Many mothers that breastfeed worry that their baby isn’t getting enough milk when they nurse. Some breastfeeding moms, however, have exactly the opposite concern, as their breasts seemingly produce too much milk.
Most of the time, milk production is determined by how often the baby feeds. With hyperlactation, the breasts produce too much milk, regardless of how often the baby nurses, creating an oversupply of breast milk.
The Problem with Having too Much of a Good Thing
For moms that struggle with establishing a steady supply of milk, it might not seem as though having an oversupply could be a problem. Having too much of a good thing, however, comes with a host of difficulties for both mother and baby.
How an Oversupply Affects Breastfeeding Moms
When a mother produces too much milk, her breasts are more likely to become engorged, which increases the risk of developing blocked ducts, and painful inflammation known as mastitis. When the breasts become swollen with too much milk, they will feel tender to the touch, and the letdown reflex will become very painful for the mother.
When moms have an oversupply of breast milk, their breasts are also more likely to leak unexpectedly throughout the day which can increase feelings of embarrassment and lead to greater social withdrawal and isolation.
Why Having too Much Breast Milk isn’t a Good Thing for Baby
Having an oversupply of milk can also make it more difficult for the baby to be able to latch onto the breast correctly, which increases soreness of the breast and nipple, and makes it more difficult for the baby to be able to nurse. Sometimes, the milk will spray very forcibly from the breast during the letdown phase when there is an oversupply. This makes it more difficult for the baby to be able to keep up with the flow of the milk and increases the amount of air that is swallowed while nursing.
When babies try to nurse from a breast with an oversupply of milk, they are more likely to be fussy during and after feeding. They produce more gas from swallowing so much air, and will need to be burped more frequently, and may develop colic from the gas. Their stools are more likely to be runny, and there is an increased risk of developing irritation such as diaper rash.
These babies will also want to nurse more frequently, but may also arch their back away from the breast during feeding as they will often feel frustrated at the rate of flow of milk from the breast. An oversupply of milk can also affect the amount of nutrition that the baby receives when they nurse, as they are less likely to be able to nurse long enough to completely drain the breast. This means that they are receiving more of the foremilk in the breast and less of the hind milk that is produced and stored in the deeper tissues.
How to Cope with an Oversupply of Milk
Some breastfeeding moms find that relieving the pressure caused by an oversupply of milk very helpful in reducing the pain and swelling. Applying warm compresses for about 10 minutes before nursing, or taking a warm shower, and then expressing some milk into a cup or towel before allowing baby to nurse can make it easier for baby to latch on. Once baby has finished their breastfeeding session, apply cold compresses to the breast for about 20 minutes to decrease swelling.
Changing the position that you hold your baby while she nurses can make it easier for baby to be able to control the flow of milk from the breast. Experiment with holding baby facing you and positioning, so that baby’s head is slightly above the breast so that the flow of milk is less forceful. You might also consider allowing baby to feed by laying on top of you and the breast while you lean back in a reclining position.
While most breastfeeding moms alternate breasts every few minutes during a single feeding session, an oversupply of milk can be better managed through the use of block feeding. Allow baby to feed exclusively from the same breast when feeding so that the breast is drained of both fore and hind milk, usually over a two hour period. As long as the breast feels as though it was drained during the session, offer the alternate breast at the next feeding. After a few days of block feeding, the breast will begin to naturally regulate the amount of milk that is produced, eliminating the oversupply.
When to Call Your Doctor or Lactation Consultant
It’s important to consult with your doctor if you begin to run a temperature during an oversupply that leads to engorgement, as you may have an infection in the breast tissues. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, an oversupply of milk will continue, and it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor or lactation consultant should this occur.
Simple home remedies such as placing a fresh raw cabbage leaf on the breast for 20 minutes, or drinking tea made from sage, can reduce milk production. Medicines such as a decongestant or hormone can also be prescribed to help reduce the overabundance of milk, but none of these remedies should be tried without first consulting with your healthcare professional.