Thinking you might be making too much breast milk? Have you heard that an oversupply of breast milk is a bad thing and wondering why?
Having an overabundance of breast milk may sound like a true blessing, but in actuality, it can play quite the toll on you and your baby.
In this post, we’ll talk about why an oversupply of breast milk is a bad thing and the effects it may have on you and your baby. We’ll also give you some tips and tricks on how to manage your oversupply and reduce your milk supply safely.
When to Worry About Oversupply
It’s pretty normal for moms to have an overabundance of breast milk during those first few weeks postpartum. Especially when your milk first comes in.
But as the weeks go on, your milk supply should start to regulate and adjust to your baby’s needs.
Many moms will continue to experience leaks after their supply is more regulated. This is not a sign of oversupply.
However, if you continue to produce more than your baby can keep up with and your breasts never seem to feel fully emptied and refill quickly after feedings, then you may be dealing with an oversupply of breast milk.
How an Oversupply of Breast Milk Affects Mom
Because your breasts are never fully emptied with an oversupply, you may be struggling with:
- Persistent engorgement: Engorgement is pretty typical when your milk first comes in, but usually subsides within 24 hours. With an oversupply, your breasts will continually feel enlarged, hard, and somewhat uncomfortable.
- Recurring clogged ducts: Oversupply can also cause clogged ducts to reoccur, as certain ducts may never be getting emptied enough, causing an obstruction of milk flow. With a clogged duct, you’ll usually notice a small hard lump in your breast that feels tender, warm, swollen, or even a little red.
- Mastitis: An obstruction of milk flow can lead to inflammation of the breast and cause an infection called mastitis. With mastitis, the intensity of pain and swelling in your breast(s) will be much greater than with a clogged duct. It can also cause fever, chills, body aches, and systemic illness (source).
The Effects of Oversupply on Your Baby
- Overactive letdown: Having an overabundance of breast milk is known to cause mom to have a very strong letdown. You may notice your baby choking and gasping during the first few minutes of a nursing session when your letdown starts flowing. Your baby may also have trouble breathing and nursing at the same time due to the rapid flow.
- Foremilk/hindmilk imbalance: If you’re producing too much milk, then it’s likely that your baby is filling up on foremilk, which is the milk that lies in the front of your breast. Foremilk looks more watery and consists of high lactose and low fat. Whereas hindmilk is located further back in your breasts and is loaded with calories and nutritional fats. If you’re baby is filling up on foremilk, then he may ingesting too much lactose (source).
- Digestive issues: If your baby has too much lactose to break down in their body, then he may start getting extremely gassy and begin to have frothy, green stools. And because your baby is struggling to keep up with your fast flow, your baby may be swallowing too much air while nursing, which can also cause gas and hiccups.
- Fussiness: When you have an oversupply, your baby may be fussy during feedings because she can’t keep up with your rapid amount of milk flow. Your baby may also just have general fussiness from eating too much.
- Refusal to eat: Your baby may become very frustrated with feedings and start to refuse the breast all together. And even though your breasts may be feeling full, your baby might just not be ready to eat again.
What Causes an Oversupply?
There are a few different things that could be causing you to have an overabundance of breast milk:
- It just happens naturally: Some moms just naturally produce too much breast milk from the very beginning. This often results in baby eating for shorter, more frequent amount of times, never fully emptying mom’s breasts. Mom is inclined to express or pump for comfort, but this just signals the body to make more milk (source).
- Pumping too much: Many moms are under the impression that they need to have this massive amount of breast milk stored in their freezer and will either begin pumping too soon or pumping too often. But in actuality you don’t need but a few days worth of milk in your freezer. If you’re starting to build a freezer stash, then try catching leaked milk with a Haakaa or just pump ONCE a day, after your first morning feed. If you’re pumping too often, then your body is going to start thinking that it needs to produce that much more. Remember breastfeeding is all about supply and demand!
- Offering both breasts each time: Some first time moms just get poor advice and are told that they need to offer both breasts every single feeding. If you’re unlatching your baby to switch breasts, then they may getting too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk. Since foremilk is less calorie and fat dense than hindmilk, then your baby is likely to consume a higher amount of milk and want to nurse more frequently, signaling to your body to make more milk.
