Many mothers experience uneven milk supply at some point during their breastfeeding days. One breast is either not producing at all or just not enough to satisfy a hungry baby.
The good news is that this issue can usually be resolved fairly easily with patience and persistence.
Here you will find some common causes of uneven milk supply as well as methods to try in order to even things out a bit.
In This Post:
- 5 Causes of Uneven Milk Production
- How to Identify Lopsided Supply
- Do I Even Need to Fix This?
- How to Fix Uneven Milk Supply
- Risks from Lopsided Feeding
- Final Word
5 Causes of Uneven Milk Production
There is no single cause of uneven milk supply; you may be able to determine right away what is happening in your case, or you may need to do a little studying in order to narrow it down.
1. Natural Differences in Anatomy
You may already know this, but any pair of things on your body – ears, eyes, feet, and even breasts – are rarely identical.
There may be natural anatomical differences that affect the way your breasts produce milk.
These differences may be internal, such as the number of working ducts, or they may be external like the shape and size of your nipple and/or areola.
You may also notice a difference if one of your breasts has been injured or operated on in the past. The trauma to the breast can affect milk supply and let down.
2. Fussy Baby
For inexplicable reasons, your baby may prefer one side over the other.
It could be that your milk letdown is different, their head position feels better, or they may simply not have a reason.
Your milk is produced on a supply and demand basis. If your baby is only feeding on one side – or they are simply feeding better on one side – it can cause your production to be slightly lopsided.
If you suspect that there may be another underlying reason your baby is refusing one breast, see your pediatrician.
It could be that there was a birth injury affecting your baby’s ability to latch and suckle properly.
3. Mother’s Preference and Comfort
Breastfeeding can be a very uncomfortable experience at times. It can be difficult to find a comfortable position with your baby at just the right height and angle.
Without just the right positioning, you can end up with a sore back, neck, or even tailbone.
Once you find that position that is just right, it can be tempting to feed this way every single time.
Unfortunately, if this means you are showing preference to one side over the other, you can end up with uneven milk supply.
4. Letdown Delays
If your milk lets down slower on one side than the other, it can seem like your production is lopsided.
You may still be producing the same amount on both sides, but it may just take a bit longer.
However, the way you handle letdown delays will determine whether or not your supply actually becomes lopsided.
You can choose to pump before latching your baby so that they start getting milk right away, or if you have a patient sucker, your little one may not mind doing a little more work before the milk starts flowing.
On the other hand, a slow letdown can lead to your baby becoming frustrated, causing them to not want to feed on that side anymore.
You also may not feel like pumping first or putting out any more effort than you need to in order to get your milk flowing.
5. Breast Infection
Mastitis (breast infection) can also be a contributing factor to lopsided production. This is mostly due to the inconvenience of feeding on the infected side.
Bacteria from your baby’s mouth can enter through a crack in the nipple and cause this type of infection.
Engorgement and inefficient draining of the breast at feedings can also cause mastitis.
Though it is a rare occurrence amongst healthy, breastfeeding mothers, those who do experience it find that breastfeeding becomes a bit more difficult during a flare up.
This condition is very painful and often requires antibiotics from a doctor to treat, which are safe to use while breastfeeding.
It is always recommended that you continue to feed to keep your milk flowing, but this is easier said than done.
Your milk may not let down the same way while the breast is infected, causing your baby to be fussy.
You may also feel like giving up on that side due to pain.
How to Identify Lopsided Supply
Mothers who pump their milk – either exclusively or occasionally – can tell right away when something is off with their production.
They can measure exactly how much is coming from each breast and at what times.
If you are exclusively breastfeeding, it can be a bit harder to tell when you have uneven supply.
You need to watch for cues from your baby that they may not be as satisfied on one side or may not be receiving the same amount of nourishment.
Your baby may be fussier feeding on one side, telling you that they just aren’t getting the same amount of milk or that it isn’t letting down properly.
They will likely not suck as long on the breast with low supply, will not fall asleep at the breast, and their sucking pattern will be different (quick and shallow, with not as much swallowing).
Do I Even Need to Fix This?
If your baby is still gaining weight at a good rate, signaling that they are receiving the right amount of nourishment, you may wonder if you need to fix this supposed issue.
It’s really up to you and your baby to decide what is best.
It is possible for your baby to receive all the nourishment they need from just one side as long as they are allowed to feed without restrictions.
This may mean more frequent or prolonged feedings to make sure they are receiving the right amount.
You can simply let the milk dry up in the unused breast if you don’t plan to have your baby switch to that breast eventually.
This will lead to a slight difference in size between the two of them, but this will even out when it comes time to wean.
If you do want to even out eventually, you will need to continue pumping the unused side as often as your baby feeds in order to keep your supply up.
This will also help prevent blocked ducts and mastitis that result from improper milk flow.
How to Fix Uneven Milk Supply
So, now that we’ve determined the cause and gone over the importance of fixing your milk production (if that is what you choose), now we need to talk about steps to take in order to make this happen.
As we mentioned in some of our previous points, making use of a breast pump can help even up your supply in a few ways.
Pumping allows you to keep your supply going when you intend to increase or return to feeding on the low supplied side.
First, pumping before you breastfeeding on the side with lower supply can help get your milk flowing nicely if you are experiencing letdown delays.
Pump just until you see some milk starting to express then latch your baby and let them do the rest of the work.
If you are mostly feeding on one side, whether it is due to your baby’s pickiness, current breast infection, or any other reason not mentioned, you can continue to pump the low supplied side so that you don’t dry up completely.
