Some women produce so much more breast milk than they need that they can donate their extra to help other mothers or have enviable freezer stashes while other mothers are constantly trying to increase their milk output because they never seem to produce enough to satisfy their hungry babies.
Women may also vary throughout their breastfeeding experience. Those with inadequate supplies may end up with an abundance while those starting out with a robust flow experience a slowdown later on.
There are a variety of factors that determine your milk output, and you can manipulate some of them to improve your results.
Do Small Breasts Produce Less Milk?
This is a question we get a lot! The truth is that the amount of fatty tissue in your breasts may determine your breast size, but it has no impact on your milk production. Small breasts can produce just as much milk as larger breasts if not more. What does matter is the amount of glandular tissue in the breast, and there is a medical condition known as breast hypoplasia or insufficient glandular tissue (IGT).
Breasts of all sizes can lack glandular tissue, and asymmetry between breasts is one of the biggest signs of the condition. This simply means that one breast is a bit larger than the other, but it’s also possible to have mismatched breasts that produce adequate amounts of milk without problem. In many cases, there are other symptoms, including:
- Breast shape is tubular
- Flat space between breasts
- Oversized, bulb-like areolas
Many women also notice that the size and shape of their breasts don’t change during pregnancy. This is a departure from the more voluminous breasts that women with adequate glandular tissue develop in late pregnancy.
Some women with inadequate glandular tissue can improve their milk supply by working with a lactation consult, so reach out for help if you suspect you may have this problem. It’s best to start working to optimize milk supply before birth or shortly after.
What About Breast Surgery or Nipple Piercings?
Anytime you alter the natural state of your breasts or nipples, you can change the way your breasts produce and dispense milk. The problem is that some surgeries and even nipple piercings can damage ducts that are needed to deliver milk to your baby. This is most likely to happen in surgeries that detach the nipple and areola from the breast, but it can happen anytime you have surgery or augment your breasts.
You won’t know whether your previous breast procedures impact your milk production until your baby is born and starts feeding. It’s important to establish a healthy feeding schedule right from the start, training your breasts to produce enough milk for your hungry baby. Working with a lactation consultant will help because they will make sure your baby is latching properly while helping you create a strategy to maximize milk production.
If you have nipple piercings, simply take them out during the last half of your pregnancy. Many women with piercings successfully breastfeed with the jewelry removed.
Related Article > How Nipple Piercings Affect Breastfeeding
What About Breastfeeding with Implants?
If you have breast implants, there is still a good chance that you can breastfeed successfully. The biggest problems tend to come from augmentations that insert the implants near the areola, since that involves cutting near those important ducts. Augmentations that insert the implants under the arm or along the bottom of the breast are less likely to interfere with the ducts, but like with any other type of breast surgery, you won’t know for sure until you start trying to breastfeed.
You may also have concerns regarding the safety of silicone and other materials contained in your implants. It is generally accepted in the medical community that the material inside an implant doesn’t taint or contaminate the breast milk, but there are some small and often disputed studies that have claimed otherwise.
Many women breastfeed with implants and have no problems with functionality or health of their babies, but every woman must make her own decision on this issue. Make sure you consider the many health benefits of breastfeeding for your baby and your own health because the chances of your implants hurting your baby are extremely low if there is a risk at all.
Related Article > Breast Milk Production: Is Baby Getting Enough?
Medication & Herbal Supplements for More Breast Milk
You may make sure that a supplement or medication won’t contaminate your breast milk before taking it, but many women don’t think about the impact on breast milk supply. Something as simple as an allergy medication or cold and flu treatment could lead to a reduction in milk production. If you take the medication for a short period of time, the change may be subtle and short lived. If you supplement daily, then you could do more damage to your supply over time.
Even though an all-natural or herbal supplement may seem harmless because it comes from natural sources, keep in mind that some of the most powerful prescription medications are derived from all-natural plant sources. In fact, plants, berries and other natural resources were the primary source of medication for many years. Don’t underestimate the power of a plant or herb.
Supply vs. Demand
In many cases, the difference in breast milk production come down to simply supply and demand. This is good news because there are many ways to increase demand so that your body supplies more milk. When your baby breastfeeds, it sends signals to your body that milk is in high demand. The amount that you produce should increase if that demands becomes more aggressive, and you’re likely to produce less if the demand isn’t strong.
Here are some common supply and demand mistakes that some mothers make to unknowingly decrease their supply:
- Trying to stick to a strict breastfeeding schedule. The needs of a breastfeeding baby change over time, and changes can occur daily at times. The best way to handle supply and demand is to allow your baby to feed whenever he or she wants. Strict schedules can lead to reduced demand even if you think the schedule is adequate.
- Not breastfeeding overnight. Yes, it’s wonderful when your baby starts sleeping through the night, but that automatically leads to reduced demand for breast milk. Some women try to follow strict sleep schedules that force young babies to go longer periods of time without feeding overnight, and that can lead to bad news for your supply and a grumpy, hungry baby. If your baby is sleeping more at night, make sure that you’re using a pump or other strategies to keep your supply strong.
- Depending too much on pacifiers. Yes, sticking a pacifier in the baby’s mouth can give you some extra time to finish up a household chore or make a quick phone call, but it also delays sending those “feed me” signals to your body. If you do this too often, your baby could breastfeed less than is necessary to keep your milk supply strong.
The good news is that supply and demand is at least partially under your control. This is also something that you can work with a lactation consultant to improve, but it’s best to prevent a problem from the beginning.
This is done by allowing your baby to breastfeed whenever he or she wants in the first few weeks of life. This should create a strong flow of milk as long as there are no other issues like problems with your ducts. Just remember going forward that your strong flow can slow down if your baby starts to feed less often for any reason.
Formula Supplementation Can Lead to Big Problems
One of the most common differences between the milk supply of two women is the frequency of breastfeeding. This goes back to supply and demand, and supplementing with a bottle is one of the biggest causes of low demand.
There are reasons that you may need to supplement with formula, but keep in mind that every formula bottle consumed reduces demand on your breasts. You may need to pump or express milk by hand to send those signals that milk is still needed. Think of it as keeping up with the moms who breastfeed exclusively because their babies are placing constant demands for more milk, and the efforts of those babies are almost always rewarded.
Other Medical Conditions
There’s one last thing to check if you aren’t happy with your milk supply: your medical history. Many medical conditions that seem to have nothing to do with breastfeeding can influence your milk supply. This includes conditions that involve a hormonal imbalance, so ask your doctor how your diagnosed medical conditions may impact your supply.
If you start birth control after giving birth, the resulting hormonal changes may also interfere with breastfeeding. Many women do breastfeed successfully while on birth control pills while others experience problems. This is just another thing to discuss with your doctor before taking the pill or once you experience difficulties producing milk.
If you don’t think you have any diagnosed medical problems, going in for a checkup won’t hurt. Treating underlying medical issues is sometimes the easiest way to solve breastfeeding issues regarding inadequate milk supply.
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