There are many ups and downs when it comes to breastfeeding. We often hear about latch issues, painful feeding experiences, and concerns about not making enough milk. Another common occurrence is breastmilk oversupply. Although this might be an excellent problem, it also has disadvantages.
Oversupply of breastmilk can look different for everyone. Some signs of oversupply may include your baby coughing, choking, or gulping at the breast, a feeling of a strong or forceful let-down, full or engorged breasts after or shortly after a feeding, and frequent episodes of clogged ducts or mastitis.1,2
Common Causes of Breastmilk Oversupply
You might be thinking, “I thought my body made the perfect amount for my baby,” which is usually accurate, but in some cases, we send cues to the body to produce more milk. Common causes of oversupply include extra pumping to build up a freezer supply, increase milk supply, or relieve pressure from your already full breasts.1
The “supply and demand” theory comes into play here. I like to phrase this theory as “demand and supply” because the demand is what comes first. The demand on your body creates the supply needed to meet that demand. Breastfeeding and pumping, the demand, is signaling your body to keep producing more milk, the supply. In some situations, the mother has done nothing to stimulate extra milk production and produces large amounts of milk right from the start. This may be due to supplements, hormones, medications, the number of pregnancies, or a long list of other causes.3 Understanding the possible causes can help you know which solution may be best for you.
Tips for Managing Breastmilk Oversupply
It can be frustrating and uncomfortable for you and your baby if you have an oversupply. Fortunately, some tips and tricks can help you and your baby work with the surplus and balance out your breastmilk supply. It is essential to reach out to your IBCLC to ensure you do have an oversupply before trying to reduce it. You want to ensure your baby is getting everything they need, and you don’t want to lower the supply if the demand is required. If you feel confident that an oversupply is what you are experiencing, here are five tips you can try at home to help.
Try changing your feeding position.1,2 Gravity helps everything flow; in many breastfeeding positions, your baby is slightly lower than the breast. The laid-back position is excellent for getting comfortable and letting your baby control the feed. This position has mom reclined back with baby positioned on her chest so baby is above the nipple. Your baby can latch on in more of a face-down approach, allowing them to control their flow. Your baby may pop off for a quick break if needed but can easily latch on again when ready. You can think of it as nursing “uphill,” which may reduce that strong ejection reflex.
Avoid Emptying Your Breasts
If you are pumping or hand expressing to relieve pressure or feeling fullness, try to express only an amount to be comfortable versus emptying the breast.1 Remember, an empty breast will signal your brain to produce more and lead to an oversupply of breastmilk. Expressing is the artificial demand on the breast, naturally increasing the supply. Try just expressing to a comfortable level and using cold cloths to help relieve any pain and swelling on the breast.
Stay Away from Certain Supplements
Avoid supplements that are made to help with nursing. Some supplements, including teas or cookies, encourage breastmilk production using galactagogues.4 These supplements do not make your breastmilk “better,” but they may stimulate increased production. Eliminating these products if you are using them may help to decrease your supply.
Offer Breast When Baby Wants It
Use responsive feeding versus scheduled feeding unless your health care provider recommends otherwise.1,2 You offer the breast when your baby tells you they want it. Your baby will take the amount they want and need, allowing your body to know how much milk to produce. Sometimes using scheduled feeds can lead to breastmilk oversupply if you feed more than the baby is asking for or undersupply if you wait too long between meals. It’s best to follow your baby’s cues.
Use a Block Feeding Approach
You should use a block feeding approach under the supervision of a lactation specialist, but it can be very effective for managing a breastmilk oversupply. A block approach means you feed from one breast for a specific block of time.2 An example would be for 2 hours, you would feed your baby off one breast no matter how many times your baby needs to latch. After 2 hours, switch to the other breast and do the same. This helps to encourage the complete emptying of one breast and can help signal the brain to balance milk production. If the breast you are not using is uncomfortable, hand express to relieve pressure and be comfortable, but don’t try and do too much. After a day or two, you can up the block feed to 3-hour blocks if you have not noticed an improvement.
All these solutions can be tried at home, but it is always best to speak directly to a lactation specialist when working with a perceived oversupply of breastmilk. Meeting your baby’s needs is always the priority, so finding the root of the issue is essential. You can try some of these tips, and if you have any concerns, reach out to your local health care provider for guidance.