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What's A Normal Breast Milk Supply (And How To Prevent Under and Oversupply)

One of the biggest questions breastfeeding moms have is what’s a normal breast milk supply. As in many things, it’s not about what’s “normal”—it’s about what’s right for your baby.

Moms torture themselves about their milk supply—a lot. The fear of low supply is a main reason moms stop breastfeeding, and even when they don’t stop, they worry that their baby isn’t getting enough milk.

We’re the first people to tell clients that breast milk is amazing. It truly is. And it’s a beautiful way to bond with your baby. But guess what!? You’ll bond with your baby no matter what. So be kind to yourself. Your supply is likely enough — and you are definitely enough!

How Much Milk Does My Baby Need?

When you’re a new mom, you want straightforward answers and precise numbers. It’s easier, after all, to know where you stand if you know that your baby should have precisely five wet diapers each day and nap every 2 hours on the dot.

“Every baby and mom is different,” notes Robin Williams, Nest Collaborative IBCLC. “Knowing what to look for to know things are going well is a learning curve for every new family.”

But that’s not life with a newborn. There aren’t exact answers for what you should expect because every mom and baby dyad is unique.

So it goes with how much milk your baby should get when breastfeeding. There’s not a hard-and-fast number you need to produce for each feed. Instead, we encourage moms to think of ranges. Medela cites the following numbers on the breastfeeding spectrum:

  • An infant who is exclusively breastfed might need anywhere between 478-1356 mL/16.16-48.85 oz breastmilk every day. For infants between 1-6 months old, the average is around 750 mL/25.36 oz a day.
  • A single breastfeeding session might produce between 54-234 mL/1.82-7.91 oz of milk.
  • A mom might nurse between 4-13 times every day depending on the baby’s appetite, how much milk is removed each session, and other external factors.
  • The average breastfeeding session lasts between 12-67 minutes.

These are some significant variations! But it’s important to know that the upwards numbers are outliers, meaning they don’t represent the average breastfeeding mom. For example, a more typical amount of milk for a mom to produce is 570-900 mL/19.27-30.43 oz a day.

The numbers also don’t show milk supply for newborns, only 1-6-month-olds.

But we’d caution moms from getting too wrapped up in specific quantities. Most of the time, as long as your baby is growing along their curve, has enough dirty and wet diapers and meets their developmental milestones, you don’t need to worry about your supply.

Understanding Milk Supply

Although your hormones play an essential role in breastfeeding, once your milk comes in, it’s basically a supply-and-demand process: If your baby removes milk from your breasts—e.g., making the demand for milk—your breasts will supply more.

Most moms supply enough milk for their babies—not too little, not too much. But sometimes moms create more, and sometimes they create less. And in both those cases, it can pose challenges for both mom and baby.

Oversupply

Making lots of milk? What about lots and lots of milk?

While this might sound appealing to moms, there can be a thing as too much milk.

“Moms with too much milk can be told everything is fine because the baby is growing,” says Williams. “But too much milk is a real problem that deserves attention.”

Oversupply comes with several challenges. Because of the milk volume, letdowns can be forceful, causing a baby to gag, cough, or clamp down on the nipple to slow the milk. Babies will often fill up on milk at the beginning of a feed, as well.

Because of the quantity of milk produced, engorgement is a frequent problem. And with engorgement comes issues like clogged ducts and mastitis.

How to prevent oversupply

Managing oversupply requires moms to be deliberate in breastfeeding. There are plenty of practical techniques that can help keep oversupply from becoming a problem, though.

  • Nurse baby in a leaned back position to slow milk flow
  • Use breast massage to help prevent clogged ducts, relieve engorgement discomfort, and get more hindmilk
  • Pump or hand express milk to relieve discomfort—but without emptying the breast
  • Nurse on only one side per feed
  • Use block feeding to reduce milk supply
  • Try cold compresses to ease discomfort and decrease supply

Low Supply

From a diagnostic standpoint, your supply is considered low when you’re not producing enough milk to feed your baby. There’s no one metric that can measure that, though—each mom and baby dyad is unique.

When moms are worried about their supply, though, it’s usually because of the following concerns:

  • Baby is gaining weight more slowly or is on the lower end of the growth charts
  • Baby is fussy
  • Baby nurses frequently
  • Breasts feel softer than they did early in breastfeeding
  • Not producing much milk when pumping

But let this reassure you: Most moms produce enough milk for their babies. Your baby can be in the fifth percentile for weight and still be totally, completely healthy.

What causes low supply?

Again, let’s really stress this: Most moms produce enough milk for their babies. However, there are cases when moms might not be able to make enough to feed their babies:

  • Excessive blood loss during birth or retained placenta can delay milk coming in
  • A history of polycystic ovarian syndrome, diabetes, thyroid, or other hormonal disorders
  • Previous breast surgeries
  • Mammary hypoplasia, a rare condition where one’s breasts don’t have enough milk-producing glandular tissue

Behavioral and lifestyle factors can impact milk supply, too:

  • Insufficient milk transfer due to bad positioning, poor latch, or tongue/lip-tie
  • Not nursing frequently or long enough
  • Leaving milk in the breast following a feed
  • Use of certain medications (oral contraceptives, antihistamines, etc.)
  • Using pacifiers or nipple shields
  • Alcohol and tobacco use

How to prevent undersupply

Under supply is most easily remedied by increasing the frequency of nursing or pumping. Boosting frequency helps create more demand for milk, which increases supply. You should be nursing or pumping at least eight times a day, if not more. You can add one or two power-pumping sessions into your schedule and see results within a few days.

Some moms feel like they should let their breasts fill up before nursing or pumping again, but waiting doesn’t help. In fact, nursing frequently is a huge help to your supply, and your baby—not only does removing milk as much as possible help your supply, but milk from emptier breasts has a higher fat content.

Latches are another cause for low supply—but thankfully, latching is a learned skill. Working with a lactation consultant can help your baby latch better—better latch=better milk transfers=better supply.

And finally, make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Eat well, drink lots of water, and rest as much as possible.

Ask questions and ask for help

Worried about your milk supply? We want all moms to feel confident about their breastfeeding experience. We’re here to answer your questions and help you find solutions. Book a convenient online video appointment with one of our IBCLCs today.

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