Udderly Useless: Low Milk Supply
Breastfeeding my boy brought me to my knees mentally; thankfully physically the goods still sit somewhere north of my belly button. While silent reflux is partly to blame, my body is equally responsible, leaving me feeling udderly useless. Many mamas raise concerns about their lack of milk supply, which is why it amazes me that support is in equally short supply.
Perhaps that’s not fair? I was supported by healthcare professionals to top up with formula and wean early as I’d ‘done more than most’. The online breastfeeding communities offered conflicting theories; low supply was either a myth or self-inflicted. And the advice: keep putting baby to the breast while avoiding formula and dummies. Neither of these approaches offered the support I needed to make my feeding journey a success on either an emotional of physical level. Doggedly putting a fussy mini to the breast was a battle where the only winner was sleep deprivation. While dismissing my desire to breastfeed, second guessing my instincts and portioning blame were a recipe for breastfeeding grief.
I learned too late that the support bra I was searching for came in the form of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. And whether your low milk supply concerns are real or perceived they pose a threat to your breastfeeding relationship so don’t hesitate to get help from an IBCLC - you can find your nearest UK IBCLC here or access online consultations via Wellvine.
At the time I got bogged down in all the signs that are not valid indicators of low milk supply, but looking back there were three red flags.
1. Poor weight gain: my mini had crossed three percentile lines, infant weight can falter but a consistent downward trend should be addressed.
2. A mini persistently fussy at the breast remaining unsettled between feeds. For me this felt like a mini who constantly fed without ever really having a proper feed independent of growth spurts or teething.
3. Poor sleep: my mini didn’t do stretches longer than 40 minutes. If your mini does this but feeds and settles easily there may not be a problem however a fussy baby unable to sleep would ring alarm bells for me now!
I didn’t conquer my supply issues but if I could turn back the clock this is what I would keep in mind.
1. Trust your instinct and feed the baby and don't ever feel or be made to feel guilty about it.
2. Seek out proper support to establish the root of your supply issues, whether it can be rectified or failing that how to manage the situation to meet both your feeding goals and the nutritional needs of your mini.
3. Take care of yourself; mind and body. Your own mental health trumps boob or bottle. If you have had to ‘top up’ don’t bash the bottle, celebrate your strength and resilience; you have continued to feed while you try and find a resolution to your own milk supply issue. Feeding can be distressing when it feels like a battle, if your mini is coping better with bottles (expressed breastmilk or formula) then cherish those calmer feeds; I wasted precious moments beating myself up because it wasn’t from the boob.
4. Take time to think about what you consider ‘successful’ breastfeeding. An all-or-nothing approach to breastfeeding when faced with low milk supply is not helpful; successful and exclusive are not the same thing. For those of us that aren’t a milk maiden it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hit the bottle hard; a supplemental feeding device might work for you by allowing you to provide additional nutrition while stimulating your own supply and maintaining a breastfeeding relationship.
5. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure you are feeding and watering yourself. Make sure you keep hydrated. And get some sleep but be sure to feed/express overnight.
6. Protect your supply. If your mini is refusing the breast, expressing by hand or with a breast pump may help. If you were previously able to express but your output has dropped, consider your flange size, as your breasts change. If using an electric breast pump check your parts? Do any need replaced?
7. Nurture and nutrition are linked but they are not the same thing. At my lowest, I lost sight of my ability to sooth and comfort my baby by other means. Baby wearing, a dummy, baby massage or warm bath/shower; work what works. The boob shouldn’t stand in the way of your bond.
8. When supply and demand are out of sync there are a few things worth considering. Is there an underlying issue? Tongue tie, latch difficulties, reflux or food intolerance may mean a mini is battling the boob unable to feed effectively and/or comfortably. Alternatively, insufficient glandular tissues, thyroid dysfunction and polycystic ovary syndrome can disrupt a mama’s ability to make milk.
Our first step as a new mama with babe in arms involves pretty intensive infant feeding but this is just the first step in a life long journey. If the bottle is a winning formula then rest assured you are still feeding with heart. At frank about feeding nothing rivals a mama’s love and that flows from your chest not your breast.
Further Support Bras for Low Milk Supply:
We would love to hear what worked for you. If you would like to share your own story then please get in touch via Your Voice.