5 Major Reasons For Low Breast Milk Supply

Breast feeding is by far the best and the ideal food for the growth and development of your baby. But if you are unable to produce enough milk and want to overcome this challenge soon, it is important you know the 5 major reasons for low breast milk supply and what you need to do about it.

First Things First: Did You Know?

The rate of growth of an infant during the first 6 months of life is greater and faster than any other period of life. And this is the reason why WHO and UNICEF recommend exclusive breast feeding for 6 months.

According to UNICEF, breastfeeding is “A Mother’s Gift, for Every Child”.

In this article:

  1. Delay in breastfeeding
  2. Incorrect latching
  3. Postpartum sleep deprivation & depressed mood (baby blues)
  4. Hormonal disorders
  5. Inadequate rest & improper diet

1. Delay in Breast Feeding

Delay in breast feeding the child immediately after birth is the first and possibly the most common reasons for low breast milk supply. Right from the day of delivery of your child, the capacity of breast for milk production is calibrated in response to the amount of milk which is removed.

If you feed your child less or even if you feed late, less milk is removed from your system. As a result, your body assume that the quantity of breast milk seems to be sufficient and therefore produces less of it.

Delay in breastfeeding right after childbirth happens mostly due to the medical need for separation of child from the mother to be admitted in intensive care unit.

This is followed by other reasons like pre-mature birth, baby feeling ill or if the mother is ill after delivery.

What Should You Do?

If you are unable to be with the child, then you have to express the breast milk either manually or with the help of the breast pump, which has to be done regularly at 3 to 4 hours’ intervals.

These days, doctors suggest formula feed for the first 12 to 24 hours, especially after a C-Section, as the mother is very likely not in a condition to feed the baby.

The formula feed is given with the objective to ensure that the baby doesn’t remain hungry due to low feeding intervals. As discussed, this situation results in your body setting the calibration to a lower point due to the (natural) assumption of low demand, which in turn results in less milk production.

Since the mother can’t sit and feed the baby due to pain, Episiotomy stitches or fatigue, members of her family or the healthcare staff should make sure to put the baby to the breast at regular intervals.

2. Incorrect Latching

Incorrect latching is nothing but the poor attachment of the baby to the breast. Poor attachment leads to shallow and quick sucks instead of slow and deep sucks, resulting in the baby unable to suck the required quantity of milk.

What Should You Do?

Learn the proper latching technique for breastfeeding.

  1. First, both baby and the mother should be in a comfortable position.
  2. Feeding should ideally be in sitting position.
  3. Hold the baby in an inclined and upright position on your lap or a nursing pillow.
  4. The baby’s head should be on your forearm and the neck slightly extended.
  5. Good attachment or correct latch means the baby’s mouth should be wide open and the chin should touch the mother’s breast.
  6. The areola and nipple should fully be in baby’s mouth for effective milk transfer, and this should be guided by the mother.
  7. The right positioning for milk transfer is chest-to-chest contact of the infant and mother. The infant’s ear, shoulder and hip should fall in one straight line while feeding.

As a mother, you should always remember that incorrect latching can also lead to build-up of air in the baby’s stomach, which will require that you make your baby burp properly after feeding.

The Need for Good Latching and How it Works in Physiology?

Whenever the baby suckles, it stimulates the nerves at the portion of areola and nipple. These nerve impulses are sent to the Hypothalamus, where the hormone called oxytocin is synthesised.

Oxytocin is transported to the posterior pituitary and subsequently transferred to the mammary glands, where it contracts the cells of the ducts containing milk. This is how milk is ejected.

The process of milk getting ejected is also called as Milk Let-Down Reflex. Since the reflex is set completely during suckling, good latching becomes a very important factor to improve the supply of milk.

3. Postpartum Sleep Deprivation & Depressed Mood (Baby Blues)

Recent research estimates say that about 13% to 19% women experience postpartum sleep deprivation coupled with depressed mood, which is also called Baby Blues. A depressed mood postpartum is experienced by almost every woman when she gives birth to her child.

At the time of pregnancy, hormones like progesterone and Estrogen are at a very high level, but they drop dramatically right after child birth. Along with them certain other hormones secreted by thyroid glands also drop suddenly, which contributes to depression.

It is therefore natural and normal that mothers experience depressed mood postpartum, and is closely associated with postpartum sleep deprivation, especially during the first week following delivery. However, if it continues beyond 3 or 4 weeks, then the condition is abnormal and would require medical attention.

