My Milk Runneth Over: Breastfeeding and Oversupply

One of my main worries when it came to breastfeeding my daughter was that I wouldn’t be able to produce enough milk. In my mind, breast size and the amount of milk made went hand in hand. So naturally, given that I wasn’t on the hefty side, I figured that I wouldn’t make sufficient milk.

This is one of the main worries for mothers- not being able to meet their child’s demand. At no point did breastfeeding and oversupply go together in my mind. Does it ever for any mother? Hmmm I wonder if I’ll be making too much milk for my baby. Yea. That doesn’t seem like one of those “logical” questions.

Early on in my journey, I just knew something was wrong so I enlisted the services of a certified breastfeeding consultant. She definitely helped me a lot and I just thought I’d share my experience and what I learnt about my condition and handing it.

What Is Oversupply?

As the name suggests, it’s basically having more than your baby needs. When your baby is just born, your body doesn’t automatically know how much he/she will need. For the first few days, baby just receives colostrum. It’s belly is so tiny and hence, it doesn’t take much to be full. As milk “comes in”, it is often more than what your baby needs until a proper rhythm is established and your body adjusts to making exactly what baby needs and no more. With oversupply, I guess the body misses the mark in a sense. It produces way more than what your baby can take in or takes in at a given time.

What’s The Big Deal Anyway?

Sounds like a pretty good problem to have right? I mean, it’s probably better to have more milk than to not have enough. I definitely was low-key happy to hear I had an oversupply issue because it meant I was making milk!!!!! #milkfactorymom. But, yes there IS a but! It isn’t always a good thing! What I learnt about it was invaluable.

In order for baby to grow properly, there needs to be a balance between the foremilk and hindmilk. What is that? Ye. When the consultant first started telling me about foremilk and hindmilk, I was confused. I thought it was just…MILK. Well technically yes it is just milk but apparently, the composition of the milk changes as the feeding session goes on.

Foremilk is the first set of milk to come from the breast. It’s watery. Hindmilk is richer and fat and comes after about 5 minutes of breastfeeding though no one can pinpoint EXACTLY when this transition occurs. She broke it down like this:- foremilk is the appetizer. It whets the appetite in anticipation of the main course which is the hindmilk.

Just as you can’t fill up on appetizers alone, neither can baby be filled from just receiving foremilk. He needs that rich, fatty hindmilk to hold him longer. Having a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance aka oversupply doesn’t quite do the job well until you get it under control. That’s because baby will be taking in much more foremilk than hindmilk; it takes a bit longer to reach the hindmilk.

Do I have An Oversupply Problem?

You may be tempted to think you have an oversupply problem if you experience engorgement but that isn’t always the case. As a matter of fact, my engorgement was almost totally under control when I was diagnosed with foremilk/hindmilk imbalance.

When I had my consultation, the first thing I was asked was if I think I’m making enough milk for my baby. I automatically said no. Not only was I not 2 cup sizes bigger, but people’s constant comments and questions about why my daughter fed so much and if I was sure that she was getting sufficient milk, started to get in my head. I hate to admit it but as strong as I was trying to be it was eating away at me. What if they were right? So I said no just in case; I wanted to be on the “safe” side to avoid disappointment.

When she asked me why I felt that way, the only answer I came up with was that my daughter fed frequently and was always fussy and gassy. At that point she did an assessment and gave me my diagnosis. I’ve listed some signs that you may have an oversupply. Please note, I didn’t experience all. I experienced 4 out of the 6 mentioned.

  • Your milk may come in very soon after birth (before 24-48 hours)
  • You may constantly be leaking breastmilk through your clothes, on to your sheets etc
  • Your baby may choke or gasp when latching on due to milk pouring or squirting into the mouth
  • Baby is somewhat fussy at the breast and struggles to settle into the feed
  • Baby may have a slow weight gain after birth lots of urine passed but stooling less than 3 times in 24 hours. Some babies may have a rapid weight gain.
  • Some babies may pass stool with small streaks of blood

How Can I Balance It?

Having an oversupply doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Finding out
the real issue for me was a blessing because I was able to work on it without quitting breastfeeding prematurely. Below are the tips my consultant gave me for managing my oversupply.

