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Why is one breast not producing milk?

Both breasts usually produce breast milk, and both breasts tend to release milk at the same time. However, this isn't always the case, and some moms will find themselves wondering "why is one breast not producing milk?". it is also possible - and quite common - for one breast to produce more milk than the other, and many moms will also wonder whether one breast can stop producing milk completely - we'll delve into this below.

If you are wondering "why is one breast not producing milk?", the breast you're likely referring to is often known as the "slacker" boob, and you might be worried that it has dried up completely. However, this will only be the case if you have completely ignored it (not offered it to your baby for feeding at all). In addition, there can be differences in the mammary tissue between each breast, such as one breast having more milk ducts or a faster let-down than the other.

In the first few months after birth, it's important to breastfeed or pump regularly in order to establish steady milk production. It can take a while to get the hang of breastfeeding as you get used to the sensation and your baby's swallowing matures. If you're worried about milk supply in one or both breasts, it's always wise to speak with your healthcare provider. Below, the lactation experts at Limerick have compiled this short information guide about uneven milk supply to answer questions like "why is one breast not producing milk?". Let's take a look.

Questions Moms Ask: Why is one breast not producing milk?

Can one breast stop producing milk?

If you're wondering "why is one breast not producing milk?" then it's also understandable to wonder if a breast can stop producing milk entirely. In brief - it is possible, but your baby would have to feed exclusively from one breast. There may also be differences in the number of milk ducts between each breast.

Unless you completely abandon feeding your baby from one side, it isn't possible from one breast to completely stop producing milk. This is because both breasts contain milk ducts, and the let-down reflex signals to both breasts to produce milk.

However, milk supply in each breast responds separately to stimulation from your baby, because milk supply operates on a "supply-and-demand" basis. When your baby is close, a signal sent to the pituitary gland in your brain will release hormones, which then signal to your breasts to produce milk.

So, if you feed more from one side, that may be the answer to the question of "why is one breast not producing milk?". As less milk is removed from the unused breast, that side will gradually produce less milk. If your baby continues to exclusively feed from one breast, then the other may cease to produce milk completely.

Questions Moms Ask: Why is one breast not producing milk?

Anatomical differences

No pair of breasts is completely symmetrical and there are anatomical differences between each breast. Furthermore there are a number of ways in which variation in breast anatomy between breasts can lead to a difference in milk supply or for your baby to prefer one breast over the other. For instance, one breast might simply have more working ducts and alveoli than the other, or one breast may have a faster or slower let-down. Research has shown that the right breast usually produces more milk, but our point here is that if you're asking "why is one breast not producing milk?", it could be that it is - just not as much as the other breast - and there could be a perfectly logical reason for that.

There can also be anatomical differences between nipples. Some women may have different-sized nipples on each breast, which could make it less comfortable for a baby to nurse on one side, as opposed to the other. For example, if you have a flat or inverted nipple on one side, your baby may prefer to feed on the other side, if it is difficult to establish a latch on the inverted nipple. That said, it is possible to breastfeed with inverted nipples - so if you have them, don't worry. Just speak to a lactation specialist or doctor.

Questions Moms Ask: Why is one breast not producing milk?

What if my baby prefers one breast over the other?

In the first month postpartum, some babies display a preference for one breast over the other. If your baby is well attached and nursing well, then they will continue feeding from one breast until it has emptied, then detach or fall asleep.

Your baby may or may not want to feed from the second breast. If they show continued feeding cues, then offer the second breast. Feeding cues from your baby include:

  • Turning their head from side to side
  • Opening their mouth or moving their hand to their mouth
  • Sucking their lips and hands
  • Becoming restless
  • Making cooing or sighing sounds

You might have heard that you should feed from one breast until it has emptied or drained completely. If your baby detaches from the breast by themselves, then it's likely the breast has been well drained. If your baby is still hungry, they will move to the second breast to remove more milk.

Questions Moms Ask: Why is one breast not producing milk?

Why does my baby prefer one breast over the other?

It's normal for breasts to be shaped differently and even to be different sizes. They may also differ in the amount of milk they produce. Your baby may prefer one breast over the other for a faster or slower let-down by one breast, one side has a differently shaped nipple, or favors a certain feeding position because it is more comfortable for the baby or for mom.

Causes of an uneven milk supply

Potential reasons include:

  • More milk being available in one breast
  • One breast has a faster or slower let-down
  • Differently-shaped nipples on each side
  • Mom's preference for holding her baby in a particular way
  • Baby may also be more comfortable, or have a better hold on one side versus the other

Questions Moms Ask: Why is one breast not producing milk?

What happens if I only breastfeed from one side?

Although most moms breastfeed from both breasts, it is possible to nurse from just one side. This can be a long or short-term solution, depending on what's suitable for the individual mom. Some women may have to feed from only one breast for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Previous breast surgery: if you have had surgery, one breast may make less milk as a result.
  • Physical disability: You may have a disability that makes feeding on one side more difficult.
  • Breast or nipple problems: if you have experienced long-term or recurrent difficulties with one breast, you may choose to feed exclusively from the other side.
  • Baby's preference: your baby may show a clear preference for one side, and over time, the less-effective breast stops producing milk.

Questions Moms Ask: Why is one breast not producing milk?

So, is it harmful to breastfeed from one side only?

No, so if you're wondering "why is one breast not producing milk?" and you're worried about it, remember that you only need one breast to feed one baby, that it is possible to breastfeed from only one side, and that for some moms, this is normal. The only concern is that your baby is getting enough milk - and most likely your baby is. If you are concerned about that however, remember that weight is your gold standard - if your baby is gaining weight steadily then you have enough milk. However, you should always check in with your doctor to ensure your baby's development is on track.

Questions Moms Ask: Why is one breast not producing milk?

Should I encourage my baby to feed from the "slacker" side?

The breast which produces less milk or has a slower let-down is sometimes called the "slacker" breast by some women. Some moms believe they should encourage their baby to feed from this breast to even out milk supply between the breasts.

If you want to do this, you could try:

  • Offering the least preferred side to your baby first
  • Make sure to feed from the least preferred side at each feeding.
  • Try to position your baby in a similar way to their preferred side

Questions Moms Ask: Why is one breast not producing milk?

How can I encourage a "slacker" breast to produce more milk?

If you want to breastfeed from both sides, when one breast produces less milk than the other, you can encourage your baby to nurse from the other side. As milk is produced on a supply-and-demand basis, only nursing with one breast can lead to the other breast gradually producing less milk. To rectify this, try to encourage your baby to feed from the less preferred breast by placing them on that side and holding them in a similar position to that taken with the breast they usually feed from. However, remember that one breast may have more glandular tissue, and a naturally higher milk supply than the other - if that's the case, it's nothing to worry about. Your total volume from both breasts is what is important, and if that is enough for your baby to grow and develop then that is what you want to focus on, not on the volume from each individual breast.