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Low Milk Supply versus Poor Milk Transfer

One of the biggest issues for mothers when it comes to breastfeeding is low milk supply. Too often many mothers see their newborn crying right after feeding or fussy at the breast and immediately think they must have no milk. Why else would their baby be acting like its starving unless there is simply no milk? Throw in an emergency bottle of formula with baby taking it happily and sleeping for 4 hours straight and of course the mother is going to believe it must be her lack of milk as the root cause of the problem.


The Truth Behind This Myth

This is one of the biggest myths in lactation but is very hard to overcome when there is a newborn hysterical in your face clearly needing to be fed. Emotions and hormones are running high and everything in the mother’s body is telling her that baby is hungry and needs to be fed.

The mother is not wrong in this as the number one rule above all else is to feed the baby! Understandably, survival mode kicks in and supplementation is seen as the only solution to the problem. Lack of support from both the family and medical community just adds to it.


So, What Are We Overlooking?

What is so often overlooked is the newborn’s latch and whether or not they are effectively transferring the milk. A mother can have the largest milk supply in the world but if the newborn cannot transfer the milk from the breast into its mouth, it will appear as if she has no milk. The longer the milk is left sitting in the breast will eventually send the wrong signal to the body that there is no newborn requiring the milk. This will cause the mother’s supply to diminish and dry up.

A continuously empty breast signals the body to make more milk but this will not occur if the baby cannot empty the breast by transferring the milk. The newborn will become increasingly more and more frustrated at the breast because it can smell the milk readily available but cannot access it. It’s like staring at a plate of chocolate chip cookies but not having teeth to actually chew and swallow them. Talk about torture!

It’s like staring at a plate of chocolate chip cookies but not

having teeth to actually chew and swallow them.


How Can You Fix It?

Assessing and correcting a newborn’s latch should always be the first step in determining whether or not a mother has a true low milk supply or a poor milk transfer. There are other factors that can impact a milk supply but an ineffective latch is the first and most often root cause. There are cases of true low milk supply but they are not as common as many people think and are the result of an underlying issue.


Do You Really Have Low Milk Supply?

A true low milk supply is due to the lack of breast milk production and does not respond to any excess milk stimulation such as additional feeding sessions or pumping. Some examples of causes are hypothyroidism, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome, breast surgery or trauma, certain medications, birth complications, and IGT (Insufficient Glandular Tissue). An evaluation from a lactation consultant can help to determine the underlying cause and creating a plan of care that works for both mother and baby. While some issues may not be fixable, the mother may still be able to provide a small amount of milk for her child. Every drop still contains valuable immune boosting properties that can help in building the infant’s immune system, along with essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats.


If you are experiencing the frustrations of low milk supply, schedule an appointment with Kerry, our Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

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