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Staying Home

Handling Milk Oversupply

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 1, January-February 2007, pp. 26-28

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

My newborn and I are having a difficult time getting started with breastfeeding because of oversupply. I have so much milk that my baby gulps during my let-down, sometimes to the point of choking and pulling off, which results in milk spraying everywhere. Both my baby and I end up wet and frustrated. I have avoided attempting nursing in public because of his crying and the mess. Before I started nursing I was concerned about whether or not I'd have enough milk, but this opposite situation is a problem, too! What can I do to help get my supply in balance with my baby's needs? Any tips on how to nurse in public despite this issue?

Mother's Response

A great way to control my oversupply was to nurse from one breast for extended periods of time. I would assign one breast for several hours and not use the other one. I had always heard "offer both breasts at every feeding," but this was not best in my situation. Even though my baby would nurse at least every two hours, I continued to put him back on the same breast until the designated time (four to six hours) was up. Then I switched to the other breast for the next feedings for the next block of time. This helped to more completely drain each breast, so the breast that was not being drained was sending my body the signal to stop making so much milk.

By limiting my baby to only one breast for several hours, my supply became more appropriate and soon I was able to alternate breasts at each feeding. I continued to nurse on only one breast for each feeding for the rest of the time my son was nursing, only occasionally going to the second breast at a feeding if he was going through a growth spurt.

Teglene Ryan
Arnold CA USA

Mother's Response

My advice is to keep nursing, know that your milk is best for your child, and let time and your body's natural response to your child take care of the problem. My solution to the immediate difficulty of getting soaked during nursings was handled by using receiving blankets. When settling down to nurse my son, I would pull a receiving blanket across the front of his body and then under his head. Then, when he pulled off, the blanket underneath his face caught the milk running from his mouth, and I was able to pull a fold of absorbent cloth over and press against my nipple to slow the flow. He could then latch on again and usually had less trouble after that. When the nursing session was over, I had a damp receiving blanket to wash, but nothing worse. I got in the habit of always having some blankets on hand. I put stacks of clean ones in both pockets of my rocking chair, in the diaper bag, and by my bed. That way, they were always there where and when I needed them.

Terri Crall
Mill City OR USA

Mother's Response

The first thing I suggest is to try one-sided feedings. This really helped me with both of my daughters. The next suggestion I have is do what you can to make nursing comfortable for your baby. For me the first let-down or two were the most difficult for my babies. If I pumped through the first let-down, my daughter had an easier time nursing after that. (I avoided doing this with my first daughter, because I didn't want to increase supply with pumping, but it was very helpful with my second.) Once your baby gets older and more able to handle the heavy let-down, you can "wean" yourself from the pump.

Another suggestion I have is to use a pacifier. I didn't want to use one with either daughter, but they had sucking needs that they didn't want to fill at the breast because I almost never got to the point of being able to supply non-nutritive sucking. I admit I hate to use it, but it has made my life (and my daughter's life) much easier.

Monica Bernstein
Bothell WA USA

Mother's Response

Oversupply is the reason I attended my first LLL meeting. A big part of this problem is that you may hear comments like, "How lucky you are to have too much instead of too little!" You'll also hear those dreaded words, "It's not a medical problem, it's a laundry problem." These approaches may make you feel guilty for being upset about oversupply, which makes matters even worse. Let me tell you, though, don't be tempted to give up on breastfeeding. Balance will come!

There are some things that can help, such as only nursing on one side at each feeding or pumping for one to two minutes at the beginning of each nursing session to spare your little one the big milk surge of let-down.

My supply never declined considerably, but, as my baby grew, her ability to deal with it improved. Either your body will catch up to your baby's needs, or you and your baby will work it out another way. I wound up freezing a lot of my milk, which I considered my insurance policy in case I was unable to nurse for any reason. You can help other less fortunate babies by contacting a human milk bank (www.hmbana.org) to donate your excess milk.