Tips for Managing an Oversupply
Listed below are a few things you can do to help manage your oversupply and make things easier on you and your baby:
- Express or spray into a burp rag: Instead of struggling through the first few minutes of a nursing session, try hand expressing or pumping just until you get your letdown. Then latch your baby after that. This will make your flow less forecul and will also help your baby latch on more easily if you’re engorged. If you can feel your letdown or your baby tends to unlatch then, then you could also try spraying your letdown into a burp rag and then relatching your baby.
- Hot compress or warm shower before nursing: A hot compress or warm shower also helps stimulate your letdown, as well as unclog ducts. Try placing a warm rag on your breasts a few minutes before you’re about to nurse your baby.
- Offer the same breast: Offering the same breast for a few feedings in a row will help to ensure that your baby is getting enough hindmilk. This should keep her feeling fuller longer and space out her feedings more, which should signal to your body that it doesn’t need to make as much milk as it was. This should also help settle your baby’s digestive issues. If you’re feeling engorged between feedings, then just pump for just a minute or two to keep you comfortable until the next feeding.
- Tweak your positions: Leaning back while nursing will help slow down your flow and make it a little easier on your baby to keep up. Rotate through positions if you’re struggling with clogged ducts, so all areas of the breasts will get emptied.
- Use cabbage leaves: An old wives’ tale that is actually true! Cabbage leaves have been proven to reduce pain from engorgement. However, they can reduce your supply (too much), so be sure to not use them for long periods of time. 20 minutes 3 times a day should do the trick. Red or green leaves both work.
How to Reduce an Oversupply of Breast Milk
If managing your oversupply doesn’t seem to be enough, and you and your baby are still struggling with the side effects, then you may want to work closely with a lactation consultant (preferably an international board certified one) in reducing to your supply.
You need to be cautious and very observant throughout this process, as you don’t want to diminish your supply completely.
Your lactation consultant (LC) make work with you in trying the following:
- Have your baby evaluated: Your baby should always be evaluated first, to make sure the issues aren’t stemming from something different, such as a tongue/lip tie, colic, acid reflux, dairy intolerance, etc.
- Cabbage leaves: Like mentioned above, cabbage leaves are known to reduce milk supply. Your LC may advise you to try them for that specific purpose.
- Try some herbs: Certain herbs, like sage, Cabo, and peppermint, are known to decrease milk supply. Your LC may advise you to drink some sage tea, apply Cabo cream to your breasts, or eat foods high in peppermint.
- Over-the-counter meds: OTC cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine are also known to reduce supply.
- Avoid lactation teas and supplements: If you’ve been drinking mother’s milk tea, eating lactation goodies, or taking herbal supplements that are known to increase production, then you’ll want to put a halt to that right away, as they could be a big contribution to your problem.
As you’re working on reducing your supply to a manageable level, it’s crucial that you’re keep an eye on wet and dirty diapers to make sure that your baby is still getting enough breast milk. You’ll also want to pay attention to your baby’s weight gain.
A Blessing and a Curse
You ought to feel blessed when you can make enough milk for your baby. But, producing too much milk can cause you to have an oversupply, which can actually create a whole other range of issues for you and your baby.
Making too much milk can cause you to have persistent engorgement, recurring clogged ducts, and even mastitis. It can also cause you to have an overactive letdown, which may lead to your baby choking, gagging, and gasping, during feedings. Your baby may ingest too much foremilk and not enough hindmilk, which can cause gassiness and frothy green stools.
But the good new is, is that there are plenty of tricks you can try to help manage your condition and reduce your supply. Try leaning back while nursing to slow your flow, spraying your letdown into a rag, and pumping just a tad to relieve engorgement.
You can also work with a lactation consultant and try some herbs, OTC medicines, and eliminating any milk enhancing substances.
What About You?
Do you struggle with an oversupply? What symptoms tipped you off, and how do you manage your overproduction of milk? Share your experience in the comments below and be sure to share this post with other oversupply mamas.