Oversupply is when your breasts produce more milk than your baby needs. This can be stressful for both you and your baby.
Generally, the more often your baby feeds, the more milk you make. With oversupply, you make too much milk, no matter what your baby takes or needs.
Milk supply usually evens out to meet your baby’s exact needs when they are 4 to 6 weeks of age. It can take up to 3 months for some mothers.
Problems with oversupply for baby
If you have an oversupply of breast milk, your baby may experience:
- choking and sputtering when feeding
- milk leaking from their mouth or nose as they feed
- pulling away from the breast, arching their back, fussing and crying when they try to feed
- refusing to attach to the breast
- quick feedings, but hungry very soon after
- colic, fussiness or gas
- uncomfortable tummy most of the time
- spitting up often
- refusal to comfort feed
- refusal to fall asleep at the breast
- green, frothy, explosive bowel movements (some may even have a streak of blood)
If you do notice blood in your baby's stools or if any of the other symptoms worry you, get advice as soon as possible. Talk to your public health nurse, your GP or a lactation consultant.
How to help oversupply
Follow the advice below to help reduce oversupply.
Rule out any health issues
Make sure your baby doesn’t have a health issue that could cause them to not be able to handle the milk flow.
Health issues that cause problems with feeding include:
Before you do anything that might decrease the amount of milk you’re making, have your baby fully checked. Talk to your GP or public health nurse.
Nurse your baby often
This may solve the problem of green, frothy bowel movements. Closely spaced feedings are higher in fat. So even if it’s only been an hour, feed your baby again. Feeding often keeps your milk flowing so that you can avoid blocked or plugged ducts
Positioning and attachment
Pay close attention to positioning and attaching your baby to your breast. With oversupply, babies often do better with upright positions. You may need to try different breastfeeding positions to see what works for you. Laid-back and side-lying positions often work best for oversupply.
When positioning your baby, be sure to get a deep attachment. This will make it easier for your baby to empty the breast and will stop them from taking in more wind.
Let baby decide duration of feeding
Allow your baby to completely finish one breast before swapping to the second breast. With oversupply, babies tend to take only one side per feeding.
It is best not to express at all unless you are very engorged. Pump just enough to relieve the discomfort of engorgement.
When you have been breastfeeding for 6 weeks, think about trying a block feeding routine. This is when you feed with only one of your breasts for a certain amount of time.
Many women have found that consistent use of cabbage leaves reduces supply. Wash some whole cabbage leaves and remove the hard spine, then place them inside your bra until they wilt.
Try using cabbage leaves for 20 minutes, 3 times a day and stop as soon as you notice a slight decrease.
Coping with leaking breasts
Tips to stay as comfortable as possible in the short-term:
- Invest in a well-fitting nursing bra and some large breast pads so you can feel comfortable in public.
- Wear clothes with busy patterns on them so if you do leak, it’s not noticeable.
- When you’re at home, have plenty of small towels to hand. It’s not unusual for the other breast to leak while you feed.
It’s also important to keep your eye out for a blocked duct if you are suffering from oversupply. This is especially the case if you’re block feeding. A blocked duct is more likely if your breasts are not being fully softened by your baby feeding.
Producing less milk
You may feel worried when your milk supply changes and you start producing less milk. Your breasts will no longer feel engorged all the time, and won't leak as they did before.
The best way to know you’ve still got enough milk is by your baby’s behaviour and their nappy output. If they're meeting developmental milestones and growing well, then your supply is enough.
If you're having a problem with oversupply, get help as soon as possible. Contact your public health nurse, your GP or a lactation consultant.
Find a breastfeeding support group near you. These are a relaxed place to discuss breastfeeding issues with other mothers.