Mom Knows Best: Let’s Take Low Milk Supply Seriously
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
While breastfeeding is definitely a skill that takes trial and error, lots of practice, and a bit of luck, we only have so much influence over how efficiently our mammary epithelial cells make milk. The assumption that breastfeeding will magically happen, without much research or forethought, leaves many new moms feeling broken when they struggle to produce milk.
Leila and Levi, 7 weeks old
From her experience, Leila Strickland, BIOMILQ’s Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer and mom of two, shares that “Moms are routinely told by trust-worthy medical professionals that their low milk production is simply perceived, and if they keep trying a bit harder they will eventually successfully produce all the milk their baby needs to grow. This dismissal contributes to the diverse types of mom-guilt that blind moms to the million other ways they are nurturing their babies each day.”
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: infant feeding is only one piece of the wellbeing puzzle.
When new moms reach out to a pediatrician, obstetrician, midwife, doula, lactation consultant, or local mom’s group, they are looking for support, guidance, and empathy. Our hearts ache for moms who don’t feel fully heard by those they go to for support.
It’s disappointing that, culturally, women aren’t always trusted to make informed decisions about their bodies and babies. It’s understandable that clinicians who’ve read the countless literature about the benefits of breastfeeding would want to avoid discouraging moms from accessing those benefits for their babies. While some may fear that sharing about the reality of breastfeeding may discourage breastfeeding initiation, we’d argue that sharing knowledge can be empowering to parents who are likely overwhelmed and looking for support.
Let’s trust that, once adequately informed, women will make the best decisions for their families.
Empowering mothers with an adequate understanding of potential realities of feeding also means revising language to be more gentle. Leila Strickland shares: “When I was ‘diagnosed’ by clinicians with perceived lactational insufficiency, I felt broken and like I’d already failed motherhood when only a few weeks in. My low milk supply wasn’t perceived and deeming my supply as insufficient felt like an attack on my efforts as a mother.”
While it’s challenging to determine the true prevalence of ‘perceived lactational insufficiency,’ a 2008 study analyzed 20 studies conducted in communities around the world: of women who wean early, an average of 35% reported perception of low milk supply as the primary reason. It’s true that sometimes a mom just isn’t aware of how much milk she is producing because it’s directly fed to her baby rather than pumped into a bottle where she could calculate her output. But, sometimes a mom’s concerns about supply are valid and need attention — concerns can’t be treated as a figment of imagination.
Let’s increase access to lactation support and knowledge so that moms feel empowered, rather than insufficient, in their breastfeeding journey.
Because low milk supply doesn’t have enough evidence-based diagnoses (yet), it makes sense that many assume that it is only perceived. We find the clinical language of ‘perceived lactational insufficiency’ to imply judgement and be shortsighted. When low milk supply is deemed perceived and insufficient, mothers are told to trust that their baby is getting adequate nutrition rather than trust their instincts. Clinical language and training on identifying the issues at hand need to reflect the realities of infant feeding.
Beyond increasing transparency around the complexities of infant feeding, we’d like to see greater transparency about the limitations around society’s understanding of low milk supply. Given that this issue falls under women’s health, research for understanding lactation hasn’t been prioritized. Preliminary research is uncovering real biophysical reasons (genetic markers such as those that control the levels of potassium and sodium) that dictate milk-making — lactation cookies will only go so far. Some of us won the milk-making lottery, and some of us, like Leila, are simply out of luck.
While frustrating to accept, we hope moms find comfort in knowing that her concerns may be scientifically valid, her effort may only go so far, and her love for her baby is completely unaffected by the genetics of her milk-making cells.
BIOMILQ is thrilled to have received support from partners who truly understand how necessary it is to improve the infant feeding landscape — who knows what our mammary biotechnology will reveal about lactation?