  • Feed from only one breast for a 2-4 hour period. The other breast should be pumped just a bit for comfort and to avoid engorgement. If oversupply is very bad, switch breasts every 6 hours.
  • Changing feeding position to side lying or laid back or baby sitting up to feed facing mom will help baby to control the flow.
  • Wait until letdown occurs then remove baby if he is already latched. Allow the milk to drip or run into a towel. Once the milk drip slows down, re-latch your baby.
  • Hand express slightly until the flow slows and then latch baby. Be careful because hand expressing can stimulate milk production which is the opposite of what is needed.
  • Use cool compresses on the unused breast. This is especially important if you pumped/hand-expressed for comfort.
  • Between feeds, use a cool compress for 30 minutes to decrease blood flow and milk production.
  • You may need to fully drain the breasts then block feed. It’s best to use a double electric pump to drain the breasts then feed for about 3 hours per side.

What Worked For Me

In managing my foremilk/hindmilk imbalance, I used 3 of the tips mentioned above.

I did block feeding (without fully draining my breasts first) for 4 hour intervals. I called this self-imposed engorgement. While one breast was draining well, the other was uncomfortably engorged. For as long as possible, I tried not to hand express or pump. I actually did it once and it sent everything out of whack just when I thought I was getting it under control.

I also changed my feeding position. I used a lot of laid back feeding. Many times my milk was squirting all over the place but when I laid back, the flow started to slow. This helped my daughter a lot because she no longer pulled away from the breast crying or turned away because of my forceful letdown.

Perhaps the most soothing thing was the cool compress. Well, I used cold compresses. This helped with the engorgement side of things and between feeds, I wasn’t filling back up as fast as before.

All in all, oversupply can be good and bad. Good in that you can catch all that extra milk and store it for later. However, the discomforts and fussiness of baby aren’t the best so it helps to get the situation under control before you lose your mind.

It’s very important to pay extra attention to your breasts during this period because it’s very easy to develop mastitis. Keep an eye out for any lumps, pains, red inflamed areas on the breasts along with feverish symptoms.

If you’re having any issues, I strongly suggest that you find a lactation consultant/breastfeeding specialist to offer a correct diagnosis and help you out.

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10 Comments

  1. Igor says:

    Hi, I didn’t know that having more milk might be a problem. Most of the people complaining about lack of milk and how to feed baby in other ways. This will give me a wider view of this topic. This is really nice content you created. I wish you all the best. For you and for your baby 🙂

    1. Tekyia says:

      Yes it’s a common worry about not having enough milk especially since you really can’t see how much your baby is taking in.

  2. Jayde Butcher says:

    I worry that breastfeeding is going to hurt! But I know it’s best for the baby so I want to know as much as I can. Thank you for this artlcie I now know how important it is too get the right amount and when to stop and move onto bottle milk. 

    1. Tekyia says:

      Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt once baby is latched correctly but it can be uncomfortable at first. I wrote a post about a few things to know before hand https://thenursingmama.com/new

  3. Karin Nauber says:

    Thanks for your post and your website. I am sharing this with my young mother friends who are breastfeeding their babies and have concerns! I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a certified breastfeeding consultant! 

    Is the oversupply from the foremilk? The hindmilk? A mixture? How do you know if the baby is getting enough of the good stuff?

    Thank you for the informative article! I think my friends will find a lot of useful information there.

    1. Tekyia says:

      The oversupply is milk in general. However with the imbalance, baby tends to get more of the foremilk. To get the hindmilk, he needs to stay at the breast longer. With the block feeding method, he definitely will get that hindmilk because you’re just using one breast for a longer time.

      With my daughter, once we identified the issue and did the block feeding, she started being able to go longer between feeds rather than the every 30-45 minutes that she was previously doing.

      1. Karin says:

        Thanks for answering my questions, Tekyia. I and glad all is going well now and that you are sharing your knowledge about this. I think you site will really help my friends!

        Karin

  4. Clement says:

    Thanks for coming up with this nice post, So nice of you sharing your experience with everyone here, i remember when we were to have our first daughter,  my wife was so scared if she will be able to produce enough milk. thou she  didn’t  experience oversupply but she had a hard time producing enough milk but with the aid of  medical consultations we were able to get help.

  5. zuchii says:

    Your breastfeeding experience is worth sharing as alot of new mothers can learn from it. Just like you alot of women are having the same thoughts you had at the initial stages and a bit confused about what they are experiencing. The last option of fully draining the breast and then block feeding is the most common method for most women.

  6. Henry says:

    Hi! Thank you for sharing so valuable information! You had to go to a certified breastfeeding consultant. We simply have to come to your site.

    I really didn’t know this about foremilk and hindmilk. But now that I understand it, it makes perfect sense to be a bit concerned about an oversupply problem.

    Thank you for these tips. And also for sharing what worked for you!

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