Essentially the same as a breast massage, doing compressions on the lazy side while feeding your baby can help your milk flow more easily.
Though you probably don’t want to picture yourself as a cow, essentially breast compressions are similar in motion to milking a cow.
Slightly squeeze and run your hand down the length of your breast toward your baby’s mouth, imagining that you are pushing the milk down through the ducts.
Start Feeding on the Lazy Breast
If you are feeding your baby from both sides at each session, you may want to try feeding on the smaller side first.
Babies tend to nurse more vigorously when they are first latched.
This powerful suction may be just what you need in order to get things flowing and start evening out your supply.
Your baby may get a little bit frustrated after not receiving much milk, but you can always return to that breast after they have filled their belly a little.
Power Pump the Lazy Boob
If normal pumping isn’t enough to get your milk production up, you can try power pumping instead.
This basically mimics the pattern of cluster feeding with a pump by emptying the breast through rapid on and off pumping.
Ideally, your pumping sessions will last about 60 minutes for each side, with about 10 to 20 minutes of active pumping and 10-minute breaks in between.
This can be done up to two times per day in between your regular pumping or breastfeeding sessions.
Apply Heat Pack
Moist heat is recommended for many issues related to breastfeeding, from low milk supply to mastitis.
Heat – whether wet or dry – helps increase circulation not only for your blood but also for your milk.
Try giving yourself a breast massage in the bathtub or hot shower. Or you can use a heating pad, microwaveable rice pouch, or a warm, wet washcloth.
Follow the same pattern as you would for breast compressions to help increase circulation, break up clogs in your ducts, and get your milk flowing better.
Vibration with a Massager
When massaging with your hands just isn’t enough, you can try an electric massager to get your milk flowing and break up any stubborn clogs in your ducts.
This can be achieved with a back or neck massager if you have one around the house (or want one for the future).
You can also look into a special massager specifically designed for lactating mothers.
These massagers allow you to apply more pressure to specific areas that may be causing you problems.
If you can feel your milk blocked up in a certain area on your breast, you can easily focus on that one spot, allowing the massager to vibrate deep into the tissue.
Increase Water Intake
There is a common misconception that your milk supply is directly related to your water intake.
Specifically, many believe that the more water you drink, the more milk you will have – like if you drink 500 ml of water, your milk supply will also increase by 500 ml.
However, there is little scientific evidence to support these claims.
In fact, your milk production is more closely related to how much your baby drinks rather than how much water you drink.
While drinking more than your usual amount of fluids won’t increase your milk supply (if you are producing properly), not getting enough water can cause your supply to lag.
If you think your drop in milk production on one side is the result of dehydration, try to increase your water intake.
Your body cannot function properly if you are not hydrated.
Risks from Lopsided Feeding
What happens if this problem isn’t fixed and you simply let it go without proper care and attention?
You could run into some painful issues if you aren’t careful.
Mastitis in Oversupplied Breast
While mastitis can be a contributing factor to low milk supply in one breast, your other, working breast may also be at risk if you aren’t focusing on evening out your supply.
Milk production overload can be quite painful – and embarrassing.
You may find that you leak through your breast pad, bra, and shirt as your drip more; you are also likely to experience aches and pains as your breast is hard and lumpy, prone to blocked ducts, and at risk for developing mastitis.
Since you are likely primarily feeding from one breast when you are dealing with lopsided supply, your body can go into overload and create an oversupply of milk in your working breast.
When milk is not efficiently drained or ducts become plugged, the milk that remains in the breast can cause infections.
Your best option is to work on evening out your supply so that you don’t run into this issue.
You may also want to pump a little on the oversupplied side in between feedings to relieve pressure and send signals to your body that the overabundance of milk being produced isn’t necessary.
Will my baby get enough milk from just one side?
Your body responds to your baby in amazing ways, and when it realizes that your baby is feeding on one side more than the other, it should start changing its “refill” patterns.
You may start to notice that your milk is produced more frequently on one side or that you simply produce more.
There is no guarantee that your baby will always have enough by just feeding from one side, though.
If your body responds the right way, your baby should be able to receive enough nourishment from just one side.
However, you should be ready to respond appropriately if they are not getting enough.
You may need to start pumping on the lazy side, changing your feeding patterns (starting on the low side), or supplementing with formula.
How soon will I notice changes in my body?
The amount of time it takes to see results depends on the method you are using to try to increase your milk production.
In general, it can take up to a week to start noticing changes.
Power pumping can sometimes show results within a couple of days, but other methods may take longer.
Every woman is different, which means her body will respond differently to the measures taken to increase milk production.
You may find that you notice a difference with the first method you use, or you may have to try several in order to find what works best for you.
It just takes patience in order to see measurable and consistent results.
How can I encourage my fussy baby to feed on both sides?
Change up your feeding patterns and see if you can find something that works for you and your baby.
If your little one is fussy because one breast doesn’t produce as much as the other, start feeding on that breast first.
Their vigorous sucking can help get things flowing easier which can even out your supply, avoiding future fussiness.
If your baby is fussy for unknown reasons – like they just don’t like one breast – and you want to keep things even, you might want to try finishing on the lower supplied breast.
Once your baby’s belly is satisfied, they may be content to sucking for a little while without getting much milk.
Uneven milk supply is very common, but it isn’t something you need to be overly concerned about.
If you take the appropriate measures to try to even out your supply, you should be able to start evening out your milk production within a short time.
Just be patient and persistent.
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