Episode 23: Why Oversupply Is a Problem
Jacqueline Kincer 00:38
Welcome back to another episode of the Breastfeeding Talk podcast. I’m your host, Jacqueline Kincer, IBCLC and CSM. Today’s episode, I’m going to talk to you about oversupply.
So I had a mom actually reach out to me on Instagram. And if you ever want to do the same, go head over to Instagram at holistic lactation, feel free to send me a DM, drop something in the comments of one of my posts and connect with me there. But this mom reached out and was asking for me to talk about oversupply and some of the ramifications of that.
And I feel like this but I also know that this is going on. That there is a normalization of oversupply happening. But I’ve got to tell you oversupply is unhealthy. It is dysfunctional. And it’s a problem. And I’m going to talk to you about why that is in this episode.
I think there’s a few reasons why it’s become so normalized, I don’t think that it used to be but with the initiation of breast pumps being covered by insurance companies, now almost every new mom out there is able to measure the amount of breast milk that she’s able to pump. Now I do want to make an important distinction here, the amount of milk that you’re able to pump with a breast pump does not exactly equal the amount of milk that you are able to produce.
So how do I know that? Well, because a pump just tells you how much milk you can pump, there really is no other data point that it gives you. It can give you the rate of flow when you pump, but it doesn’t tell you how much milk your baby gets. And it doesn’t tell you how much milk your breasts produce, it doesn’t tell you how much milk your breasts store.
So that is an important distinction to make, I do feel like oftentimes people, we have to be careful with our words and be really, really correct with our words, because I think people are quick to just make this assumption that, oh, I only make three ounces every three hours.
No, you only pump every three hours. And you only get, not only I would say you get three ounces every three hours when you pump, that does not mean that’s how much milk you make.
So just a very, very important distinction because there are many moms out there who have great difficulty when it comes to pumping no matter what pump they’re using, and what technique they’re using.
And so pumping is, it’s a learned behavior, it is something that has to be taught to us, it is not natural, it’s not normal. It is common, though, and to expect yourself to be an expert pump operator, I just really wouldn’t expect.
Just because you make milk does not mean that you know how to pump and how to optimize pumping and get the most bang for your buck.
Now, that being said, there’s plenty of moms out there that connect themselves to a breast pump, and they get tons of milk really easily. Now some of you listening might be very jealous. So those moms out there that I see pumping 10-12 ounces at a time, sometimes even more. But even large amounts, like four ounces, six ounces, those are very, very large amounts of milk.
Your baby doesn’t drink that much in one feeding, nor should they. And so that’s an oversupply. Now sometimes oversupply is induced, meaning that you started pumping early on or at some point in your breastfeeding journey in addition to breastfeeding, or maybe you’re exclusively pumping and you’re pumping just too much, too often, too long, whatever it is.
Maybe you’re taking supplements to increase your milk supply when you really don’t need to. There’s a lot of reasons why it could happen. I also see oversupply caused by a mother not doing anything to induce it. But it’s actually an underlying health issue.
I see it correlated to a high level of inflammation to an inflammatory diet. Now, for any mom who’s listening out there that might have a low milk supply, that does not mean that you should go out and eat a bunch of industrialized or inflammatory foods. That’s not going to help your supply if you have a low supply, but I do see it correlated to inflammation.
I know no one likes to hear this. I love breast milk. I think it’s amazing. It’s the most perfect food for your child. But that being said, the quality of your breast milk is entirely dependent on your own health and your own diet. And if we ignore that fact, what we’re basically saying is, it’s fine if you eat pizza, drink soda, eat candy. Whatever and have a super unhealthy diet because your baby is getting breast milk? Well, yes, that’s still better than the formula.
But at the same time, we have to acknowledge that those chemicals and those food things are going into your milk, and they are affecting your baby’s health as they’re affecting your own health.
And so it’s really important that we don’t just deny that. It doesn’t mean that if you have a poor diet that you shouldn’t breastfeed, it just means that you should clean up your diet. So I want that to be really, really clear.
But the important thing to know is that yes, your diet affects breastfeeding in terms of not just the quality of the milk, but the amount of milk that you make. And that can go both ways. Poor quality diet can mean that you have a low supply, or not enough food or not the right foods or whatever.
But also it can mean that you have an oversupply. And there’s a lot of other factors that go into this. And honestly, I just don’t think there is enough research into it just yet. For us to really say definitively these specific lab values are going to equate to a low milk supply, and these specific ones equate to an oversupply. We don’t yet have enough information.
