Oversupply of milk
In the early weeks after giving birth, by suckling at the breast, your baby will tell your body to make more and more milk each day as he goes through rapid growth.
By about the fourth or fifth week, the amount of milk your body makes will start to plateau, and will usually be producing a similar amount of milk per day, very much geared to your own baby’s needs.
Some of you, however, will naturally produce more milk than your baby needs, which is often caused by your specific interplay of hormones.
Women who may be struggling with their milk supply sometimes say that they wish they had an oversupply of milk, but the truth is that this situation comes with its challenges.
If you do have an overabundance of milk, you may have noticed you appear to have a fast flow of milk, and your baby may be struggling with that fast flow.
He may be coughing, spluttering, sucking in a lot of air soon after latching, and may sometimes do this intermittently throughout the feed.
I would encourage you to look at the information relating to fast flow for some strategies that you can use to combat that.
You may also have noticed that your baby may be taking in high volumes of milk and gaining weight quite dramatically, even as much as one pound of weight per week, and could be following one of the highest centile lines on his growth chart.
You may also notice that your baby appears fussy after feeds.
Even when you feel that he has taken a good feed, he may STILL appear quite hungry, very soon after.
So feeding may become quite distressing and often confusing.
Because of this, you may believe that your baby ISN’T getting enough milk, and this is the irony of the situation.
The truth is that your baby is taking in high volume milk at the beginning of a feed (which has a high amount of lactose in it, but low fat), and he is never quite draining the breast, never reaching the fattier, low volume milk as the feed progresses.
So babies tend to fill up on high volume, and when offered the next breast, they fill up again on high volume – but never quite feel satisfied enough.
You may also find that the poos that your baby produces are green and watery – and maybe explosive.
The green color may be due to the LACK of fat. The yellow, mustard-colored kind of poos that breastfed babies tend to produce are due to fat in the milk.
Also, large amounts of lactose may be going through your baby’s stomach, which can cause him to be windy and uncomfortable.
So it’s quite an unsettled and distressing situation for mother and baby.
As well as the distress that you’re experiencing, you may also be leaking milk between the feeds.
You may be experiencing sore nipples as your baby may clamp down to control the fast flow of milk.
So if you and your baby are experiencing these symptoms, I want you to know that there are ways to slow your milk production.
I would, however, caution you not to slow your milk production in the first four weeks because these symptoms may only be temporary.
It could be that you have a small baby who is presently struggling a little with the flow – but will become better at controlling it.
However, if after four or five weeks, these issues are still happening, then the things that I’m going to talk about could be relevant to you.
First of all, many mothers who have been experiencing an oversupply and a baby who gains weight rapidly have found that feeding has become more manageable by offering just one breast per feed, which helps to reduce the milk supply gradually.
I would also really encourage you to hand express to comfort on the breast that isn’t used at the time. Whenever you feel uncomfortably full, a small amount of hand expression (but not enough to generate a lot of milk) will prevent a blocked duct or mastitis.
If you’ve tried this strategy for a few days, and you still don’t feel that those symptoms are settling down, you may need to consider using a technique called block feeding.
For instance, you could start feeding at 10:00 am until 1:00 pm on the left side (this is a three hourly block).
Every time your baby wants to feed, bring him (within the three hour period) to that left-hand side.
But on the other side, you will hand express to comfort, to prevent a blocked duct.
The next three hourly period will be on the other side. Watch the clock, to allow this block feeding to work.
Look at your baby’s symptoms and see if things are settling down.
If you find that this three hourly block is not making a difference, you can then increase the block time to four hours, so four hours on one side and then four hours on the other side, and keep doing that throughout the 24-hour clock.
Always keep the alternative breast comfortable with hand expression, and also between feeds.
If you feel that you are getting engorged, and hand expression isn’t being sufficient enough to keep your breast comfortable, you could also use a cool compress for 15 minutes on that particular breast to relieve the congestion.
Possibly a four-hour block isn’t enough, and you may need to extend the block to five hours or six hours.
Doing so could cause your supply to drop dramatically, so you must seek out skilled help to monitor this situation and also to keep a check on your baby’s weight, ensuring that everything is going in the right direction, and for your moral support too.
If you find that even with all of these measures it still isn’t enough, you can use a technique called full drainage and block feeding.
This involves using a double electric pump to drain your breasts as thoroughly as possible, and then to start a three hourly block on each side, as I’ve mentioned earlier.
If you are experiencing oversupply problems, it can be tempting to feel the need to pump your milk to remove the milk from the breast and to relieve that feeling of fullness.
I’ve seen many breastfeeding women in this situation. Unfortunately, the pump will cause your body to make too much EXTRA milk, and therefore compounds the problem.
Some of these women have caused unnecessary blocked ducts and mastitis, and one woman I met developed an abscess, so I want to caution you not to stimulate the breast when you’re dealing with oversupply excessively.
The good news is that even if all of these measures don’t completely resolve the problem, as the weeks go by and your baby gets bigger and more able to cope with the milk supply, everything changes.
Many women tell me that their supply eventually settles down, and their babies settle much better at the breast.
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Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022
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