Navigating Oversupply: Understanding and Managing Breastfeeding Challenges

When most people think of difficulties with breastfeeding, they usually think of low supply (which thankfully is fairly uncommon), instead of thinking of oversupply, which seems to be more common. A breast milk oversupply (simply put), is when your breasts make more milk than your baby needs. It usually presents itself as a faster than usual let down, increased breast milk flow or a large volume of milk. Typically, your breast milk production will align with your baby's demands within roughly six weeks of breastfeeding. However, if this balance isn't achieved, you might end up producing more milk than your baby requires, a condition referred to as “oversupply” or “hyperlactation.”

Considering many people refer to breast milk as “liquid gold” you may be wondering why an oversupply of breastmilk could be an issue. Here are a few ways oversupply can negatively impact your baby:

    • They could choke and/or have difficulty latching due to the high rate of milk flow, leading to a feeding aversion.
    • It can cause excessive gas or spit up, leading to colic or reflux symptoms.
    • It can lead to other digestive issues, such as green frothy bowel movements.
    • It can lead to difficulty or fussiness feeding fully at the breast. Often baby fills up with foremilk and doesn’t get to the more satiating hind milk which leads to your baby always being hungry and snacking instead of feeding fully.

Now for some families, having an oversupply is not an issue. Their baby is able to latch deeply and not be affected by the excess milk. For other families, an oversupply can be detrimental to their breastfeeding journey or require intervention from a lactation professional to help manage.

How can you avoid creating an oversupply?

    • Don’t feed on a “schedule”, flexible feed times work best!
    • Don’t overuse your breasts, feed fully on demand!
    • Avoid pumping more than once a day, if not exclusively pumping.

For the most part, oversupply is caused by hormonal imbalances, breast anatomy and overstimulation of milk production. For some, we can avoid an oversupply, but for others the best option is to manage the oversupply until it corrects itself. The only thing we can control is not to over stimulate milk production.

It is very normal in the beginning to be feeding at 8 – 10 times in a 24-hour period. Sometimes feeding more often than that or adding in too many pump sessions, can cause your body to produce too much milk. This is one of the reasons we always suggest feeding fully at every feed, so that feeds are naturally spaced out every 2-3 hours. Feeding more frequently than this can lead to oversupply and inflammation, which can cause mastitis.

If you already feel like you have an oversupply, here are some recommendations:

    • Block feed or feed from one side each feed, also known as “single sided nursing”. This avoids lactose overload and helps reduce/manage supply. 
    • Temporarily stop pumping. Only pump to relieve engorgement. We know you may need/want a freezer stash, but we will make time for that later.
    • Temporarily stop using the Haakaa with suction. You can use it to catch milk from the opposite side, but avoid suctioning it to the breast.
    • Tune into your let down. Try pulling baby off when there is a let-down, wait for it to pass, and then resume feeding so they aren’t sucking while the milk is actively spraying. This will help avoid excessive air intake.
    • Try paced nursing. Lay back in a reclining position to slow the flow of milk from the breast & take frequent burp breaks so slow your baby down at the breast to decrease milk demand.
    • Reach out for help! We offer email and or phone support through our Breast Feeding Basics course and we can help you strategize how best to manage your oversupply and get you right back on track to breastfeeding success. We also offer 1:1 consulting.

All of these are temporary solutions to work towards correcting the oversupply. Once the oversupply is corrected, you can go back to double sided nursing and pumping, just don’t over do it. 

We highly recommend starting before birth to develop a feeding plan that meets YOUR family's needs and supports your feeding goals through at least the first year of your baby’s life. It is so important to have a practical and realistic feeding plan in place from birth, so you can be prepared to meet your feeding goals and avoid any issues that could arise. 

Whether it’s exclusively offering breastmilk to your baby, bottle feeding, or combination feeding, we can help you via our Online Programs and 1:1 consulting to support your family and how you choose to feed your baby.

To book a 1:1 Lactation Consultation, email hellomilk@fullerfeedings.com to schedule a 30, 60, or 90-minute call with our Certified Breastfeeding Specialists® or if you prefer to work at your own pace, our self-guided BREASTFEEDING BASICS and BOTTLE FEEDING BASICS are great ways to support your feeding and troubleshoot any problems that may arise.

And if you are looking for a more comprehensive approach to support your baby (including feeding), we offer ONLINE INFANT & TODDLER SLEEP PROGRAMS that teach you a simple, 3-step, needs based, NO CRY IT OUT approach to sleep that can be safely implemented from birth and alleviates the need to sleep train.

Questions? Email hellosleep@fullfeedings.com and ask us anything!!!

Sources:
Better Breastfeeding by Linda D. Dahl M.D.