5 Surprising Things That Can Affect Your Breast Milk Supply

Herbs, spices, and allergy meds are just a few of the things that can affect your supply of breast milk.

Whether it's something in your diet or stress from the trauma of giving birth, these surprising things could be affecting your breast milk supply.

If you're a breastfeeding new mom, you've probably already discovered that nursing can be confusing and occasionally difficult. From getting your baby to latch on properly to mastering the football hold, there's plenty to stress out over—but few things make a new mom worry more than the topic of breast milk supply. Building, maintaining, and even increasing milk supply is just one piece of breastfeeding success, but it's certainly an important one—and one that's commonly misunderstood by moms and professionals alike. It's normal for new moms to have lots of questions about whether or not they are making enough breast milk to feed their babies. The good news is that the vast majority of mamas will create an appropriate supply just through breastfeeding on-demand and frequent skin-to-skin contact with their babies. Still, it helps to understand some of the factors that can negatively impact your ability to produce enough of that liquid gold. Surprisingly, these five things can reduce your breast milk supply:

  1. Allergy and cold medication: Pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in many over-the-counter allergy and cold medications can decrease breast milk production. This is not good news for nursing mamas that suffer from severe seasonal allergies, but all is not lost: a dosage of this drug isn't likely to affect breast milk production once your supply is well-established. So while you might consider avoiding it in the first few weeks after giving birth, you may be able to take it later on without much risk to your milk supply.
     
  2. Postpartum hemorrhage: Hemorrhage after birth is a scary experience--and it certainly doesn't make things any better to know that it can also inhibit early breastfeeding. Basically, the thinking is that the traumatic birth and maternal stress experienced during a large loss of blood can inhibit lactogenesis, or the making of milk. Having a hemorrhage can affect when your milk comes in and how much you end up making, especially if the hemorrhage caused you to be separated from your baby. But don't be discouraged: Once you feel up to it, you can certainly start to breastfeed frequently, letting your body know that there is indeed a baby that needs to be fed. Pumping can also help you increase breast milk supply after a hemorrhage.
     
  3. Low thyroid: Hypothyroidism, or a low-functioning thyroid, can interfere with milk production. The thyroid helps in the regulation of both prolactin and oxytocin, two main hormones involved in breastfeeding, although research has been scant on the exact effect of the thyroid on breast milk supply. If you realize your baby isn't getting enough breast milk, one of the first things to do is to have your thyroid checked. Postpartum thyroiditis, in which the thyroid gland becomes inflamed, will affect 4 to 9 percent of women in the first year after giving birth. This condition can eventually cause low thyroid, so it's important to be proactive with thyroid conditions as a new mother.
     
  4. Certain herbs and spices: You've likely heard of galactogogues—herbs like fenugreek that can help induce, maintain, and increase milk supply. There are also quite a few herbs and spices that can lower your milk supply. Sage, peppermint, oregano, lemon balm, parsley, and thyme are said to decrease milk flow during breastfeeding when taken in large quantities. But don't freak out: If you're not eating copious amounts of them, you'll likely be just fine. You can still cook with them or use them in other useful ways in your home. However, if you're an essential oil user, you may want to do more research about certain oils made with these herbs to find out if and how they can affect breastfeeding.
  5. Hormonal birth control: The majority of hormonal birth control methods are just fine for breastfeeding. But a few of them, especially those containing estrogen, could affect the amount of breast milk you make. Birth control options that have progestin only (as opposed to progesterone and estrogen) are generally a better choice for nursing moms. The Mirena IUD, the shot (Depo-Provera), the implant (Implanon), and the mini-pill are examples of progestin-only birth control options. If you're concerned about hormones and breastfeeding, make sure you talk with your provider and make it clear that maintaining a good milk supply is important to you when deciding on post-birth contraception.

If you've ruled out the factors above and are still worried about your milk supply, what can you do? For starters, continue to breastfeed your baby! Cindy Chavez, an international board-certified lactation consultant and state coordinator of the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force, says that for most moms, simply increasing the number of times you breastfeed will help with increasing milk supply. "There's great comfort to be had in knowing that a mother's milk supply is based on supply and demand," she says. "Most babies throughout the first year of life need to nurse eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period. So the easiest and most effective way of producing more milk is to nurse more frequently."

Another option: Meet with a lactation consultant. "Many times moms get misinformation about how to tell if their baby is getting enough from health professionals, family members, or friends," says Felisha Floyd, an IBCLC and president of the National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color. These people may mean well, she adds, but they're not required to have updated research-based information like a lactation consultant does.

Chances are, you are making enough milk to feed your baby—and if you're not, it's likely that you can increase milk supply with some additional pumping, more frequent feeding, or professional assistance. Just remember that breast milk production—and breastfeeding in general—isn't a static process; it's an evolving relationship that grows and changes along with you and your baby.

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