Typically, when you think about breastfeeding struggles the thought of too much milk (milk oversupply) or an overactive letdown isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
I didn’t read too many articles titled “How to stop choking my baby with breast milk” or “How to decrease my supply, but just like a little because I’m anxious about tanking it and not being able to breastfeed”.
Then again, those article titles are too damn long, no wonder I didn’t locate them in the search engines.
Let’s Talk About Oversupply, but First a Little Background
As most of you know, my daughter went into the NICU when she was born, so right from the get go I was trying to pump to store up milk to take to her. I was eating the right number of calories, if not more (thanks, pizza and Twix), I was drinking water, and I was pumping a decent amount. Things were going well.
I’m not sure if I was one of those whose body over-produced the hormones that signal milk production or if I played a role in creating it through a combination of pumping and taking supplements to increase my supply (see my article on how to increase your supply!).
If I had to guess I would say my body was probably just really excited to make milk because I also had an overactive letdown. However, the way I managed breastfeeding and pumping likely contributed. My daughter would literally choke on my milk when it would come down. It came out like a firehose and it was too much for her to handle. Everyone in my house was sprayed at one time or another, my husband, dog 1, dog 2. If you’re in the line of fire, you’re getting hit.
Feeling Guilty for Making Too Much Milk
In the beginning, well for the first few months really, I remember being so tired, because when my daughter would wake to nurse I would have to wake up, nurse her, keep her upright for about 30 minutes so she didn’t barf all over herself, and then I would have to pump because she didn’t empty my breasts enough and I would wake up with sore, rock hard boobs that leaked all through my tank top. The only way to stop it was to pump, which in turn told my body that it needed to keep producing the same amount. So, every nursing escapade was about an hour-long ordeal and I was managing my pumping poorly.
I didn’t need to empty my breasts. But I didn’t know that, I just didn’t want to be in pain. I also felt very guilty for being frustrated that I had an oversupply. I knew people who didn’t produce enough and it was very rough on them.
Here I was making more than enough to feed my child and three others, and I was ungrateful. I had a really tough time trying to navigate those feelings.
Do You have an Oversupply or Forceful Letdown?
Here are some symptoms of an oversupply and forceful letdown courtesy of La Leche League International:
- Baby cries a lot and is often very irritable and/or restless
- Baby may sometimes gulp, choke, sputter, or cough during feedings at breast
- Baby may seem to bite or clamp down on the nipple while feeding
- Milk sprays when baby comes off, especially at the beginning of a feeding
- Mother may have sore nipples
- Baby may arch and hold themselves very stiffly, sometimes screaming
- Feedings often seem like battles, with baby nursing fitfully on and off
- Feedings may be short, lasting only 5 or 10 minutes total
- Baby may seem to have a “love-hate” relationship with the breast
- Baby may burp or pass gas frequently between feedings, tending to spit up a lot
- Baby may have green, watery or foamy, explosive stools
- Mother’s breasts feel very full most of the time
- Mother may have frequent plugged ducts, which can sometimes lead to mastitis (breast infection)
Enough is Enough, You Need Sleep
After about three months my mother-in-law told me that I needed to stop pumping at night so I could get a good night’s sleep. She saw how tired and irritable I was. I argued back, what if I did that and my supply tanked? I was convinced if I stopped night pumping that would happen. We needed my supply to be up, if not a bit much, so that we could save and store breast milk for when my husband watched out daughter during the day.
Eventually, I relented and I stopped pumping. The first few nights I would wake up with rock hard boobs and a milk-covered mattress. Then slowly but surely, it stopped happening. I was able to condition my body, my breasts, not produce so much milk during the nights. I actually got to sleep. REAL SLEEP. The kind a person with a newborn would dream about.
I still pumped four times a day, once in the morning after she nursed, twice at work, and then once in the evening after she nursed to sleep. I produced an excessive amount of milk, so much that I was able to donate over 3,000 ounces over the course of a year.
Important Things to Note if You Cut Down on the Pumping
I also lucked out and never got mastitis from cutting out the pumping. It can be a concern when you go from emptying your breasts, to not emptying them. Watch for pain in the breasts, skin redness, chills, fatigue, or fever. If you’re experiencing any of these contact your doctor. It’s not something to mess around with. Your baby and your family need a healthy and happy mama.
Things Will Get Better, Hang in There Mama
Typically, as your baby gets older, they will learn to adapt or you’ll be able to reduce your supply. My daughter became a champ at handling my let down and eventually grew frustrated with bottle nipple sizes that didn’t produce the same flow. My husband would say “She’s getting irritated when I try to feed her.” – I suggested a faster flow nipple. Sure enough, she was back to eating and being happy again.
The only thing you can really do with an oversupply is try to ride it out and condition your body to produce less. “Hey man, this baby doesn’t need THAT much milk, pump your breaks.” You can start by just removing barely enough milk to be comfortable.
Remember, if you’re emptying them you’re telling your body to refill. So pump just enough to be comfortable and slowly you can get to a comfortable level where you’re making enough for your baby, perhaps enough to store, but not soaking through your tank tops and nursing pads.
You can reduce the forceful/overactive let down by removing some milk prior to feeding the baby. Pump an ounce or two to lessen the force. But not too much, remember supply and demand!
(Remember, I’m NOT a doctor. Don’t take anything I say as medical advice. I just have opinions and thoughts!)
Looking Foward to a Little Less Milk and a Little More Sleep
When my daughter turned one, I cut out pumping all together. The first few days were uncomfortable but not unbearable. Now at 17 months we only nurse in the mornings and the evenings before bed – and there are no longer issues with an overactive letdown or an oversupply… and surprise, surprise, my body does make enough for her. Just enough. No more, no less. If I could go back to December 2015 and tell the new mom me to slow down, I would. I would have gotten a lot more sleep and been in a lot less pain.
We Want to Hear From You
Tell us about your experiences with breastfeeding. Did you have an oversupply? Overactive letdown? What was your pumping schedule like? Comment below.
Photos provided by the author with consent.