My Breasts Don’t Feel Full — Is My Milk Supply Low?

breastfeeding-basics-logo-2.jpgOne of the biggest worries a nursing mother may have is low milk supply. Consider the following scenarios:

Nursing is going well but suddenly the baby seems unsatisfied and wants to nurse all the time. The mother’s breasts feel less full, particularly in the evening. Is the mother’s supply low?

In the early days a nursing mother’s breasts may feel full or even engorged. If a mother has oversupply issues, this feeling of fullness may be constant and she may experience more than one episode of engorgement. If that feeling of fullness is suddenly gone, is the mother’s milk supply low?

In the first scenario, the baby is likely going through a growth spurt. Growth spurts typically occur around three weeks, six weeks and three months of age. During these times of rapid growth, the baby wants to nurse more often than usual. A mother may worry that the baby is not getting satisfied at the breast, but that more frequent nursing is simply the baby’s way of increasing the mother’s milk supply. The more the baby “demands” the more the mother will “supply.” It’s not a sign that the baby is not getting enough milk or needs supplementation. The mother’s breasts may feel less full but they are continually producing milk and the rate of milk production actually increases when the breasts are less full and slows as the breasts fill.

What about the mother who always felt full but suddenly does not? This mother’s milk supply may be regulating. That means that instead of tending to over-produce, the principle of supply and demand is starting to regulate the production of milk. It can take 6-12 weeks or more after the birth for the milk supply to regulate. While it can be very disconcerting for a mother when her breasts feel less full suddenly, it can actually be a blessing. Oversupply can lead to plugged ducts and mastitis. It can also give the baby problems with a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance. So it’s a good thing if the milk supply regulates and the mother can rest assured that the wheels of supply and demand are functioning.

My baby seemed so unsatisfied that I gave him a bottle and he sucked it right down!

If a mother is worried that her baby is not getting enough milk and she offers a bottle of artificial baby milk, the baby may well take it whether the baby needs it or not. The flow from a baby bottle is much faster. Gravity does all the work and the baby does not have to suck hard to get the fluid out. Thus a baby may take in more than the baby needs (and may consequently spit up more). If the baby then goes longer in between feedings (and thus appears more “satisfied”) that may be because it’s harder for the baby to digest artificial milk. Breast milk is the perfect baby food and is easy for the baby’s undeveloped digestive system to process.

So what are signs that the baby is getting enough breast milk and supplementation is not necessary? The best indicators are: adequate wet and poopy diapers, weight gain and lack of lethargy. For a baby six weeks and younger, it’s a good sign if the baby has at least five wet disposable diapers or six wet cloth diapers per day (one to two is normal in the first few days before the mother’s milk comes in). Look for three to four bowel movements the size of a quarter (once the baby passes the meconium and starts having yellowish breast milk poop). Older babies may start to have fewer bowel movements–even as little as one per week is normal as long as the baby continues to gain weight normally.

If the baby does not have enough wet and poopy diapers, weight gain is a concern, or the baby seems lethargic, consult a doctor. If the doctor suggest supplementation, try to troubleshoot any breastfeeding concerns, discuss ways to increase milk supply and consider supplementing with expressed breast milk.

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    • Eilat

      Losing that full feeling in my breasts is what brought me to LLL. My son was almost 4 months old and I was used to waking up every morning with hard breasts and spending time in bed nursing to relieve them.

      One morning I woke up with soft breasts. I told myself that its impossible for my supply to go down with a 17lb 3 1/2 month old that is exclusively breastfeeding. But I couldn’t pump a drop and that worried me. After 3 days of reassuring myself I needed some outside assurance. I called LLL and spoke to a leader. Her advice was just as you mentioned. It was likely just an adjustment of oversupply. That was over a year ago and Ive been going to meetings since!

      Also, a good friend of mine had a similar situation with her 3 month old. Soft breasts all of a sudden and not being able to pump a drop. In her case, however, after about 2-3 days she got her period! It must have been a hormonal shift in her body. Her supply went back up a day or so after her period started. She didn’t get another period for about 7 months.

    • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela

      Thanks for sharing your experience Eilat. I’m glad LLL was able to help reassure you!

      Your friend’s experience getting her period at 3 months is exactly why I’m not a fan of the Lactational Amenorrhea Method of birth control:

      http://www.breastfeeding123.com/are-you-willing-to-risk-getting-pregnant-again-so-soon/

    • http://www.why-not-one-more.blogspot.com Jamie

      I have a concern. I know for a fact that my baby isn’t getting enough. She is my fourth and I’ve never seen a child be so unsatisfied. We started giving an occasional bottle of formula because pumping was only successful for about 2 oz a day and I needed more so that my husband and I could go on a decent date and I could go job hunting. So, I know it is my own fault for my supply dipping, anyway, I started taking Goat’s Rue and fenugreek to ramp up my supply. Do you have any idea how long it takes before an effect is seen? My daughter is underweight and I have to take her back to the ped in 4 weeks to re-check her weight. My ped is very supportive and says I should try to increase milk supply to feed her instead of formula. I also think that stress is a huge factor for me this time around. Any help you can provide would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • Rita

      This is my first child, she is now 3 months as of this coming Wednesday. I am very concerned I have lost my breast milk supply. When she was turning 1 month old, I followed my inlaw’s advice to give my daughter bottled milk as a supplement to increase her weight and to reduce colic…DUMB!! I started to pump my breast to avoid provide her with formula, and could pump up to 5 oz in one go, abt 4 times a day with breast feeding in between. As of this week I am noticing that when I squeeze my nipples milk still spray’s out, but when I pump, I struggle to get even 2 oz. Now I just got 10ml!!! I am very worried abt losing my supply. What can I do to get my daughter back onto breast feeding or its it to late.

      Also note I got my first period after 6 weeks post partum is that normal given the circumstances above.

      Please help…first time mommy! Thanks

    • http://www.breastfeeding123.com Angela White, J.D., breastfeeding counselor

      Is your daughter at the breast at all? The best way to increase your supply is to nurse, nurse, nurse! Pumping is not as efficient as the baby suckling.

      If you need help getting your baby back to the breast, call a La Leche League leader (www.llli.org to locate a local leader to call for free) or a lactation consultant. Good luck!

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    • Angela

      My baby is 3 months old and when I breastfeed her she latches on for a minute and then pulls herself off. It’s very frustrating. I’ve given her a bottle when I don’t think that she has had enough. My breast alwys felt full. For the last week though they don’t ever feel full. Am I loosing my milk supply?

    • katie potts

      my son is 11 months and still breastfeeding but my breast milk flow is going down but i want to increase it do you have any tips to increase my mik flow?