A baby with bright blue eyes plays with a white blanket.
Your baby will often let you know if he’s not getting enough milk—just make sure you’re watching for the right signs. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Have you ever heard a baby’s mother say she tried to nurse but didn’t have enough milk? Unfortunately, I hear this fairly frequently.

But is it true? The fact is, there really hasn’t been a large enough study to get good statistics on this topic.

There are also many things to take into consideration, including the mom’s diet and whether she had breast reduction or augmentation. (Depending on the surgery, some moms still lactate.) Issues with delivery could also be at play.

These are all just to name a few of the possibilities.

Over the past month, I’ve worked with a few moms who were concerned about their breastfeeding supply of milk. We talked about several things that I thought would be great to share here.

In case you didn’t know, your breastfeeding quantity works on supply and demand. This means the more often you nurse, the more milk your body will produce.

In the case of one mom I talked with, she only nursed her 3-week-old baby about six to eight times a day. She supplemented formula the other times.

Since we want the baby to nurse eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period, I encouraged this mom to nurse her baby more often to help increase her milk supply.

I also struggled with my first baby.

He nursed, but I didn’t seem to have a great supply and he wasn’t gaining a lot of weight.

One thing that really helped me: making sure I drank fluids with calories. I drank plenty of water, but I needed to include juice and other items.

This made the difference. It’s not that I wasn’t making milk—I just needed to do some things to help increase my production a bit. So I started drinking juice from those little juice boxes. Once I started adding the juice, I could tell a difference.

Fussy, fussy

So how do you know if you’re not making enough milk? Maybe your baby seems really fussy? Do you try giving a bottle after you nurse and he takes some? Or does he seem to want to nurse all the time?

Some important things to keep in mind:

  • Babies have fussy times just like we do. I don’t know one person who is always happy. We all have our happy and crabby times, and this includes babies, too.
  • Most babies will take a bottle after nursing. Why? When you tip a bottle upside down, it drips out—your baby doesn’t have to do any sucking at all. This is different than the breast. Sometimes after nursing, your baby will take a suck or two and end up taking a half an ounce or so of milk. But this doesn’t mean you don’t have enough milk.
  • What about wanting to nurse all the time? This can be normal. Babies have a very small stomach when they’re born. On Day 3 it’s about the size of a shooter marble, which means it doesn’t take much to fill it. And that means they’ll be hungry again, soon.
  • Babies also go through growth spurts. I’ve found this is a time when many moms think they don’t have enough milk because their baby wants to nurse all the time. In reality your baby is building up that supply by demanding more for about two days. After that things will ease up. Growth spurts typically come at predictable points—seven to 10 days, two to three weeks, four to six weeks, three months, four months, six months and then nine months.

Here are some real indicators that baby isn’t getting enough milk:

  • Weight loss or stagnation. Baby is not gaining weight or is losing weight. Babies lose weight after birth and then start gaining again. If you are concerned, talk with your doctor. With guidance from my baby’s doctor—and frequent weigh-ins for my baby—our oldest took a month to get just over his birth weight. He had to be hospitalized after birth for a high bili level. My doctor worked with me to make sure he was then starting to gain. I had to supplement for a bit, but I did transition him to breastfeed exclusively.
  • Infrequent urination. Your baby is wetting fewer than six diapers in a 24-hour period after the five days following his birth. This is one that is very important to watch for.
  • Off-color urination. Your baby’s urine is a dark color.
  • Hard stool. Your baby’s stool should be a yellowish color and somewhat runny. If they are hard like small rocks in the first weeks, let your doctor know.
  • Breast problems. Your breasts don’t seem to change after feeding. Moms notice their breasts feel softer after nursing.

It can be easy to think you don’t have enough milk, so remember to look at the indicators listed above before assuming baby isn’t getting enough milk.