Breast milk provides your baby with the perfect amount of nutrition to meet his needs. As your baby’s nutritional needs grow and change, your body produces milk that is designed to meet the new requirements. Your milk supply will increase or decrease in response to your breast-feeding habits and routines, but some health condition and medications can influence your milk supply.
During pregnancy, the anatomy of your breast changes to allow for the production of breast milk. Breast milk is produced in the alveoli of the breast and transported through a series of milk ducts to the nipples. Your body’s ability to produce milk and supply it to your infant depends largely on two hormones that signal the alveoli to produce milk and the muscles to let the milk down. These hormones are prolactin and oxytocin.
Frequency and Duration
Milk production is based on supply and demand, or more accurately, frequency and duration. The more frequently your baby nurses, the more milk your body will produce to meet the demand. As your baby nurses, nerve endings are stimulated that relay a message from the brain to the pituitary gland, telling it to release more of the hormones essential to breast milk production. More frequent or longer feedings can result in an increased milk supply. Conversely, if you skip feedings, if your feedings are short or if the baby does not fully empty the breast, your milk supply can decrease.
In terms of your breast-feeding routine, formula supplementation equates to a skipped feeding. For this reason, formula supplementation can lead to a decrease in milk supply, or if formula is supplemented too soon after birth, it can result in failure to establish an adequate milk supply at all, according to the KidsHealth website. Your milk supply will increase in response to your child’s increasing nutritional needs as she grows, but formula supplementation can obscure the feeding cues that trigger the increased milk production, resulting in an inadequate supply.
Some prescription medications can affect the milk supply. Medications for allergies, pain or birth control may decrease milk production. For example, in a study published in “Contraception,” lead author Dr. M. Tankeyoon reports that mothers who took birth control pills that contained estrogen and progesterone experienced a significant decrease in milk supply. While some medication can decrease milk supply, others are used to increase it. Prescription medication for women who need to boost or re-establish their milk supply is available.
Metoclopramide, also known as Reglan, is a medication sometimes used to boost the release of milk-producing hormones, including prolactin. Reglan’s efficacy varies from woman to woman and may cause unwanted side effects in some women. Breast-feeding mothers should remind their health care provider that they are nursing before they begin a new medication in order to determine the potential effect on milk supply.
Although the variations in your milk supply are largely caused by breast-feeding habits, medications and dietary factors, there are several medical conditions can decrease milk supply. These conditions include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and ovarian cysts. Stress may also play a role in a new mother’s milk production.
- United States Department of Agriculture; Infant Nutrition and Feeding: A Guide in the WIC and CSF Programs; March 2009
- “Contraception”; Effects of Hormonal Contraceptives on Milk Volume and Infant Growth. WHO Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction Task Force on Oral Contraceptives; M Tankeyoon, et al.; December 1984
- Utah Department of Health: Birth Control for Breastfeeding Mothers
- Drugs.com: How to Increase Your Milk Supply
- KidsHealth; Breastfeeding FAQs: Solids and Supplementing
- KidsHealth; Formula Feeding FAQs: Supplementing