Impact of Depression on Breast Milk Supply

Whenever the mother is stressed, the hormone called cortisol is released in her system, which then enters the breast milk. When cortisol enters breast milk, it takes the form of what is called second-hand cortisol.

When fed with this (second-hand cortisol mixed) milk, it enters the baby’s intestinal track, from where it prompts neurotransmitter signals to the important parts of the brain.

The neurotransmitter signals affect specific areas of baby’s brain which regulates emotions, as a result of which the child gets cranky, fussy or irritated and refuses to drink milk. This in turn inhibits what is called the Breast Milk Ejection Reflex, which reduces milk supply.

What Should You Do?

The most effective remedy for mothers experiencing depressed mood postpartum, is the re-assurance and support, especially from their partners, and then from their family members. Continuous positive counselling to mothers, in general, will also help improve their (temporary) condition.

Words like I am with you”, when said on a consistent basis, can have an incredible positive impact on the mother and also helps her feel relaxed and free from anxiety and worries.

Now-a-days doctors also advice to practice Kangaroo Care, which is the skin to skin contact of the mother and baby, similar to how a Kangaroo has its baby close to her in her pouch.

Researchers have found many psychological benefits by promoting bonding and attachment which helps reduce anxiety levels in mothers. Most of all, it promotes increased milk production.

4. Hormonal Disorders

If the mother is suffering from endocrine problems like Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism, PCOS, Hypertension, Diabetes, then this is definitely going to affect your breast milk supply.

The activity of secreting milk is enhanced directly or indirectly by three growth hormones: Glucocorticoids, Thyroixine and Inslin.

Thyroid hormones regulate the levels of prolactin and oxytocin which are the important hormones of milk ejection cycle. Therefore, the imbalance in these hormones will definitely interrupt the lactation.

What Should You Do?

Treating your disorders with proper medications and keeping your hormones in balance is the best thing to do, keeping the priorities of your baby in mind. Also pay regular visits to your physician and get your profile done at regular intervals to know your levels.

5. Inadequate Rest and Improper Diet

Though it doesn’t sound grave, inadequate rest and improper diet are major reasons for low breast milk supply, especially during the first 1000 days of a child’s life.

Sleep deprivation increases the level of stress hormone cortisol, which inhibits what is called the Milk Let Down Reflex. This is nothing but the mechanism of decreased supply of milk due to decreased demand as set by your body, eventually resulting in less milk production.

What Should You Do?

Make sure you get adequate sleep and rest to keep your mind stable and hormones in balance. When it comes to reducing anxiety and stress, and feeling fresh and rejuvenated, there is nothing more powerful than getting good sleep.

  • Try to sleep whenever your baby sleeps – regardless of day or night.
  • Listen to some soothing music to induce sleep.
  • You can also have a glass of milk mixed with a spoon of jaggery.

As regards improper diet, make sure you avoid having spicy or packaged foods. Junk food is to be strictly avoided, as it will create indigestion. Most of all, it could create flatulence, constipation and digestion issues in the babies.

Role of Water in Milk Production

Breast milk composition consists of proteins 1.2%, fat 3.2%, carbs 7.5% and water 87%. Water plays a very vital role in milk production. If you don’t hydrate yourself well, it will affect milk production.

A healthy mother will produce between 500 to 900 ml milk per day with a diet intake of 520 Kcal per day. The baby needs 150 to 175 ml fluid per Kg body weight per day.

This means a baby weighing about 3 Kgs will require 450 to 500 ml of fluid per day and the baby needs 100 to 110 Kcal food per Kg of body weight per day. This means a baby weighing about 3 Kgs requires 300 Kcal of food per day.

Milk for Milk

Fluids in diet increases the quantum of fluid in the body. Milk contains 87% water. Consuming milk will therefore increase the water content in your body. Just include ample quantity of milk in your diet to increase the supply of milk for your little one and therefore considered as one of the best ways to increase breast milk naturally at home.


There are many other reasons for low breast milk supply apart from the ones discussed above. What is important, however, is that you take efforts to quickly adopt to the new routine and lifestyle that is appropriate post the birth of your child.

Not only will the new routine and lifestyle help in your little one’s well-being, it can also provide with enough supply of milk for him/her.

Disclaimer: The content in this page and across this website are for informational and educational purposes only. In case of any concerns about your child’s growth and development, please contact your professional child healthcare provider.