What is Oversupply of Breastmilk and How to Manage It
Read time: 5 minutes
What to know about producing too much breastmilk
What is breastmilk oversupply and what causes it?
What are the symptoms of oversupply when breastfeeding?
Learn how to manage the symptoms of oversupply
How and when to regulate or reduce breastmilk production
What is oversupply of breastmilk?
Oversupply, also called “hyperlactation” or “overabundant milk production”, is when your body produces more breastmilk than what your baby needs.1
Is it breastmilk oversupply or is it engorgement?
Engorgement and fullness are very normal in the early days postpartum. During these first weeks, breastmilk production is hormonally based, causing the body to overproduce breastmilk.7 Once the body knows how much milk baby needs each day (by how often and how much baby breastfeeds), milk supply settles down to match their exact intake.7,8 This is called supply-and-demand. You’ll often notice less engorgement and more supple breasts once this change happens.
Oversupply, on the other hand, is when the pain or fullness is extreme and continues beyond the first few weeks or so.2
Causes of breastmilk oversupply
Pumping too much breastmilk. If you are pumping a lot on top of having your baby nurse fully, this can cause an oversupply. Extra pumping tells the body to make more milk over what your baby needs. The silicone manual pumps (Haaka-style pumps) can also cause oversupply when used at each feed.1,2
Metabolic or hormonal conditions. For example, high amounts of the hormone prolactin in your body may cause an oversupply.1,2
Certain medications or herbs1,2
What are the symptoms of breastmilk oversupply?
Common symptoms of oversupply include:
Persistent and/or painful breast fullness and engorgement
Recurrent plugged ducts or mastitis
Frequent leaking between feedings
Persistent nipple pain from baby clamping down on the nipple to control the flow, along with other latching issues
Baby is fussy or gassy, and may pop on and off the breast
Reflux/frequent spitting up
Explosive stools, which can be green or frothy in color
Baby chokes or sputters at the breast
What can I do to manage oversupply?
We can look at managing oversupply in two ways:
Symptom management: Helping you be more comfortable as well as baby having a more relaxed feed.
Breastmilk supply adjustment: The other way is to regulate or reduce your milk supply to a more manageable level.
4 tips to help manage oversupply symptoms
#1 Change your breastfeeding position
One way to help both you and your baby feel better is to change up your breastfeeding position. Having your baby on top of you while you’re reclining back can help make the flow of breastmilk more manageable for your little one.
Positions that may help include side-lying, laid back, and the saddle hold (also called the Australian or Down Under position).
Learn about: 6 Breastfeeding Positions for You and Your Baby
#2 Try Reverse Pressure Softening
If your breasts are so full that baby is having a hard time latching on, a technique called reverse-pressure softening may help.4
Reverse pressure softening involves compressing your areola (the darker area outside of your nipple) with your fingers, slowly moving around the breast. This moves fluid away from the areola, making it softer for your little one to latch onto.
One method for performing reverse pressure softening:
Lie on your back or sit reclining
Using two hands, place your fingertips on your areola at the base of the nipple. Each hand coming in from opposite directions so that your nipple is surrounded on each side.
Pressure firmly back toward your chest wall for 30 to 60 seconds (not so hard that it is painful). Slowly drag your fingers away from the nipple while still pressing. Think about ‘squeegeeing’ milk and fluids away from the nipple.
Start again at the base of the nipple with your fingers in a new position, moving clockwise around the nipple.
Continue until your areola is more supple and soft.6
#3 Let the initial breastmilk let-down spray out
When you are engorged, the initial let down (when milk first starts coming out) can be very strong and difficult for your baby to manage. This can cause baby to reject the breast, gulp quickly, swallowing too much air, and be generally uncomfortable.7,9 Letting the initial forceful spray of milk flow into a collection container or washcloth can help baby breastfeed.
Tips to help with a forceful let-down:
Hand express before latching baby to stimulate the let-down
Catch the let-down in a burp cloth or collection container
Latch baby once the spray has slowed to a drip
#4 Hand express when needed
Hand expression or pumping for just a couple of minutes to relieve extreme fullness can be a helpful, especially when block feeding (more information on block feeding below).
Make sure you are only expressing a small amount – 1 ounce or so – to prevent making an oversupply problem worse. The goal is to feel some relief from engorgement, but not to pump fully.
Read More: How and When to Hand Express
Tips for regulating or reducing breastmilk supply
Although sometimes oversupply can be resolved by stopping the extra pumping, there are cases where we need to consider reducing milk production to a manageable level. Most of these are ideally done with the help of a lactation consultant.
Exclusively pumping and reducing supply
If you are mostly or exclusively pumping, you may be able to manage oversupply by slowly reducing the time spent pumping or gradually reducing the number of ounces pumped. This may look like reducing your pumping session by 3 minutes or ½ oz every couple of days until you feel you are in a good place.
Be sure to hand express a small amount between pumping sessions if your breasts become too engorged and painful.
Exclusively breastfeeding and reducing supply
If you are mostly or exclusively nursing at the breast, one technique to reduce breastmilk supply is called block feeding. There are a few methods, but it is very important to get the guidance of a lactation professional or breastfeeding-friendly physician before trying it.
It’s also worth noting that many lactation professionals do not recommend using block feeding in the first month or two before supply regulates on its own.1
Block feeding methods include:
Basic Block Feeding. The most basic method is only feeding off one breast at a time, frequently in 3-hour cycles.10 The length of time that baby spends at one breast often depends on how much extra milk mom is producing.
Full Drainage and Block Feeding (FDBF) is a more aggressive method that involves draining both breasts fully with a pump, then switching breasts every 3 hours.5 Intervals may vary depending on your needs. It’s important to check in with yourself on how it's going and making changes if necessary.
Intuitive Block Feeding. One "safe" way to do a more intuitive block feeding is to use your instinct to let you know when it's time to start feeding baby on the other side. Switch sides when you feel the second side has filled up.1,2
Herbs or even medications are sometimes used to help reduce milk supply in cases of oversupply. These should only be used after talking with your doctor and lactation consultant.1
While oversupply can be overwhelming and painful, there are ways to manage it and continue to a successful and comfortable breastfeeding journey.
Dealing with plugged ducts and mastitis
You may also need to manage cases of plugged ducts and mastitis that may occur more often when dealing with engorgement and an oversupply.
Still have questions about how to treat clogs or mastitis? Chat live with our Happy Baby Experts for free breastfeeding support, Monday - Friday 8am-6pm ET. Chat now!
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