If you have too much breast milk
Many mothers produce an oversupply of breast milk during the early months until their supply calibrates to match their baby’s needs (usually by the time the baby is between six and 12 weeks of age). While an oversupply of breast milk sounds like it could be a good thing, it has the potential to cause your newborn baby gastro-intestinal discomfort if you’re not careful in how you manage breastfeeds.
Baby signs you have an oversupply
- Large weight gains
- Eight or more heavily wet nappies each day
- Frequent watery, frothy or ‘explosive’ bowel motions, which may at times be green in colour
- Extreme gassiness (flatulence and belching)
- Coughing and sputtering during let-down
- Frequently pulling off or slipping off the breast
- Gulping down feeds
- Short feeds, e.g. five to seven minutes
- Audible tummy rumblings
- Milk regurgitation (reflux) soon after or during feeds
- Nappy rash around the anus
- Infant distress and sleeplessness (due to abdominal discomfort)
- Baby may appear to be constantly hungry.
Mum signs of a milk oversupply
- Uncomfortably full breasts
- Frequently leaking breasts
- Forceful let-down reflex – milk sprays out
What to do?
The motto in managing an oversupply of breast milk is ‘empty the first breast first’.
- Start out by offering only one breast per feed. If baby’s symptoms don’t improve in 24 hours try ‘block feeding’.
- ‘Block feeding’ involves feeding from the same breast for two or three consecutive feeds before and doing the same on the other side. It could take a number of consecutive feeds from the same breast to drain it sufficiently. (Your breasts will be making more milk between feeds.)
- Avoid expressing or pumping unless you absolutely have to, for example to clear block ducts or if you have mastitis.
- Avoid giving your baby bottle feeds as this can complicate the situation further.
These simple strategies can relieve gastro-intestinal symptoms and abdominal discomfort which develop when a baby receives too much milk. When you keep your baby at the same breast for a longer period of time this will enable her to access more of the higher fat hindmilk that comes as your breast drains. She gets less milk in volume but the milk she receives is more calorie-dense.
You will know when you are managing the situation effectively when your baby is less fussy during feeds and more content between feeds. Green stools change to a yellow/mustard colour and her stools become thicker and decrease in frequency.
Your milk production will slow down as a result of not switching sides as often (which is desirable when you have an oversupply). At some stage you will need to increase the frequency at which you switch sides. Depending on how often your baby feeds, down the track it may become necessary to offer both breasts at each feed in order to prevent undersupply. By learning to interpret your baby’s feeding cues you will be able to tell if it’s necessary to offer both breasts.
IMPORTANT: Monitor the number of wet nappies your baby has each day. There should be five or more wet disposable nappies or six or more cloth nappies each day. By weighing your baby regularly you can tell whether your baby is getting enough.