Being able to supply a large amount of breast milk for your child can be a challenging task for some moms. Most moms can keep up their breast milk supply, but some moms find it harder to do so. Breastfeeding problems and breast milk supply gets affected by diet, lack of sleep, not feeding on demand, periods, skipping nursing sessions, and other reasons. However, you may have heard your mom saying that she was not able to breastfeed you (and your siblings), and your grand-mom was not able to breastfeed her.
This leads you to question, “Is breastfeeding genetic?” You may be wondering whether producing a full supply of breast milk during nursing sessions for your baby is a hereditary issue. Though there is not enough research to prove that genetics could play a role, most of the time, the problem is due to a “perceived” low supply or a breastfeeding management problem.
Genetically-linked Reasons for Low Milk Supply
Here are some hereditary issues that could affect breast milk supply in some moms. However, for some other moms, the supply of breast milk does not get affected, despite these problems. Let’s take a look at some of the problems of low milk supply caused by genes:
- Diabetes – Diabetes is a common problem that can affect breast milk supply. This is when the body does not make adequate insulin or does not use it in the right way. Insulin can affect a mother’s supply of breast milk and if you have diabetes, you could end up making less milk for your baby.
- Insufficient Glandular Tissue -It does not matter how big or small your breast size is as this does not affect the ability to make milk. But the glandular tissue (milk-making tissue) within the breast, determines how much milk can be made. Some moms have a lower milk supply because of the lack of glandular tissue. Some characteristics of insufficient glandular tissue are long and tubular-shaped breasts, wide-spaced breasts, or asymmetrical breasts. However, there are many moms who have unusual breast characteristics (breasts that look underdeveloped) and they are still able to breastfeed their children successfully.
- Flat or inverted nipples- Flat nipples can be a hereditary issue and this could make breastfeeding difficult but it is still not impossible. Flat or inverted nipples do not allow the nipple to reach the roof of the baby’s mouth which is responsible for stimulating the pallet and triggering the reflex action of sucking. This could cause problems with latching and effective milk transfer.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - This is a hormonal condition that affects fertility problems, obesity, excessive body hair growth, and an increase in the risk of Type-2 diabetes. PCOS that starts at puberty can affect breast development in a girl. This can also affect women who are pregnant as the breast will not grow enough during pregnancy and get ready to make milk. PCOS can interfere with low milk supply even if there is enough glandular tissue present.
- Thyroid problems- Certain hormones released by the thyroid are important for the normal development of the breast and allowing the breast to make more milk while breastfeeding. If a mother’s body does not have enough of the thyroid hormone, milk supply can be affected. This is especially if the breastfeeding mom has hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). When hypothyroidism is treated, women cease to have problems with breastfeeding.
What Steps Can You Take?
Even if you cannot make a full supply, you can still breastfeed your child. Breastfeeding is all about developing a relationship with your child and it is more than just food for your baby. Some of the things that you can do are:
- Meet a lactation consultant and seek help right from the start to truly determine if your supply is low or not. Have a positive mindset and do not think negatively even if your mom or grandma struggled with breastfeeding. Just try to the best of your ability.
- There are different ways to increase breast milk supply. For instance pumping more often, taking prescription medication for increasing supply, or eating lactation cookies are some of the ways to increase breast milk supply.
- Try to maintain a breastfeeding relationship with your little one and make the most of what you have. If there is a problem with your baby’s latch until you fix this problem (if it can be fixed) use a breast pump to express the milk and feed your child or supplement with formula. When supplementing, try not to use the bottle too much as babies who get used to the bottle will not adjust to breastfeeding.
Remember that after your baby is born, it takes a while (three to five) days for breast milk to come in and it can take up to a month for your feedings to go very well. Don’t give up so easily or be led to think that breastfeeding is impossible. However, after weighing all the pros and cons, if breastfeeding is still not working out for you, you do not have to feel forced to continue. Do what is best for your baby and you!
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