Successful Breastfeeding Blog
Evidence based advice, support, and education for modern families.
If there is one problem plaguing breastfeeding women I would have to say oversupply is a top contender. We talk a lot about oversupply for good reason. Actually, our top blog post of all time covers this topic in depth... and it's popular for a reason.
What is oversupply? I'm glad you asked! Oversupply is a breastfeeding condition where the lactating individual is producing more milk than their baby can actually drink, usually in excessive amounts. I'm not talking being able to pump a reasonable amount like 3-4 extra ounces in 24 hours, I'm talking about people who are expressing several ounces (or more) multiple times every day. Having too much milk may seem like a good thing, right? In reality though it can make your body uncomfortable, and can cause symptoms of lactose overload in your baby- which leads to a very sad baby. (And also early weaning... I'll get to that in a minute... first I need to touch on something else important.)
Oversupply and lactose overload are really common. And there's good reason for it... and one popular product (which I'll tell you about later) is creating this problem for thousands.... and they don't even realize it. Sadly, though, their babies are usually crying out for help, and the wrong culprit is almost always blamed.... Dairy. Yep. Dairy. Dairy get's a bad reputation in the world of breastfeeding (but that is a rant for another post.)
Here's the thing you need to know about dairy and breastfeeding. Yes, dairy allergy and sensitivity is real. And if your baby has a sensitivity to dairy, there really is no questioning it. Usually giving up dairy is warranted if your baby has a combination of issues like extreme bouts of crying, skin rashes, congestion, eczema, acidic stools that cause bad diaper rashes, projectile vomiting, and these babies tend to look sickly, and are very often struggling to gain weight or are failure to thrive. If you're curious about what a dairy allergy in a breastfed baby really looks like, click here.
However, the biggest complaints we see that are blamed on dairy and should NOT be are gassiness, fussiness, green poops in baby, or mucous in baby's stools, or even blood in the stool (it looks like little black spots). Again, my first assumption would NOT be to give up dairy to solve any of these problems. As a LC I would be evaluating you for signs of oversupply/overactive letdown, and supporting you and your baby through their symptoms of lactose overload. Which, again- LACTOSE OVERLOAD IS NOT RELATED TO DAIRY!!! Although, dairy intolerance is very commonly a pediatrician's first go to (this is based on tenacious information, NOT evidence). Oh- and if you post about these symptoms in a mom's group, I'm sure you'll be told to give up dairy from a few people. (But not in our group, our group is awesome, and we love our cheese... and evidence based support.)
I won't go too much in depth in this topic because I cover it in depth in our "Is Dairy Causing a Problem for my Breastfed Baby Post", but it was worth mentioning again, because I don't want you to give up cheese if you don't have to. So, if you're being told to give up dairy, consider it may be related to the volume of your milk supply instead. And then get help for it.
What we are here to address today, is actually a BIG underlying risk factor related to having an oversupply besides an uncomfortable baby with weird poops. Right now I want to talk about how having an oversupply can actually lead your baby to wean well before you, or they, are really ready.
Here's some good news for you, if you have an oversupply, eventually all milk supplies will regulate on their own. BUT here's the bad news.... if you don't manage it early on, you won't be able to fix the unexpected problem many oversupply breastfeeding people face when their supply does slow down.
Does this sound familiar?
Here's a video demonstration of what nursing with oversupply looks like.
The baby in this video is not having to work for her milk. And THAT my friend is the problem at hand here.
Eventually, all milk supplies will regulate on their own, and that fast flow will settle down. This happens for many reasons at different times.
Some common reasons supplies regulate.... going back to work and using a pump more than you're nursing, having a baby who really loves solids and starts to nurse less, the return of your menstrual cycle, or just time... eventually your baby will start to nurse less naturally.
When your supply does regulate, that flow will slow down, and when that happens your baby won't know what to do.....
unless we really teach them to work for it now.
It breaks my heart when breastfeeding families come to me for support after their oversupplies regulated because by then there's not much we can do. We can't train an older baby to suck like a newborn, by then it's too late. The only thing we can do is try to induce a more abundant supply for the mother, which is a lot of work that not many are willing to take on.
What you CAN do however is get to work right away to work through your baby's lactose overload symptoms, and also adjust your oversupply in a way that will protect your breastfeeding relationship. If your baby is less than 4 months old the odds are in your favor.
Usually we start to see the symptoms from oversupply kick in around the 2nd week of baby's life, and they get to be the worst between 6-8 weeks. (That's usually when people track us down and book a private virtual package to work with my team.) It's usually at this point our clients are trapped in a snowball of having to pump, hand express, or use a haaka regularly just to keep their breasts comfortable or to try to reduce the milk flow overwhelm on their babies. (This is absolutely not how we recommend trying to manage this... FYI.)
Fun fact: Pumping too early can cause your oversupply. And i'm not just talking about a regular breast pump. I'm also referring to using one of those popular silicon pumps, the most popular of which is the Haaka! Now, these can be nice for collecting a small amount of milk on an occasional basis. HOWEVER, they should not be used regularly, and they should definitely NOT be used during the first 4-6 weeks when your body is trying to establish milk supply. The more milk you move, the more your body will make. And if you're using a pump, or a Haaka in the early weeks it's like telling your body to produce enough milk for TWINS. So, yes, I'm sorry to say more than likely your oversupply is your own fault. But hey, don't beat yourself up. You can't know what you don't know, but now ... also.... you know.
Now, before anyone jumps down my throat for saying you shouldn't use a pump or haaka in the first 6 weeks, I'm not referring to ALL cases, I'm referring to the normal course of breastfeeding where baby is nursing at the breast. And I want to say this too, for the most of you, even if you have to go back to work, you should not pump before 6 weeks, unless you're going back to work before then or have to be away from your baby for some reason. We have some tips here for those of you who do need to go back to work.
Ok.. so you determined that you DO have a fast flow, and your baby nurses kinda like the one in the video I shared above. So what do you do next? Unfortunately, there's not a one size fits all solution to this problem. I've never met a milk supply or a baby that worked exactly the same. I've personally supported hundreds of breastfeeding families through this, and I'm being 100% honest when I say I've never made the same care plan twice.
Working through oversupply and overactive let down takes time, patience, and skill. If you do it the wrong way you could really hurt your milk supply and then end up with the opposite problem. If you do too much too soon you could hurt your chances of establishing your milk supply in the first place. And if you go through it without support, you're likely going to be lost on when to make changes, and also make yourself very likely to end up with clogs and mastitis. So if you're looking for answers here on how to fix this, I have to say "I'm sorry." Ethically, I can not give you a one size fits all answer to solving your oversupply because I don't know you, I don't have your history, and I haven't evaluated your milk supply and your baby.
The way we handle this too also depends on some other factors at play. How was the oversupply induced in the first place? Did you overuse a pump or Haaka? Did your baby have a inefficient latch and overstimulate you? Or is it hormone related? And, depending on that answer there may be things we have to address BEFORE we can even get started. The worst thing you can do is start scaling back your supply and then find out the hard way your baby has oral restriction and now can't nurse efficiently and the only thing keeping them nursing in the first place was your oversupply. (We've seen that, and it sucks- pun intended.) But thankfully, restrictions can usually be resolved and oversupply still worked through.
So, my point here is, if you are dealing with oversupply PLEASE seek expert support with someone who is truly skilled in managing it. And who better to support you through it than the Successful Breastfeeding Experts who support dozens of families through this daily.
You worked too hard for breastfeeding to let your baby wean before you're ready.
Get supported by your oversupply experts in our virtual lactation practice, right now.
This is Danielle.
Kelly Maher, CLC, CLE
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