While it’s good to have plenty of milk, some mothers produce more milk than their babies need. This is usually called oversupply.
Some babies cope very well with a generous milk supply; however, others will be unhappy and uncomfortable even though they are gaining weight and appearing to thrive. Oversupply can also make feeding uncomfortable and increase the risk of mastitis.
Symptoms of oversupply
How does oversupply happen?
How is your milk supply established?
A note about foremilk and hindmilk
What can I do about the symptoms of oversupply?
Reducing your milk supply
If you still have problems
Adjusting to the new normal
The main symptoms of oversupply for a baby are:
- Very fast weight gain, moving upwards through centile lines
- Explosive green frothy poos
- Struggling to control milk flow
- Pain and excessive wind or ‘gas’
You may also notice the following:
- Choking, coughing, and pulling on and off the breast
- Clamping down and biting to slow the flow of milk
- Frequent spitting up
- Always appearing hungry and unsatisfied despite large weight gain
- Unwillingness to nurse to sleep
- Breast refusal
- Faltering weight gain due to breast refusal
- Lots of wet and dirty nappies
- General ‘colicky’ behaviour
A mother with oversupply may have the following symptoms:
- Breasts that are rarely soft or comfortable
- A forceful or ‘over-active’ letdown (milk ejection reflex)
- A painful letdown
- A lot of leaking
- Painful nipples as a result of clamping down and biting
- Recurring blocked ducts and/or mastitis
Some of these symptoms may have other causes; allergies and reflux, for example, can have similar symptoms to oversupply. They may also fall within the normal range. Therefore, it is important to rule out other possibilities before taking steps to reduce your milk supply, as this can have longer term consequences.
Some mothers naturally produce large quantities of milk, and we tend to produce more milk with each baby. Occasionally, there are medical reasons for having much more milk than your baby needs. Oversupply can also occur as a result of breastfeeding management, for example, when a baby’s feeds are scheduled, or if a mother is told to feed from each breast for a certain amount of time. It can happen if a pump is used too often, or used in a way that overstimulates the breast.
Milk production is best regulated by your baby’s appetite. When you breastfeed responsively, rather than by following a schedule, your milk production adapts to their needs. Occasionally, a poor latch can contribute to oversupply as a baby might feed very frequently to get the volume they need. However, this tends to reduce milk supply over time.
How is your milk supply established?
After your baby is born, milk production is regulated on a supply and demand basis. Put simply, the more milk you remove, the more milk you are likely to make. How quickly or slowly milk is made depends on the fullness of the breast – an ‘empty’ breast makes milk more quickly, a full breast makes milk more slowly.
It takes a few weeks for your supply to settle down to what your baby actually needs. It is not unusual in the early weeks to feel as if you have too much milk, and to have times when the breasts feel full or even engorged. This is not the same as oversupply.
Feeding frequently and removing milk from the breasts is essential to resolving engorgement – it won’t make the engorgement worse or result in too much milk.
Babies usually nurse more during developmental leaps and growth spurts, and many mothers find there are changes to their baby’s nursing pattern during holidays and family get-togethers, or during periods of stress. Milk supply is very adaptable – if you follow your baby and your body, your supply will most likely regulate itself.
Read more about how milk production works.
One of the symptoms of oversupply in a baby is green frothy poos, gas, and pain. This is sometimes called lactose overload or a foremilk-hindmilk imbalance.
You may be given confusing information about foremilk and hindmilk, and how long a feed ‘should’ last. Or think that there are two different kinds of milk – lower-fat and fat-rich – and that one is better than the other.
Typically, the fat content does increase during a feed, as the fat globules tend to be drawn down towards the end of a feed. However, it is not the length of a feed that is important, but the length of time between feeds. Fat content is determined mostly by the fullness of the breast. If there is a long gap between feeds and the breast is full, the baby may get a large quantity of lower-fat milk before much of the fat starts getting pulled down. The same may be true if a mother naturally produces very large quantities of milk. In the absence of fat-rich milk, the lower-fat milk moves through the gut faster than it can be digested, causing green poos, gas, and pain.
All breastmilk is good! What matters most to weight gain is overall milk volume.
To start with, you might like to:
- adjust your position and your baby’s attachment to help them manage a fast letdown
- feed responsively (as often as your baby wants) and/or offer more frequent feeds
- use breast massage
- avoid overpumping
Managing a Fast letdown
A fast letdown can be one symptom of oversupply. It is possible to have a fast letdown with an ‘average’ milk production. When your baby nurses, a hormonal reflex causes milk to release, (what is known as ‘letdown’). When this happens, it is not unusual for milk to spray out quickly. Some babies like this fast flow, but others are upset by it and struggle to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing. You may find it helpful to:
- Ensure that your baby is deeply attached at the breast. This will make it easier for them to manage a fast flow.
- Try different positions. Some parents use gravity to help them by feeding in a ‘laid-back’ (reclined) position. Others find it helps to feed in a more upright position such as a ‘koala hold’, or to feed while using a sling or baby carrier. Side-lying may also be helpful as excess milk can easily leak out.
- Allow your baby to come off the breast when they need to catch their breath, and use a muslin to catch the spray.
- Some mothers hand express a little to slow the flow before bringing the baby to the breast (however, if this is done frequently, it may make oversupply worse).
- If your breast is very full and engorged, you might try ‘reverse pressure softening’ to move fluids away from the nipple area as this can help your baby to latch more deeply.
- Feed frequently so that the milk spray doesn’t have quite so much volume and force behind it.
- Try breastfeeding before your baby is really hungry, or while they are slightly sleepy.
How do you know how often or how long to feed your baby for? Let your baby tell you! We all have different milk storage capacities and this may determine how frequently your baby feeds, and whether they feed from one side or two. Allow your baby to feed from the first breast for as long as they want to before offering the second breast – they may or may not take it.