It doesn't hurt to have a sense of humor, if you can. One day I realized that I resembled the Neptune fountain I had seen in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy. No question that the model for this fountain had oversupply, too! Because of oversupply, I didn't nurse in public until my daughter was seven months old. Do invest in some great maternity tops, comfy nursing bras, nursing pads, and lots of cloth diapers and cotton washcloths.

Christine Amirian
Teaneck NJ USA

Mother's Response

I recall the scene you describe all too well -- a baby gulping and choking and milk spraying everywhere! I had this issue to contend with when I breastfed my twin boys. I had so much milk spraying out of me that I had to change shirts after many nursing sessions, and often toted around two baby boys with wet heads! I likened my let-down to a dam breaking and releasing its water. My tiny boys just couldn't contain it all.

Eventually my body adjusted. Your body will adjust, too. The best solution to this obstacle in the nursing journey is time. It's not the easiest thing to hear, as I can attest to. After several months and many tears, we finally got to the point of peaceful nursing sessions where my boys could suck instead of just trying desperately to swallow. Trust that your baby and your body will work together.

When I was in public and needed to nurse, I latched my boys on and would let them suck. When I felt the let-down coming, I'd take them off my breasts for a brief moment and let the excess milk spray into my nursing pads and be soaked up there instead of in my shirt or their clothes. After the initial let-down, I'd put them back to the breast and they would happily suck away.

During this time, I always carried a lot of extra nursing pads in the diaper bag and also tried to nurse in the car more when I was on the go. I was less nervous about soaking the van doors with milk than giving an innocent bystander a surprise shower. Happy nursing -- there's always a calm after the storm.

Jill Brown
Grimes IA USA

Mother's Response

I struggled with oversupply and overactive let-down with both of my children. It is a challenging situation to deal with, and it can be emotionally painful to feel "rejected" by your baby.

With my first son, we managed primarily by nursing lying down, which helped my baby to manage the fast flow. When we were out, we often went to the car for nursing sessions. If we were at a friend's house, I asked for a private room or waited to nurse until we got home and could lie down. My son often refused and rejected the breast if we were not at home lying down. Things evened out at about 10 months with him, and we could then comfortably nurse in other settings and positions.

When my second son was born, I had learned much more about oversupply and overactive let-down and was determined to manage our situation better in hopes of avoiding the "secluded nursing" experience I had with my first baby (along with the miserable, choking baby phenomenon)! He also prefers to nurse at home and in private, but I am successfully coping with nursing in public this time by nursing in a sling. It seems to reduce stimulation enough so that he is able to nurse in public. Sometimes he still chokes, but he calms better and continues to nurse instead of refusing after choking the way my first son did.

Another aid with nursing in public is nursing on the "slower flow" side while we are out. Women often have a breast with a "tamer" milk ejection reflex. For me, it is my left breast. Before we go out, I nurse him on the right breast and then nurse on the left side the whole time we are out of the house.

Molly Remer
Rolla MO USA

Mother's Response

Almost every time my newborn nursed, he ended up choking and sputtering while my milk sprayed all over with the force of a fire hydrant. It got to the point that my son associated nursing with so much discomfort that he cried and turned away when I tried to feed him. Fortunately, we've been able to overcome this problem, slowly but surely.

I have found it helpful to try to get in as many feedings as possible while my baby is drowsy or asleep. In this state, he is more receptive and better able to allow his reflexes to handle the milk. Otherwise, he often gets too upset to nurse, which simply leads to more crying and choking.

I know how frustrating and difficult this situation can be, but the most important thing is not to let your baby sense how frustrated you are. If you make an effort to remain calm and encouraging, your baby is more likely to relax and enjoy the nursing experience despite his discomfort. This way, as your body adjusts to your baby's needs, and he grows and becomes more able to handle your supply, he will not associate nursing with discomfort and frustration, but rather with love and patience.

Theresa Schlenz
Ashburn VA USA

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