As difficult as it is for some women to have enough milk for their babies, many women suffer from problems as a result of too much milk supply. This can happen to a mother who has been pumping for a premature infant or someone who has been both nursing their baby directly and also pumping. Some women are advised to pump in the first week or two after the baby’s birth because of a temporary problem with the baby’s ability to suckle, or a temporary problem with their supply. They do not realize that continuing with the pumping is causing the problems they are having with constant engorgement, leaking, or a baby who is coughing and choking during a feeding because they are overwhelmed with the flow of milk. It may sound like a problem you would like to have, but believe me it is not a good thing.
What is oversupply?
So what exactly is oversupply and how do you know that you have the problem? As the term implies, when you have an oversupply of milk your body is producing more milk than your baby needs to consume. Because of this oversupply, your breasts feel painfully full even after your baby has had a feeding. Your breasts may leak milk constantly. When the milk lets down, it will flow so vigorously that it may appear that your baby is having difficulty keeping up with the flow. The baby may pull away coughing and sputtering several times during the feeding while milk spurts out all over the two of you. The baby may also experience an excessive amount of gas in their intestinal tract because they are getting an excess of sugary foremilk during the feeding.
What causes oversupply?
A number of factors can come into play and result in an oversupply of milk. It may be that a particular mother is just a natural overproducer of milk. In days gone by, women who were natural overproducers often hired themselves out as “wet nurses” to feed the babies of women who were not able to produce enough milk or who chose not to breastfeed. I have worked with many women who seem to have developed an oversupply because of over stimulation of the breasts through pumping. It is important to understand that a woman’s body usually produces milk in response to the amount of milk removed by her infant and the frequency of that milk removal. The system is designed so that the body can respond to an infant’s need by increased production. Use of a breast pump is an artificial way to remove milk from the breast. It is extremely helpful in situations where the baby is not able to suckle correctly or the mother has to be separated from her baby for prolonged periods of time. The over use of pumping is what can get the system out of whack.
What should I do about oversupply?
When an oversupply of milk is caused by excess pumping, the answer is to gradually decrease the amount and frequency of pumping sessions until you can discontinue all pumping sessions without feeling engorged. If you have a severe problem, you will need the advice of a Lactation Consultant to help you work through this process. If you are a natural overproducer of milk, you can usually keep the supply under control by having your baby empty just one breast at each feeding and by not offering the second breast at that feeding unless the baby is giving clear hunger cues. A natural over producer of milk will also need to be careful how often they pump their breasts for milk and the techniques they use with pumping. This is also a situation where a Lactation Consultant can help with the development of a satisfactory plan.