In my last post I shared that there are a few easy explanations and solutions that should bring your milk back in at full force within a few days, even if you feel like you are "drying up." I mentioned that we have to talk about growth spurts, hormonal changes, and of course - is mommy nurturing her own body as well as her nursing relationship with her little one? We already discussed growth spurts here and touched on the subject of your hormones affecting let down (also known as The Milk Ejection Reflex, in case you were curious!) And to answer a question you might be wondering - no, not everyone feels their let downs, but yes, they are still happening!
Now let's get down to business.
#2: Hormonal Changes
There could be a number of reasons that your hormones are shifting, and any of these could cause your milk supply to suddenly drop without an obvious explanation. We will address the one that might be the hardest to wrap your head around first.
You could be pregnant. Yup, I said it. You could be pregnant. Take it in, and even if you haven't gotten your period back after having your baby, think for a minute about whether or not you recently had a stint with your lover where you were just so much more into it and better lubricated (and I mean naturally lubricated) than you've been since you gave birth. Well, if you automatically picture a certain private little "get together" with him that happened in the last month or two, go get yourself a pregnancy test and see if you can rule out the possibility of being pregnant again. Even if you are not pregnant, brace yourself because that night (or day) you were picturing there for a minute could be the only warning you'll get that you are ovulating again and could get pregnant, or could get your period at any moment.
That brings us to the other hormonal shifts that can cause a temporary drop in your milk supply (make sure you read on to the end of the post too, because it will depend on your actions whether it really is temporary or not).
You could be ovulating, or you could be about to start your period - if you haven't already.
Now, if you recently started supplementing with formula or if your baby is 6 months old or older and you have recently started solid foods, then this is no surprise. While some women get their period back a few months postpartum, and others don't get it back for a year or two, the vast majority of us will start ovulating and get our periods back around the time we start supplementing, and thus nursing less often and more sporadically.
On a side note, if you are hoping to avoid ovulating and getting your cycle back for as long as possible, but are thinking about starting solids with your baby, here is some advice for suppressing your baby-making cycle for as long as possible: Any time you are going to give your baby food, nurse first. Get in a full nursing session before putting any food in front of your baby. This will keep your milk-making and cycle-suppressing hormones more stable and your body hopefully won't catch on to the fact that other food is being introduced. Fortunately, from a health and nutrition standpoint, you can get away with this system until your baby is a year old. Up until he is one the only nutrition he really needs to grow and thrive is your breastmilk. The solid food introductions are there more to get him used to the different tastes and textures of (*healthy*) foods, and to let him get excited about learning to feed himself. Keep an eye out for a post in the future about how to know when your baby is actually developmentally ready to start solids. Hint: it is not necessarily at 6 months!
Ok, back to the good stuff about keeping your milk supply up! I said that hormonal shifts can cause a temporary drop in your milk supply. I say temporary because as long as you keep nursing on demand (and often enough!) your milk supply should jump right back up after a few days. If you don't keep nursing even though you feel like there is very little, if any, milk there, you will be telling your body that it is ok with you to stick with that smaller amount of milk. And yes, your little one still is getting at least some milk each time he nurses, so you don't have to worry about a few days of snacking almost non-stop because pretty soon you two will get back on a more normal "meal" schedule. Now, if you are still enjoying breastfeeding often and you want to advocate for yourself here, just keep nursing! And nurture your body while you're at it, too!
More to come on the topic of nurturing your own body and your nursing relationship in Part 3 of this series.