Oversupply

As I have mentioned, my milk supply started dipping (down to 3 ounces during a pumping session) after the move here (1.5 months ago).  Not drastic, and still within the realms of normal and acceptable, but low for me.  This coincided with Jack’s decision to start sleeping through the night, and no matter what I did I had trouble boosting my supply back up.  Well, last week with Jack being so sick and sleeping so poorly, he nursed a lot more than usual and my supply rallied in response.  Now he’s back to his normal milk consumption, possibly drinking even less than he was before, and my oversupply is back with a vengeance.

If you haven’t been reading long, you may not know that I have persistently battled oversupply since Jack was born.  In the early days it was extremely problematic.  Jack had a lot of trouble keeping up with the crazy milk spray, and I often had to nurse uphill and keep a towel handy to catch overflow.  I could not wear washable breast pads until around 6 months post partum because I would leak right through them and also through my shirt(s).  Even with disposables (Lansinoh is most absorbant, IME)  I was changing them every few hours.  Jack was constantly getting too much foremilk and this resulted in green, watery poop and a higher diaper count than usual.  We had the diaper service delivering 125 diapers a week and we were still running out (for those of you doing the math, that’s 16-20 diapers per day).  He nursed more often since he was getting less of the fatty hindmilk that keeps tummies satisfied longer, which exacerbated the problem (what can I say, I have enthusiastic breasts!).  From about two months until Jack was about 9 months of age, I used block nursing to control my supply.  I started out with nursing on one breast only for two hour blocks, then steadily increased the blocks until I noticed that Jack’s diapers started looking better and my supply started to correct.  I ended up with 6 hour blocks and it took months before my supply was manageable.

Working while battling oversupply presents an interesting challenge.  Most moms agonize over how much milk they are pumping for their kids, and I wasn’t sad about this aspect of oversupply.  I sometimes had to switch out bottles on my pump in the middle of a session because I had filled them in less than 10 minutes!  It seems unreal to me now, the fact that I could pump 10-15 ounces in 15 minutes when the average mom pumps 1-3 ounces in 20-30  minutes.  The challenge came in timing.  I couldn’t go more than 3 hours without pumping because I started getting recurrent plugged ducts, milk blisters, and mastitis (and if you’re wondering why I could go 6 hours between nursing sessions on one side but had to pump more often, it is because the pump is not as efficient as a kid at emptying the breasts).  I compromised by shortening my pumping sessions to 10 minutes, and then dropped it down even more to 7 minutes, which yielded 4-6 ounces per session (still way above average, but manageable).  I’m doubtful that oversupply ever really goes away.

I continued using these methods until Jack was a year.  I was eventually able to shorten the blocks to 3 hours and my pumping time went back to 10 minutes.  With all of the extra milk I accumulated, I donated to a local mom and her baby, and still acquired a ton of milk in the freezer.  The frozen milk all got tossed when we moved, though, and we’ve had none since.

Until now!  I’ve been getting more milk during my pumping sessions, and Jack has been drinking less during the day.  I’ve taken the opportunity to start freezing milk again, and  have acquired 20 ounces in the last week.  On the negative side, I spent a lot of the weekend trying to head off plugged ducts and battling nausea and headaches.  I leaked through my bra for the first time in ages and had no breast pads in sight, and Jack needed a diaper change at 2am this morning.  With all the craziness of the last week, Joe and I feel like we’re back in the newborn stage.  No fair!

It seems to me that oversupply is one of the least understood breastfeeding afflictions.  It’s relatively rare, and the corrective actions are trial and error (of course, that is par for the course with many breastfeeding issues).  I’ve seen many moms on message boards worrying about low milk supply and it turns out they actually have oversupply.  And when most women around you are worried about boosting their milk supply, it seems counterintuitive and just plain stupid to try to lower your supply.  There is a persistent fear that you might lower it too much, and then what?  (In most cases, it’s easy to increase supply again if you’ve “overcorrected” an oversupply problem.)

It’s important to me that these issues be talked about and shared.  Breastfeeding is poorly understood in our society and bad advice is rampant (i.e. switching sides after 10 minutes, which is one way you can end up with oversupply).  Hopefully my story will be helpful to someone out there!

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Comments

  1. I read this on a day where I’m attached to water, milkmaid tea, and the pump – apparently I’m not allowed to leave town overnight – ever – I always end up short handed.

    It’s all so tricky – I’m glad you wrote this.

  2. Have you tried Fenugreek capsules? You’d have to drink like 10 cups of tea to equal a few capsules of Fenugreek, so it’s often easier to do that. I keep them on hand just in case.

    It was only recently that I figured out the connection between milk supply and nursing during the night. It’s odd how that works!

  3. There is so much misinformation out there. I’ve just started pumping so I’m just barely entering that whole realm…

    I’ve been fortunate with breastfeeding. I’ve been able to ignore all the well-intentioned, unsolicited advice and just feed my babies when they’re hungry and stop when they stop. But so many of my friends have given up early for many reasons (I suspect) that you mentionned here.

  4. I’m so glad you shared this. I dealt with oversupply, too, and it took me forever to diagnose it as the issue (with baby spitting up right after eating, choking due to too much spray, green poops, etc) and correct it to a comfortable level for both of us. I didn’t have quite the oversupply you discuss but still, there is no info out there to describe our nursing session. Luckily I went through what I did and was able to share it with a friend who just started nursing her second child who is nursing completely differently than her first. She went through what I did and immediately was able to make herself and her baby more comfortable because she’d witnessed what I went through.

    So yes, long story way of saying – thanks for sharing this. Hopefully some bleary eyed mother stumbles across it just when she needs it!

  5. I’m pretty lucky that my supply has never been a problem. Well, it’s starting to be an issue now that Kitten is sleeping through the night, but my body seems to be adjusting, I just get really sore most mornings (yay, and I thought that was done after my first week).

  6. I’m so pleased to read this – I’ve got an almost 11 week old daughter, and have only just realised recently that I have an oversupply issue. I’ve been feeding just one side each session for the last 2 weeks – just an instinct I had that has proved correct. At the advice of an LC I use a handpump to take off that first let down – and typically get 2 ounces in 60-90 seconds of pumping. no wonder she was choking, throwing up, and champing on my nipples to stop the flow.

    I’m trying cabbage leaves as we speak, and the next course of action will be to try to fully drain the breast with the pump and continue to block feed.

    wish me luck 🙂

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