Oversupply: When You Have Too Much Breast Milk

Breastfeeding. Some people love it and some people hate it. To some it comes naturally and others work their tail off to make it work.

I have spent a total of 28 months of my life in the last 50 months breastfeeding. And for all 28 months, I’ve had an oversupply of breast milk. I’m not complaining here. The main reason a mom weans her baby is due to a concern of not having enough milk to feed their baby, but I’m here to give you a perspective from the other side.

But how is having TOO much milk a bad thing?oversupply Here are some reasons an oversupply can cause challenges when feeding:

  • Forceful letdown – with all my kiddos from day one, I have had a forceful let down. That means often when they finally latch on, they are chocking and pulling off my boob after a minute in. Obviously, that feeding is not off to a great start, but even worse is the after effects. Horrible gas (because they are often sucking in air versus just the milk), lots of hiccuping, pulling off, spitting up and colicky cries.
  • Imbalance of milk – breast milk is amazing and is made up of foremilk and hindmilk. The first milk out in a feeding is the foremilk, which has a more lactose in it than the hindmilk. With an oversupply, often times the baby will get too much foremilk because by the time they get around to the hindmilk, their little tummy is already full.  Too much foremilk can cause gassiness and spit up because of too much lactose being emptied into their bowels. This can also cause a baby to eat more frequently because the foremilk does not actually fill their little tummy up – and you know everyone wants to nurse constantly.
  • Engorgement – and everything that comes with that fun. I’m not a busty individual in real life, but in breastfeeding life, I bring out the big guns. But while they might be nice to look at, the reality is, it can be very uncomfortable. It often hits me in the middle of the night. You know, the first time when your baby decides to sleep longer than a three hour stretch. At hour four, I’m usually awake because I’m in so much pain. If some relief is not provided, it can eventually result in some plugged ducts or worst of all, mastitis.
  • Leaking!  Whether is my baby crying, a random baby crying or a let down when it’s been three hours since the last feeding – let’s just say I wish they had subscribe and save on Amazon for nursing pads because I would need them!

Some tips that I have found in managing my oversupply:

  • Offer only one breast at each feeding – this is easier said than done for me because sometimes I’m so full that I just want them to eat. But, I quickly learned that if I offer my babe too much milk, it inevitably ends up being spit right back on me – so lesson learned and I deal with being a little uncomfortable.
  • Alter your nursing position – lean slightly back or nurse lying down. Both of these go against gravity and help reduce the forceful flow of milk. But make sure you have a burp cloth handy because there will likely be some spills.
  • Relax during your let down. Sometimes this works for me, but relaxing as a mom in general is easier said than done.
  • Avoid pumping or expressing milk – unless absolutely necessary. I’m guilty of this one for sure.  Mainly because I’m often in pain and just want some relief.
  • DONATE to a milk bank. After I stopped nursing my first kid, I had SO much frozen milk.  That’s when I found out about human milk banks (we have one in KC at St. Luke’s on the Plaza). Donating my frozen milk made me feel so good about the work that I put into getting all of that milk out!

Now if you are on the other end of the spectrum and struggle with your milk supply, please know that I (and other mamas with an oversupply) empathize with you. I have gone to breastfeeding support groups with all three of my babies and there have been times that I am in tears listening to mamas who are struggling with a low supply. I was so happy a few weeks ago to go back to group and hear that one of the mom’s that was struggling early on was doing great with nursing – I made sure to tell her after how happy I was for her.

But if you are struggling with an oversupply and have that pesky forceful letdown, know it can be useful in non-traditional situations. Like if someone tells you to go “somewhere private” to nurse – you can spray them with your milk very easily.  It can also result in comical situations like some mamas have detailed here.  And apparently you can accidentally give your kiddo a 5 o’clock shadow if you don’t watch out (unrelated to oversupply, but funny).

Just like every baby is different, every mom is different, too. While I know that an oversupply is not the worst thing in the world, let’s be aware of the wide range of issues that come with breastfeeding and be there to support each other.  No matter what way we choose to feed our baby, we are all in this crazy journey of motherhood together.

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One Response to Oversupply: When You Have Too Much Breast Milk

  1. Lisa October 1, 2016 at 8:52 am #

    I had an oversupply due to pumping for 2 months straight (8 times a day!) for my preemie while he was in the NICU and unable to breastfeed. Then I just had a bunch of milk hanging out in my freezer (and three other friends’ freezers!) for several months before I decided that we were never going to use all of it as he rarely took a bottle. I wanted to give it to the milk bank, but I couldn’t because of a medication I have to take. I wasn’t sure if anyone else would want it, but it’s too valuable to literally pour down the drain! It also represented hours and hours of indirect care for my child and I didn’t want to waste that if another babe needed it.

    If you are open and honest about it, there are several groups on Facebook full of mamas, dads and other caretakers in need of breastmilk – it’s a milk sharing group and I had about 10 responses within a couple of hours! (One is Human Milk for Human Babies – {Your State} and another is Eats on Feets.) I quickly met up with a lady whose sweet babe couldn’t take formula and her own supply was too low and she was determined to feed her baby breastmilk for a year – she got it all and was so happy to take it!

    So if the milkbank won’t take it – don’t stop there! 🙂