Sometimes babies will only take one breast, and sometimes two (or three or four!). Most babies will take both breasts, at least some of the time. Babies are very good at letting us know how often they want to feed, and if in doubt, it is always fine to offer.
You could do what is sometimes called the ‘breast milkshake’. This involves massaging each breast very gently for half a minute or so before feeding, then using a combination of massage and breast compression (see below) during a feed to help dislodge some of the fat. Any massage should use a light fingertip pressure such as you would use to apply body lotion.
Overuse of pumps – or using a pump in a way that unintentionally stimulates milk production (such as a silicone pump to collect dripping milk) – can make oversupply worse. If you’ve been expressing regularly, reduce this gradually to avoid further problems.
If your baby is gaining more weight than average and you and your baby are happy, then you don’t need to change anything. It is not possible to overfeed a breastfed baby.
If you or your baby are struggling with some of the above symptoms, you have ruled out other causes and changes to breastfeeding management do not help, then you may want to consider taking steps to gradually slow milk production.
Consult an LLL Leader before using these approaches. This is especially important if your baby is under one month old, or you are experiencing other problems such as sore nipples or mastitis.
Monitor your baby’s weight gain to ensure it doesn’t drop below expected levels, and keep a close eye on nappy output.
One side per feed
Limit your baby to one breast per feed. If your baby wants to have a short rest during a feed, then offer the same breast again. When a mother has a generous milk storage capacity, their baby may only need to feed on one side. This approach may help milk production to reduce in line with their baby’s demand.
Block feeding involves feeding on the same side for a set period of time (block), e.g. for two or three hours. If your baby wants to feed again within that time block, offer the same side. As a starting point, you might like to:
- Limit your baby to one breast for about two hours, allowing them to nurse as often and for as long as they like, but only on that one side.
- Continue in this way, switching breasts every two hours. If your baby is asleep, switch breasts when they wake.
It is important not to have a rigid approach to block feeding: read your breasts and your baby, not just the clock. By doing this, you will find the time block that works best for both of you. If the unused breast feels uncomfortably full before the next feed then ‘express to comfort’ only.
It is possible to experience oversupply in just one breast, in which case you could nurse for longer periods on the unaffected side.
Full drainage and block feeding method
For more severe oversupply – for example, if you are suffering from recurrent blocked ducts or mastitis and your breasts never feel soft and comfortable even after a breastfeed – you will need to keep your breasts well drained while you take steps to reduce milk production.
You could try the following, in consultation with an infant feeding specialist, in addition to block feeding:
- Express from both sides thoroughly to ‘empty’ your breasts as fully as possible.
- After expressing, immediately offer both ‘empty’ breasts to your baby.
- Next, limit your baby to one breast changing sides every two or three hours (see block feeding above).
Some mothers will need to use this approach only once. However, if your breasts feel uncomfortably full, you may need to repeat it, increasing the interval between each pump for your breasts to readjust.
Medications and herbs to reduce milk production
There are herbs and medications that can help dry up your milk production. Talk with your health care provider or a lactation consultant.
After 4–7 days, your breasts may be more comfortable. If you and your baby still have trouble coping with the supply of milk, you can gradually increase the time block you keep your baby to one breast. Some women with extreme oversupply have gone as long as six or more hours before switching breasts to adjust milk production. A hormonal imbalance may cause overproduction of milk, but this is rare. A visit to your doctor may be helpful if the suggestions offered here aren’t enough.
Block feeding should be a temporary measure. In practice, it is suggested that it is done for no more than one week, and only when babies are gaining double (or more) the average weight for their age. Once supply has settled, you can return to a more normal feeding pattern, following and trusting your baby and your body.
Babies used to a generous milk flow can become fussy at the breast when milk flow slows. They may have to work harder at the breast and deepen their latch to remove milk effectively. Breast compression will increase milk flow and encourage your baby to keep feeding actively:
- Support your breast with one hand – thumb on one side, fingers on the other.
- Wait while your baby breastfeeds actively (slow, rhythmic sucking, lots of swallowing). When their swallowing slows, compress your breast gently to increase milk flow and encourage swallowing. Hold it squeezed while they continue nursing actively, then release your hand.
- Rotate your hand around your breast and repeat step 2 on different areas of the breast as needed. Be gentle – this shouldn’t hurt.
Always monitor your baby’s weight gain, wet and dirty nappies, and overall well-being while following these strategies. Monitor their weight over a period of several weeks to see a trend. If your baby had been gaining weight very quickly, you may see ‘catch-down’ growth. Your baby will gain weight steadily, but may gradually drop against the percentile lines as your milk production adjusts. Their weight should then settle into following a new percentile line on the chart.
As your supply reduces, your breasts will feel softer and more comfortable, and leaking will be reduced. Soft comfortable breasts between feeds during the early weeks are normal and a sign that your milk production is in tune with your baby’s needs.
Written by Charlotte Allam
Last updated May 2023
Kimberly Seals Allers’ photos on this site are used under a creative commons license of Black Breastfeeding 360° http://mochamanual.com/bb/
Engorged Breasts – Avoiding & Treating
Hand Expression of Breastmilk
Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk
Rhythms & Routines
The Unhappy Breastfed Baby
Allergies and Intolerances
Fat Content of Breastmilk – FAQs
Positioning and Attachment
UK–WHO Growth Charts: www.rcpch.ac.uk/growthcharts
Block Feeding Dos and Don’ts: http://www.nancymohrbacher.com/articles/2013/10/9/block-feeding-dos-donts.html?rq=oversupply
The Womanly Art Of Breastfeeding. LLLI, London: Pinter & Martin, 2010
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