Concerns about making enough milk are the most common questions on breastfeeding hotlines and the number one reason mothers offer supplement or give up breastfeeding altogether. It has long been assumed that mothers who worried about their milk production just didn’t understand how breastfeeding worked and that all they needed was a little education and reassurance to get breastfeeding back on track. While it’s true that most mothers can make enough milk, there are definitely mothers who really aren’t making enough milk, and for a variety of reasons, their numbers may be rising. We’re also discovering that there are more causes for low milk production than we once realized. Fortunately, new advances in the field of lactation are helping us to develop better strategies–it is rarely too late.
An important approach for improving low milk supplies is targeting the treatment to the underlying cause. Without understanding why a mother isn’t able to produce enough milk, she may easily put time, effort, and money into solutions that don’t address the real problem. When her strategy doesn’t work, she might then incorrectly conclude that her low milk production is irreversible. Strategic targeting increases chances for success.
The first place to start is to distinguish between the internal and external causes of low milk production. Secondary problems occur when a mother starts with a full milk supply, or at least the capacity to make a full supply of milk, and then something happens to interfere with the process. Primary problems originate within the mother’s body. Naturally, some overlapping may occur, but most causes fit into these two categories.
Primary causes are often the most puzzling. We now live in a world that is full of pollution, chemicals, pesticides, and medications that are capable of interfering with our hormones, including those that affect breast development and milk production. Technological advances allow us to overcome infertility problems, yet overlook whether the breast might be affected as well. And there are other biological reasons that a woman’s milk production may be suppressed.
A common belief is that a mother is stuck with her “equipment,” and if her body is struggling to make enough milk, there isn’t much she can do to increase her supply. The truth is that there are often ways to improve milk production, and it’s certainly worth trying. Another myth is that breastfeeding must be “all or nothing”: either a mother must choose to breastfeed exclusively or else she should only feed formula, because doing both is too hard and not worth the effort. This kind of thinking unnecessarily eliminates options that allow babies to receive at least some human milk when exclusive breastfeeding is difficult or impossible.
The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk by Diana West and Lisa Marasco book addresses all these major concerns about milk supply and helps mothers and their health care professionals develop strategies to improve their situation.