How to Handle an Oversupply of Breast Milk

Before you begin breastfeeding, your biggest concern might be whether you can do it at all.  You may worry about whether your body will produce enough milk to sustain your baby’s entire dietary existence.  Miraculously, almost every human mother can breast feed if she has the desire and perseverance to do it.  And believe it or not, sometimes oversupply of breast milk is a bigger issue than not enough.

Oversupply of breast milk is definitely a better problem than too little, however it be painful for mom and can cause difficulty for baby as well.  Oversupply is usually a result of overactive letdown, meaning that the release and ejection of milk happens quite forcefully all at once and more often than the baby needs.

Mom_nursingIn mothers, too much milk causes engorgement and sometimes plugged ducts and mastitis.  Each of these can be quite excruciating, not only in the breast, but also throughout the body.  Mastitis, for example, can present as a flu-like fever, achiness and lethargy in moms.

For babies, the pressure of forceful let-downs may cause a gagging reflex, inability to latch, pulling off the breast, clamping down during feedings, or require the baby to drink so fast that she swallows too much air and is gassy, spits up or gets the hiccups.  All of these issues lead to fussiness and that is no fun for anyone.  Of course the goal is to ensure your baby is getting all the right nutrients from your breast milk, which is hard to achieve if she’s not nursing properly.

Additionally, not all breast milk is created equal.  There’s the foremilk, which is sweeter and high in lactose, and the hindmilk, which is thick and richer in fat and calories.  When a baby is only nursing for a short time on each breast, she will get a disproportionate amount of foremilk and hindmilk, which is not ideal for growth and development.

Luckily there are some ways you can curb the issue.  We recommend trying several of these solutions until you find the combination that works best for you.

First, try nursing only one side per feeding.  This will ensure that your baby gets the full cycle of foremilk and hindmilk that she needs per feeding.  If she pulls off before you feel she’s had enough, offer the same breast again after taking a short break.  If your other breast is too full, pump out just enough to make yourself comfortable.  You want to ensure you have enough milk in the second breast for the next feeding.

Never restrict your baby from nursing if she is hungry, but do try to stay on one side within the 2-3 hour window before the next feeding.  Sometimes nursing more frequently is helpful.

You may want to express a bit of milk before you encourage your baby to latch.  If you can bottle some of the overactive letdown, your baby will be able to enjoy a more steady flow and you’ll have some breast milk stored for a rainy day.

When you notice your baby gagging or choking, take her off the breast immediately and express the forceful spray into a towel.  If you can nip the problem early, your baby won’t be afraid to latch in the future.  Also, burp your baby often throughout the feeding to get the gas out immediately.

Change your nursing position to give your baby more control of sucking and swallowing.  For example, if your baby is sitting on your leg and latching straight forward into your breast or you are lying down next to your baby, she’ll be in better position to handle the milk.

L377-Nude-prod-pageTry not to stimulate your breasts between feedings by pumping or taking a warm shower.  Cool compresses on your breasts can discourage blood flow and milk production.  Use a nursing bra that has slits for removable modesty pads and insert the compresses inside.  Do not discourage milk within the first 4-6 weeks of giving birth.  That is the time when you need to build a healthy supply and ensure you and your baby get into a good breastfeeding rhythm.

If your oversupply is so great that you must pump, it is always nice to have extra milk available when you cannot feed your baby.  If you have an over abundance of frozen milk, donate it to a human breast milk bank.  You’ll be helping another baby get a great start too.

Finally, remember to be patient.  Your supply may level off as your hormones rebalance after pregnancy.  Plus, babies grow and develop rapidly.  Your baby may adjust to your milk supply over time, and may even thrive on having a plentiful supply.  The important thing to gauge is whether your baby is gaining weight at a healthy pace.