But I do see it very, very often, where we correct the inflammatory diet, the oversupply goes away. And I mean, oversupply in the sense that like, not the mom is super happy that she’s making so much milk. That she’s uncomfortable, that she has lots of plugged ducts, lots of mastitis, and she would love nothing more than to make less milk to make her life easier and feel better in her body. That is usually when it’s an inflammatory cause.
So again, you can induce it by pumping and expressing excessively and those sorts of things. And I do think that’s a huge problem in our culture. And the reason why it’s become normalized is really because of social media. So I think it actually began with Pinterest, Pinterest, I don’t use it much anymore, maybe I go on there for recipes or hairstyles, or that sort of thing. I don’t know what everyone else is using these days, I probably sound like an old person. You know, I don’t even know what generation I’m part of or whatever, I think I’m on the tail end of millennial or something like that.
But I’m just not a huge user. But I did see back in my early days of using Pinterest, and I’m sure it’s still there today, these photos of freezers full of like 200 ounces of breast milk. And these little captions on the pins, saying something like how I got my freezer stash in two weeks, or, you know, whatever it was. And these are very click-baity titles, right? These bloggers want to make money off of clicks and advertising revenue and things like that.
And you have to realize that there is a motivation there. And the thing to realize is that these are written by novices. These are written by moms, not lactation consultants, not any sort of person who’s an expert in lactation or lactation science, these are written by moms.
So you’re getting health advice, essentially medical advice, from someone who’s not a medical professional.
So this is kind of like reading a blog that, you know, oh, my child got a bee sting. And I put this on it and you know, whatever. Now that information might be valid. I’m not saying it’s not valid. But what I’m saying is that there is sort of an optimal way to do things and in a non optimal way.
And I think with breastfeeding, I wish that there was more information out there that could be trusted, that was shared communally.
And what I mean by that is that we used to have a system where the matriarch in the family would be teaching the other generations how to breastfeed, you would be prepared for it during your pregnancy, you would have seen it all around you, as you lived your life growing up into adulthood, whatever it was. And you would have had a system of matriarchs there to help you with your breastfeeding. We didn’t need to hire someone that got a degree somewhere and all of that.
But these days we do. And the problem is that one mother will take her own breastfeeding experience and feel like she’s now an expert in breastfeeding, and share that with others.
Now, you might have figured something out. And that’s really, really great. And it’s awesome that you’re sharing with others. But that does not work for every mom, every mom is not you. And it’s hard to see outside of yourself, when you’re not a clinician and when you don’t have clinical experience working with very diverse populations and diverse circumstances. So what works for you doesn’t always work for everyone.
So then what happens is a mom will see this blog post or this Pinterest thing or social media posts or whatever, and think that something is wrong, she will automatically think, Oh, my goodness, I can’t do that. I’m not making enough milk. This happens more often than you think. And even if you want to sit here and say, Well, I wouldn’t think that obviously, that’s absurd. I could never make 200 ounces in two weeks or whatever. Well, you could, it’s actually not that far off.
But the deal here is that while you might sit here and say, Well, of course we know that’s not normal. There’s still something subconsciously going on that you look at that and you can’t help but compare yourself. We’re measuring motherhood and ounces, and quite honestly, it’s got to stop.
I think it’s damaging and I especially see herbal supplement companies, food companies with their lactation cookies, bites, brownies, shakes, herbs, capsules, tinctures, whatever. And they are posting and reposting posts of women that are filling up extremely large bottles with breast milk. And that is not normal folks, it’s not normal, we have got to stop normalizing the overproduction of breast milk if we ever hope to help moms succeed in breastfeeding, because there are moms out there that see that and they go, I’m not making enough, my baby must be starving. And now I need to supplement my baby, they may not buy your products, okay, even if they do buy your product, and then they buy your product, and they go from pumping three ounces at a time to four ounces at a time. And they’re still not pumping that 10 ounces, that the other mom posted that she pumped, and she’s like, this doesn’t work.
So you’re not doing yourself a favor. If you’re one of these companies out there that’s promising all of this. That’s not how herbs work, a mom who was going to make 10 or 12 ounces was going to do it regardless of whether or not she bought that supplement or that brownie or that cookie or whatever it was. I guarantee you.
I know because I have moms who take these supplements, okay, and I am very, very well versed in the herbs and foods that support lactation.
The only way to make more milk truly is supply and demand, you demand more milk, you make more milk. It’s very, very simple science. We don’t need to add complexity to it.
Now. Is there a case for herbs in foods to help milk quality, increasing milk production regulating milk production? Absolutely, I think most of us are sub clinically deficient, in various minerals and vitamins and other compounds and things like that, that we can get from herbs and foods. So yes, I do think that they’re needed much like I think most people do well to take a multivitamin, because they’re just not getting enough nutrition from their food. But we’ve got to make sure it’s bioavailable. And herbs are a good way to make sure something is a bio available form of the nutrition and nutrients and things that we need.
