Having an oversupply is a blessing right? After all, what could be wrong with making too much liquid gold? The reality is that an oversupply comes with many challenges and issues. In this post, we will help you understand why trying to make more milk isn’t always a good idea.
So many breastfeeding conversations revolve around “how to make more breastmilk”. How much water do we need to drink during the day? How many lactation cookies we should eat? Did I pump enough? Is my freezer stash big enough? We discuss all the supplements and galactagogues – but should we really increase our supply?
I see it all the time – a mom will pump 10 ounces in a single sitting and worry that she’s losing her supply because she pumped 12 ounces the previous day. Or a mom will share a photo of her 400-ounce freezer stash, and suddenly other moms will worry that they don’t produce enough because they only have 200 ounces in theirs.
The reality is that most moms make plenty of milk for their baby and that these moms who pump 4+ ounces in a sitting or have a giant freezer stash actually have an oversupply. More moms have an oversupply than most realize and it comes with its own set of difficult challenges. Before you try to increase your supply, take a moment to evaluate whether you make enough milk and decide whether you want to tackle some of the oversupply challenges listed below…
What is an oversupply?
An oversupply is simply making too much milk. How is that possible? You can never have enough, right? Unless you have an oversupply, you may think it sounds like a dream. Not stressing about having enough milk, sign me up! Right? Nope… keep reading!
Do you make enough breastmilk?
The typical breastmilk intake for a baby fed via bottle is 19-32 ounces per day with an average of 24 ounces being most common. That is an average of 1-1.5 ounces per hour. Bottles should contain no more than 4-ounce portions per feeding. Most moms produce enough milk for their baby but tend to not know that slowing the feedings can prevent baby from over-eating. Working moms always stress if they will produce enough milk while they are away from their baby. Paced feeding will certainly help manage their intake better while you’re away. A pump also isn’t the best indicator of your supply. Your baby is much more efficient at transferring milk than any breast pump. As long as you are producing 1-1.5 ounce per hour while you’re away, then you are right on track!
What is paced feeding?
Smaller more frequent feedings are recommended for adults as well as babies. A baby’s stomach is very small. By paced feeding with smaller portions more frequently, this allows baby to not “over eat” and stretch their tummy. A bottle is much easier to pull milk from than the breast. This simply means that they are able to transfer milk from a bottle much quicker than if they were nursing. It’s similar when you’re really hungry and eats fast then feel terrible after because you know you shouldn’t have eaten that extra slice of pizza. A baby can fit more milk in their belly, but not without stretching it and becoming uncomfortable. They aren’t able to tell you how they are feeling and if they are full. Paced feeding gives your baby more control of their intake by allowing them time to realize they are full. Giving your baby control over how much they take in at a time by paced feeding on demand encourages healthy eating habits for the future. We are all hungry at different times and don’t eat the same amount for each meal. There are days where I am not really hungry and may snack all day. Other days, I may eat my 3 meals a day and I’m content. Then there are occasions I’m starving and feel like I could eat the entire buffet! Babies are the same way. There will be times, such as growth spurts and cluster feeding, where your baby may not seem satisfied. Allow them to control their intake. Here’s how to pace feed:
Common Oversupply Challenges
Oversuppliers have a lot to worry about. There are downsides to producing more milk than your baby needs…
- You’re more prone to clogged ducts which can lead to mastitis.
- Overactive letdown
- Foremilk and hindmilk imbalance
- Frequent engorgement and the discomfort or pain that comes with it (even sleeping or taking a shower can hurt when you’re engorged!)
- The need to constantly express during the day (and having to plan your day around that)
- Let’s focus on the main ones…
What is a clogged duct?
A clogged duct is simply an obstruction that is blocking the milk from flowing. There are a few things that cause this:
- Tightly fitted bras or restrictive clothing
- Sleeping on your stomach
- Pressure against the breast (baby sleeping on your chest, babywearing or diaper bag strap)
- Engorgement over a long period of time
- Not properly emptying your breasts during feedings or pumping session
- Milk bleb or blister
What is mastitis?
Mastitis is inflammation in the breast tissue typically caused by infection. Symptoms can mimic those of the flu: fever, chills and fatigue. If your breast(s) become painful, is swollen, has red and/or warm spots you might have Mastitis. If you experience any of these, you will need to contact your doctor or midwife to discuss treatment options right away.
What is over-active letdown?
Nursing with an oversupply can also cause your milk ejection reflex, also known as a “letdown” to become extremely forceful. If you have an over-active letdown, your milk will usually come out as a strong “spray” rather than a gentle flow or drip. The expression “drinking from the firehose” comes to mind!
Because of this, your baby may have a hard time keeping up with the force of the flow which can result in refusing the breast, choking, pulling off of the breast, breaking the seal of the latch and changes in bowel movements. This then spirals into all sorts of other issues like sore nipples and a gassy baby… not fun!
I have a forceful letdown. Sometimes it will sound like my son is drowning because he just can’t keep up with the flow. He usually becomes frustrated and unlatches. It will then look like a fountain of milk spraying all over. Helpful tip – if your baby unlatches during a letdown, simply use your finger or hand over the nipple and apply pressure to the breast. This will hinder the letdown and stop your milk from freely flowing.
What is foremilk/hindmilk imbalance?
If you let your milk settle, you will notice that it will separate into three layers. The bottom layer is called the foremilk. This is the milk that is released at the beginning of the feeding. It usually appears thinner and more translucent. The center layer is called the hindmilk. This milk appears more thick, creamy and contains more fat. The top layer is the thicker fat. As milk settles, it rises to the top. It is all the same milk. You do not have two different kinds of milk. The milk just becomes thicker as the fat is released.
It’s not ALL bad though…
There are positives to having an oversupply, too! Building a stash can be satisfying and donating milk is truly rewarding. It is a gift like no other to help nourish another baby. Social media has made the exchange of breastmilk more accessible. Groups such as Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human babies allow you to connect with donors and recipients easily through posting needs and offers of milk. There are also milk banks that larger companies, such as Prolacta, disburse donated milk to. The process to become a donor through a bioscience company can be rigorous but they provide human milk for babies who need it most.
What to do if you want to correct an oversupply?
Many moms worry about their supply and “accidentally” create an oversupply. This can happen by demanding too much. If you’re pumping, in addition, to exclusively nursing, i.e. pumping after you nurse, this will signal your body that more milk is needed. Pumping after you nurse and not getting much out does not indicate you’re not producing enough milk. In fact, that means your supply is exactly what baby needs. As I mentioned before, your body is only intended to make enough to feed your baby. Any additional milk is what I call “bonus milk” and is technically considered an oversupply.
If you’re looking to decrease your oversupply, cutting back on pumping will demand less milk. You will need to do this slowly to avoid getting a clog or mastitis. Slowly stretch out the time between your pumps. Eventually, you will be able to drop one. Using a silicone pump to relieve engorgement will also help. This will pull some milk from the breast without emptying. Production is based on supply and demand. The more you empty the breast, the more your body is going to produce. Frequently removing the milk, is telling your body that milk is needed. Slowing down the removal of the milk is going to tell your body the milk is not needed. This will help slow down your production.
An oversupply can be a balancing act but who else is better for the task other than a mom! Going with the flow is something we are programmed to do (see what I did there).
Have questions about any of these topics? Have an oversupply story to share? Post a comment below!