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Social Aspects of Milk Suppression: What’s the Low Down?

Friends raising glasses of beer

Maybe you’ve explored every pharmacologic, plant or herbal explanation for your low milk supply. But there are some social aspects of milk suppression, too.

Inadequate drainage of the breast

Okay, the breast is never truly “empty” (just as our bladders are never completely empty, we always have more tears to cry, etc.) But hopefully you understand the concept of complete drainage of the breast.

Social situations sometimes lead to long intervals between nursing sessions. It may be hospital routines, no acceptable place to nurse in public, or just being too busy with other activities. (Of course, it could also be that the infant is unable to adequately drain the breast.)

I explained about the importance of drainage in a post about Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation.

Excessive caffeine

I’m probably the biggest coffee hound you’ve ever met. There’s no way I’m going to tell a lactating mother that she can’t have her coffee.

Whether or not caffeine (in coffee, tea, colas or any other caffeinated drink) affects her milk supply is, in my opinion, unlikely. However, it certainly can increase infant wakefulness, which is likely to affect the mother’s wakefulness which can then be related to stress and other factors discussed here.

So I’d say, take it easy on the caffeine.


Everyone seems to gloss over Vio’s classic study showing that smoking affects milk let-down. But if you think about it logically, it makes sense. Nicotine causes vasoconstriction. That means it’s likely that there is less oxytocin-rich blood circulating to promote a good let-down.

The milk ejection reflex (or let-down) isn’t the same as milk production. But without a good MER, good drainage of the breast is unlikely, and therefore an abundant supply is less likely.

More recently, we’ve had research to show that in fact, nicotine affects milk supply, too.

When you think about social aspects of milk suppression, think about addiction to nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive and creates many problems for the baby and everyone in the household. I’ve given several suggestions for how to beat the addiction.


Yeah, yeah, I know, people think alcohol, or at least beer, “makes more milk.” But there’s just no evidence to substantiate that.

Honestly, I’ve seen a how a little alcohol can have a good effect on some mothers. They can relax more easily. But the operative word here is “little.”

Excessive amounts of alcohol can impair the MER.

Fatigue; getting too little rest

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that mothers have trouble with milk production when they get too little rest. There is also a relationship between lack of sleep and postpartum depression.

Lack of rest can impair nearly any bodily function, so it shouldn’t surprise us when that’s the case with milk production. 

Stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are different. But their manifestations and consequences can be very similar.

The incidence of postpartum anxiety is every bit as great – perhaps greater – than postpartum depression. It just gets less press.

Anxiety is rooted in the limbic system. That fight-flight-freeze reaction is for self-survival. From an evolutionary standpoint, this reaction served us well; it saved us from being attacked by the saber-toothed tiger. But it interferes with MER and milk production.  

I could probably spend a year blogging about stress and anxiety. For today, however, I’d suggest that you see my posts that describe how to relieve anxiety. I love hypnosis, hypno-breastfeeding, music, and self care.

Whatever you do, don’t miss my podcast episode with Sandra Reich.

Being pregnant

Ahhh yes. Your milk dries up for seemingly no reason. Check and see if you’re pregnant. As I’ve said many times, estrogen is the enemy of milk production.

Here I’ve talked about the social aspects of milk suppression. Earlier I talked about pharmacologic reasons, or plant-based (or herbal) reasons for milk suppression. But a low milk supply might be explainable even when no substances are involved. There are many possible reasons for a low milk supply, including some hormonal reasons.

What have been your experiences with social aspects of milk suppression? Share in the comments below.

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    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Oh, Cindy, I’m all about brevity! These days, no has has time to wade through anything verbose. My mantra when leading my coaching group is this: Clear, concise, compelling content! Thank you…you always help me to keep on keeping on!

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