That being said, you can’t just take the herbs and hope that you’re going to make more milk. If you’re not pumping enough or not breastfeeding enough, the herbs aren’t going to really help. You have to do both.
And so it’s really, really important that we don’t somehow trick ourselves into thinking that, Oh, I can just go buy this bottle of something. And that’s what’s gonna help me make more milk. And that’s all the effort I have to put in, you can’t buy yourself more breast milk, I mean, you can probably on Craigslist, okay, but it’s not really your own breast milk.
You can’t buy yourself into increasing your milk supply, you really do have to pump more, you have to pump the right way and optimize the flanges and the fit and the suction and the cycle speed and all of that, in order to increase your milk supply.
Or breastfeed more, you know, I don’t want to just say that it’s just pumping, right? Using an at the breast supplementer is one of the most effective ways to increase your milk supply. But you don’t hear the pump companies talking about that, because they don’t make money off of that. You hear the lactation consultants talking about it because we’re the ones that actually know how lactation science works. So it’s an important distinction to make.
But what I want to tell you is what are the normal amounts? What’s the normal amount of milk that we would expect? So it’s kind of gonna be like a little bit of lactation 101 here for just a moment. Because I feel like it’s needed. Unfortunately, I just feel like there’s so many instances where moms just, they’re not really told this information. I wish it was super prevalent. Unfortunately, it’s just not.
But there’s a difference between the first couple of weeks of life versus a couple months old. So knowing what normal amounts of milk your baby would be taking at these ages. And what would be a normal amount for you to expect to express is a very, very important thing to know.
So, generally speaking, on the first day of life, the day your baby is born, for every feeding, for a single feeding, they’re only going to need five to seven milliliters of colostrum. Now, if you’re wondering how much that is, especially if you’re in the US, and you don’t know the metric system, that would be about the size of a marble. So that’s a very small amount. That’s how big your baby’s tummy is. Now, if they were a preemie their tummy is smaller, right? So just because they’re born at 12 pounds doesn’t necessarily mean that they need more, they might, but it’s going to be a lot more.
But think about most bottles, if you were to be given a bottle of formula for your baby it’s at least an ounce or more, right? There’s no way that your one day old baby could drink an ounce of milk, they shouldn’t be doing that.
And the other thing that you need to know is that your baby’s stomach isn’t elastic at this age. It doesn’t stretch that it doesn’t really happen until about 10 to 14 days old. So, if you’re trying to overfill your baby’s tummy, you can cause them quite a bit of discomfort they’re going to spit up.
You’re trying to stretch out a stomach that isn’t just meant to stretch. Now by the third day of life they’re gonna take 22 to 27 milliliters. That’s still not really even an ounce. So just something to keep in mind. Very, very small amounts.
This is why natures smart guys, nature’s got this figured out. This is why you make colostrum for the first few days of life, which is small in quantity, but it’s very, very concentrated, and it gives your baby exactly what they need to start off their life, they do not need large amounts.
So if for some reason, you’re told that you need a pump in the hospital, first of all, pumping is very well known in my world, at least as being pretty ineffective for getting colostrum out. A hospital grade pump does better than a regular pump at that for sure. But colostrum is more viscous, it’s just a different consistency, it is harder to get out of the breasts, then more transitional milk or mature milk, white looking milk, basically.
So, hand expression tends to be the best, because of the massaging of the breasts, the warmth, the skin to skin contact of your own hand against your breast, and expressing it just into a teaspoon. Really, you can get a large amount of colostrum, enough colostrum to feed your baby, okay in that way. And it’s such a small amount that really, the colostrum should not be put into a bottle and be given to the baby in a bottle, you can use a spoon to feed the baby, that’s a very, very easy and effective way to feed a baby that doesn’t interfere with their motor learning of skills at the breast, you can also cup feed a baby. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can look up spoon feeding or cup feeding baby newborn on YouTube, and you can find tons of videos about this.
Now the fifth day of life, okay, this is usually by now your milks come in whatever it’s transitioning, those sorts of things, maybe they’re going to get about 57 milliliters out of feeding. So again, this isn’t a very large amount.
So I think the problem here is that not only have we normalized an oversupply, but also we’ve normalized bottle feeding. And whether it’s formula or breast milk, there’s this normalization that babies need so much more, or the reason why a baby is fussy is because they’re not getting enough. Well, that’s not always the case, it actually could be that they’re getting too much.
