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.)
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Here's what usually happens when you have an oversupply,
and your breastfed baby comes to the breast to nurse....
Your baby will latch on to the breast, and take a suckle or two. Normally a baby has to work for a let down, but when you have an oversupply it doesn't take much for the floodgates to open. After that initial contact with your breast, your milk starts flowing, Your baby's eyes go wide, they pull back their heads, wiggle their bodies, and start to make clicking sounds with their sucks. They're swallowing rapidly, gulping, and sometimes even cough or choke on the milk flow. When they let go there's milk everywhere and you're scrambling for towel. Then they come back on and repeat until things settle down, and just a few short minutes later the feeding is over.
Does this sound familiar?
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.)
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.
She recently was supported by the Successful Breastfeeding LLC team to correct her oversupply and solve the issues that were making her breastfed baby really fussy and uncomfortable. Check out what she had to say about her experience working with our established virtual lactation practice.
I'm Kelly! As far as credentials go I am a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC), Certified Lactation Educator (CLE), HUG trained, breastfeeding counselor, a mother of 4 beautiful kids, and advocate for families. My personal experience with breastfeeding fueled my passion, and generated my mission. I founded Successful Breastfeeding because I saw a need for a better, more thorough, and individualized support for breastfeeding moms- especially working breastfeeding moms! I provide an approach to breastfeeding support that you won't find anywhere else! Breastfeeding is not one size fits all, and breastfeeding support should not be either!
Kelly Maher, CLC, CLE
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