Breastfeeding Difficulties: Milk Supply Limit

Did you know some women simply have a milk supply limit, making it impossible for them to exclusively breastfeed for an undetermined amount of time? Read this post for details. 

mother nursing baby

I am so excited to have a guest post by my good friend, Kelli. Kelli and I have known each other since Jr. High. We also went to the same university and both majored in English (she in English Teaching and me in Technical Writing).

Kelli’s oldest child is about 9 months younger than Brayden and she is a Babywise mom. Kelli has such a great understanding of the theory of Babywise, and she has always been my person to talk theory with. Thanks Kelli!

When expecting my first child, I planned that I would breastfeed, as suggested, for one year. However, when my first son was about four months old he began to be less satisfied after eating. He would empty both sides each feeding, and still be wanting more. Most of the time he would cry for a while after he was done.

At first, I assumed he was just having a growth spurt. I cut back from 3 to 3 ½ hour intervals between feedings to 2 ½, but after almost a week, he was becoming increasingly upset and not sleeping well.

Read: Hunger Cues: How To Know if Baby is Hungry

I called my pediatrician and told him what was going on. He said some women (many in fact) only produce a certain amount of milk, and that once that became insufficient for the baby it was time to supplement with formula. He said this was not merely a growth spurt or a diet problem on my part. He suggested that I continue to breastfeed, but offer a bottle as well after each feeding.

This was upsetting at the time because, of course, I felt disappointed that I would have to use formula, and a bit like a failure. However, once I finally got my son to take the bottle he was much more satisfied and happy. The doctor also assured me at my next visit that I had done well and that I had solely breastfed through the most important months. He said even if I had to quit altogether at four months that at this point calories was calories for the baby. I was able to continue giving breast and bottle feedings until my son was about seven months old. At that point he found the bottle to be more convenient and weaned himself.

On my second son, knowing the problem would come, I pumped and gave bottles weekly so he would know how to take one when the need arose. I also took fenugreek (a natural supplement said to increase milk supply) daily. My second son did go until five or six months before needing the formula supplement, but I’m not sure if that was just because he required less, or because I introduced solids sooner, or that the fenugreek worked. Perhaps it was a combination. He went until about nine months old before he rejected the breast.

Milk Supply Limit pinnable image

How To Increase Your Milk Supply

To other mothers who may be experiencing this, I have a few suggestions.

The first is to make use of fenugreek, get rest, drink enough, and do all those things that we know help milk supply. Most importantly, though, is to recognize that the problem is real and to be willing to give your baby the nourishment he/she needs by supplementing.

A good friend of mine who is a nurse practitioner in a family practice says that she often sees this problem and is so frustrated with mothers who allow babies to experience discomfort and lose weight because they are opposed to formula feeding. Yes, breast is best, but not at the expense of baby’s health and comfort.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • HRich: thanks for posting about naps. It makes me more confident in what I am doing. My son is 3 months and I am breastfeeding him. he gets 4 breastfeedings in the day and his last feeding is a formula bottle between 8:30 and 9. He now takes 6 ounces. He seems to be fine, gaining weight and all. Do you think that it is possible that I could be compromising my supply? I do pump the feeding that I give him a formula bottle so that I can keep that supply and I freeze that milk. He is getting a total of 5 feedings a day. Is that too little? Doesn’t seem to bother him.

    Babywise Mom said… hrich, From the information in Babywise, 8-12 weeks can be at 6 feedings a day if that is enough for your baby. At 13 weeks, your baby should have 5-7 feedings, then by weeks 16-24 baby will have 4-6 a day. So, it sounds like he is about at the age for 5 feedings to be okay.There is a chance your supply could be compromised. It is excellent for you to pump at that feeding. The problem is that no pump is as good as the baby at stimulating you. However, many women only pump the whole time they are breastfeeding and give milk in a bottle. The only concern I would have if it were me is that it is still early in the breastfeeding game for you, and 5 feedings is a low number.Just watch the supply and keep an eye out on the supply. So long as baby remains happy and content and you are able to continue pumping, it should be fine. But while you are watching, keep in mind that there is a growth spurt around 3 months, so once your baby hits that, don’t panic 🙂
  • Becky said…
    I am dealing with milk supply issues. My son David is 4 mo. old and has started solids.He was sleeping through the night, and taking great naps during the day and now all of that is disrupted.I am having trouble with him getting distracted and wanting to get off the breast early (wanting to watch his brother play)I have tried to go into another room and that doesn’t help. This has been going on for about a week, and I feel that my milk supply has been cut in half. David is very fussy on the left side to begin with(has always been), and now it almost feels like the left side is drying up, and there is not much milk on that side.He is on a 3 hr schedule, and does really well with that. He feeds, is awake, and then sleeps in that order every 3 hours. Now since he is not taking in enough at the feeding, by that time is is nap time, he is hungry, and will not sleep. Then at the 3 hour mark, he is hungry, cranky and tired, so he fusses for a minute at the breast (and nurses for a minute), and falls asleep. When he wakes up, its not time to eat, but he is hungry. This is compromising my milk supply also, so I have had to give him formula as a supplement and he takes about 8 oz of formula from a bottle.– – Becky
    Babywise Mom said…
    Becky, see this post: Nursing Woes
    If you feel supply is not as good on the left side, try having it so he eats from the right first for feedings he is especially hungry (like the first one of the day). Also, look into your supply and make sure it is okay and it is not that your son has just gotten a lot faster (they usually do get A LOT faster at this age). If you plan to continue to supplement, try nursing first, then offering some formula to be sure he gets a full feeding. That should help him not be hungry at naptime.
    Becky said…
    Thanks! I tried to put him for a nap and he cried the whole time (because he was hungry) I got him up at the 3 hr mark and fed him and supplemented with formula. He fell asleep, so I woke him and changed his diaper, and put him down again. He slept for 1 1/2 hrs and woke, so I fed him again and he was awake for the rest of the night! He went to bed at 730pm and woke 2 times in the middle of the night. (usually sleeps through the night). Thanks for your help! Keep it coming!