When Breasts Act Like Fire Hoses

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Does your baby choke on his milk? Does he sputter, gag, and at times (or often) seem utterly distressed by nursing, which everyone had you convinced would be as relaxing as an evening in the jacuzzi tub? The problem here is your breasts have come to mistakenly understand that you are supplying nourishment for an entire Little League team…of rabid, starving monkeys…who happen to genetically favor the vice of gluttony.

This super-powered supply is supposed to be a great thing though, right? This flowing, gushing nourishment that spilleth forth like a giant melted breast milk glacier, melteth into the oceans and hydrateth the world!

Right, tell that to the infant who desperately gasps for air as this overzealous stream of glacier-milk rushes in relentless ribbons down his throat, possibly leading to air-gulping, then to painful gas, then so very possibly to that “C” word whose syllables many dare only breathlessly mouth like Voldemort’s worst nightmare. THAT word… you know — colic.

Besides overwhelming her little baby, a mother with an overabundance of milk can also suffer from anxiety with each feeding because the gushing goods cannot be trusted to behave in public (or with any natural-fiber shirt worth a damn).

She’s at greater risk for other technical difficulties such as foremilk/hindmilk imbalance because her baby gets full before he can receive much hindmilk. It’s important to have balanced feeds because the foremilk mostly quenches thirst and the higher-fat hindmilk has more calories and gives more satiety (there aren’t two kinds of milk, please note — instead think of it as a steady transition of milk content from the first to the last sip). When in doubt, practice “finishing the first breast first.”

Those who produce an overabundance of milk are also at greater risk of losing too much weight postpartum (yes, it CAN be a bad thing and it IS possible to lose too much baby weight, leaving mother in a precarious situation with fatigue and dehydration).

Via ilovebreastfeeding.com

How do you know if you might have oversupply?

  • You might feel concern that a young baby is gaining weight too quickly (more than an ounce per day).
  • If your baby has had frequent green, frothy stools for a regular period of time accompanied by a high number of wet diapers, this can signal that baby is getting too much foremilk (a green stool here and there is no cause for concern, however).
  • Baby might arch his back and pull away from the breast crying because the rapid letdown of milk has overwhelmed him. He might even close his jaws around the nipple to halt the flow.
  • You might even wonder if baby is reacting to or allergic to something you ate.
  • You notice multiple letdowns per feeding session. Also your milk may spray excessively, and letdowns may feel so strong that they actually hurt.
  • Baby might also spit up a lot after nursing, similar to bottle-feeding in that the baby cannot pace her own meal. He may choke, sputter and gasp while feeding.
  • Baby usually refuses to take the second breast during a feeding. Sometimes baby will actually have a temporary nursing strike against both breasts.
  • Baby is very gassy but isn’t bottle-fed at all.
  • You might worry that you don’t have enough milk because your baby rarely seems satisfied and cries hungrily often (again, this can indicate that he is not getting enough hindmilk to make his belly feel full).
  • If you take galactogogues (nursing tea, herbal remedies, etc) to prevent low milk supply without having confirmed that you truly need it, you might cause oversupply complications.


So, does this sound like you? Here’s what you can do:

  • In this link, Dr. Sears describes how adding lactase to expressed milk can help.
  • Don’t wait until baby is already hungry to try feeding her.
  • Change your positioning while breastfeeding to make milk flow more consistent. Laid-back nursing (nursing in a reclined position with the baby belly-down on her mother) allows the baby to control milk flow better, thanks to gravity.
  • Don’t nurse less! What you can do is try block feeding. This means nursing on one breast only for a feeding, and if baby wants to nurse again within two-three hours then feed again on the same breast. Only switch to start on the other breast if more than two-three hours have passed between feedings. This ensures that baby receives enough foremilk and hindmilk.
  • Exclusively breastfed babies who don’t also use bottles typically don’t need to be burped, but if you have oversupply then making a habit of burping during and after feeding can reduce the gassiness caused by choking on a forceful letdown.
  • Try to get in more sleep nursing (breastfeeding while baby is mostly asleep) as he will be more relaxed.
  • Remove the baby from the breast at letdown (put one finger in the corner of his mouth to gently break the suction) and catch the extra milk in a cup, towel, burp cloth, milk-saver, etc., then allow her to latch again afterward.

Please keep in mind: Herbs such as sage and other anti-galactogogues should only be used to tame a bursting milk supply as a last resort if lifestyle changes don’t help. Also, many mothers with oversupply and fast letdowns find the problem has become less severe or has regulated itself around four months because milk production stabilizes at that point.

Pumping mothers who express much more than their baby will use should consider donating. This is also a wonderful way to share the gift of your excess breast milk if you experience no negative issues as a bountiful producer. Read more about donating milk here.