a great gift.

Feeling that your husband isn't entirely behind you on this, is hard. Try talking to him again & again both about how good breastfeeding is for your baby and how important it is for your relationship with your child. My husband took a long time to 'get it', but now is quite supportive. Sometimes, bringing out lots of facts & statistics can also help. Could you pump longer at work? Sometimes the let-down will only start after about 10 minutes, so pumping for longer may help your supply. New legislation does protect your right to pump & that the employer must provide a decent place for you to do it in. If you talk with a lactation expert or La Leche, they can also see if your pump suits you etc... There is a yahoo group called pumping moms who also have lots of advice & encouragement. Good luck!

It is DEFINITELY worth keeping up breasfeeding if you ''love the closeness'' of it. I am currently breasfeeding my third baby, and have done it all sorts of way, including with a full-time job. Both me and acquaintances of mine have, due to milk production/work schedule issues, eventually reduced feedings to 2 times/day -- evening and morning -- and found that it's possible to keep up such a schedule for months, even without pumping at work, as long as you're consistent and you and baby are still enjoying yourselves. Even if baby is not getting much milk, and nutritionally the contribution is negligible, still it's SO wonderful to be close to your baby that way. If baby is enjoying herself, she will keep nursing, even if not much is coming out. Remember, your baby will only be little once, for such a short time! RE: the NY trip, I don't think it matters much whether you bring the milk back or not. For me, once I go through the effort of pumping, I always feel that the stuff is like gold, and hate to lose a drop! I'm sorry you feel unsupported by your husband; that's hard. Contact me if you want to talk further.
If you love the closeness of breastfeeding, and the main issue is your milk supply, I highly recommend that you continue to breastfeed at least until your goal of one year. It is so good for your baby in so many ways. There are many things you can do to boost your supply. I have tried Fennugreek tablets, an herbal remedy that my lactation consultant at Kaiser recommended. They are available at any GNC Vitamin store, and possibly also at Berkeley Bowl. There is also Mother's Milk tea, made by Traditional Medicinals. You can find that with the tea at Berkeley Bowl. I haven't tried but have also heard of something called Mother's Milk tincture (I've been told you can find that at B.B. as well), and my lactation consultant has mentioned a prescription drug that you can take for two weeks that will boost your supply. I can't remember what it is called. Mostly, though, it sounds like you just need some support for your desire to continue breastfeeding. I have used the lactation consultants at Kaiser quite a bit, especially at the beginning, and that has made all the difference (my baby is now 6 months old). Contact La Leche League. I'm sure they will offer a lot of support, and will have more ideas about how to boost your milk supply.
I sympathize with you because I also have low milk supply (having had a mastectomy of one breast & breast surgery on the remaining breast). I also typically get only about 1 oz of milk after 10 min of pumping, which has been very frustrating at times. However, I've continued to breastfeed my 4 mo old baby along with supplemental formula feedings through a supplemental nursing system. Babies are much more effective at getting milk out than a pump. I know she's getting a lot more than I am able to pump out based on the amount of supplemental formula she takes at a feeding. Some breast milk is better than none from a nutritional & immune system boosting standpoint. I like the intimacy of breastfeeding & it's very soothing to the baby. Yes, it can be a hassle, but at least so far I've decided it's worth it. My husband is similarly unsupportive even after trying to explain, but I just ignore him on this issue. Only you can decide whether it's worth it, but it seems to me since you like the emotional aspects of breastfeeding & your baby is getting some breastmilk, it's worth it. Good luck!