Slow Milk Flow at the Breast

Slow milk flow at the breast is frustrating for baby and mom.  Baby doesn’t feel satisfied, cries when removed from the breast, fusses when put down, possibly has enough wet diapers but not enough poops, and baby doesn’t gain appropriate weight. Mom spends a lot of time comforting a fussy baby, and eventually she will worry about a slow weight gain. 

A slow flow can be recognized during breastfeeding when:

  • Baby falls asleep after very little swallowing

  • Baby has 3 or more sucks between each swallow once the milk has letdown

  • Baby never shifts from sucking to swallowing

  • Baby always feeds with eyes closed at the breast

A slow flow usually indicates that mom’s milk supply is low.  A common recommendation for increasing supply is to breastfeed more often, or longer for each feeding. However, this ONLY works if the baby is actively sucking and swallowing; being latched without swallowing does not increase supply. Just nursing more usually won’t resolve a slow flow.

Mom can try breast compressions while feeding. Latch your baby on. Hold your breast with the opposite hand that is holding the baby. Put fingers on one side, thumb on the other, then firmly squeeze without causing pain.  Hold this pressure. If the technique works, your baby will start swallowing.  When the baby stops swallowing, release the pressure, rotate your hand, and compress again, holding the pressure while the baby swallows. 

If breast compression does not help your baby feed more effectively, you may need to work with a breastfeeding helper to find out why.  It could be that your baby has an inefficient suck, and he has compromised your milk supply.  Or, perhaps your body simply isn’t making a full supply.

There isn’t one remedy to increase supply that will work for every mom. One of our favorite resources is the book Making More Milk by Lisa Marasco and Diana West. This book methodically goes through the various reasons a milk supply is low, AND what to do about it. Matching the solution to the underlying cause is crucial to increasing supply.

While working on your supply, you need to feed your baby. Options include supplementing at the breast with a little tube or eye dropper, or supplementing away from the breast (bottle, cup, finger feed).  You will also need to choose a baby milk.  Use pumped milk if you have it. If you don’t have enough of your own milk, you will need to add and/or use donor milk or formula. Feeding your baby while you work on supply isn’t optional.  A breastfeeding helper can be a huge support for you while you and your baby maneuver past this speed bump.

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