And if it’s formula, formula is so much harder to digest. It’s it’s actually just pure food, it does not have everything else that breast milk has in it. So your baby’s body is working so much harder to digest something that’s completely foreign.
It’s not a biological substance that they’re meant to digest. And so yes, does the formula stay in their body in their tummy longer? Absolutely, it does, because it’s much harder to digest, which we really don’t want to put any additional stress on a newborn baby’s body.
Now there are times when babies need it. And I understand that. But what I’m saying is the excessive use of it and the overfeeding of it puts a lot of strain on the digestive system. And then when you switch back to breast milk and breastfeeding, you can start to easily feel inadequate, because you’re like, Oh, my baby’s waking up more frequently, they’re wanting to feed more frequently, oh, they must need formula, I gave them a bottle of formula, they drank it.
There’s a lot of reasons why that happens. But all of these things end up leading to a lot of self doubt, a lot of feelings for mothers that they’re not good enough, because again, we keep measuring motherhood in ounces.
But we’ve got to stop because it’s killing your self esteem. It’s killing your confidence. It’s killing your own trust in your body.
And when you see these photos on social media, oh, my friend donated 500 ounces to the milk bank, or, you know, oh, they took this herb and they’re making so much milk or this freezer stash for this mom who’s going back to work. That’s another big one that comes up. So many moms here in the US are going back to work pretty early. And they’re very concerned about this and they ask me when should I start pumping?
Truthfully, if you’re fully breastfeeding, start pumping a week, two weeks before you go back to work just once or twice a day. It’s really, really simple. All you need is to have enough ounces for that first day of work that you go back. That’s it.
And the general rule is for every hour, you’re gone, that’s going to be about an ounce that your baby drinks. So if you’re gone for nine hours, including your commute and whatever, then your baby needs about nine ounces of milk while you’re gone.
The problem is that most childcare providers, especially childcare centers, don’t know how to pace the bottle feeding for the baby. They don’t know what normal amounts of breast milk are. They’re often used to formula fed babies and they think it equates. It does not equate.
Formula does not change in consistency, so we have to give more and more volume to give our babies an increasing number of calories. However, breast milk increases in its caloric density as our babies age. The longer we lactate. And so we don’t need to give more volume to get higher levels of nutrition and calories into our babies.
So, a breastfed baby is only ever going to take somewhere between two and five ounces per feeding for the end of all breastfeeding. If they are drinking more than five ounces per feeding, they are drinking too much.
Sometimes I see this happen where babies after six months start taking more, they really don’t need more milk, what they need are complementary solid foods. So that’s just a little bit about milk quantity. So you have a little bit of a better understanding.
But the other issue with oversupply is that I’ve heard this joke, especially from low supply moms I work with and I completely understand where it comes from. And I had an oversupply with my first so I can speak about this also, from personal experience, not just clinical experience. But oversupply isn’t fun. I will hear a lot of moms say, well, that’s a good problem to have. Well, yeah, I guess if you want it, but most of the time, it’s unwanted. And even if it is wanted, I have to sort of look at the whole situation, I do think a lot of moms who induce oversupply, and not to stereotype or generalize, but I do see a pattern, there’s a lot of type A personality in there, they might have a very high powered career. Going above and beyond, being an all star student is very important to them. And they feel like it’s an achievement, when they are able to produce an excessive amount of milk for their child. They feel like they are winning motherhood when they do that.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily. But I do think that if that’s the way that you’re validating your breastfeeding experience is the number of ounces. What we’re doing is we’re breastfeeding all about the milk. And we’re ignoring the importances of the breastfeeding relationship with your child.
What does breastfeeding mean to your baby? What does that connection mean when you get to hold them at the end of the day? And watch them fall asleep lovingly in your arms as they look into your eyes? What is that health outcome that’s going to affect them for the rest of their lives? And that will affect their children? What does that mean?
Breastfeeding is not just about food, it is not just about milk. And it hurts my heart in so many ways when I feel like breastfeeding is talked about and just in terms of the milk. Quantity of milk, the fact that it is breast milk, and we’re just neglecting this whole other relationship. Well, here’s another angle where oversupply becomes problematic.
So if you have an oversupply, you may have a very fast letdown. It may be too fast. But there’s a couple things there, there’s perceived oversupply and perceived overactive letdown or fast letdown or whatever you want to call it.
Most of the time, it’s not either one of those things. A mother may have an abundant milk supply, but it’s not really an oversupply.
But the baby is having a hard time handling the flow of the milk, because they have some oral function issues going on, most likely a tongue tie, not always, but a lot of the time, it could be the way the baby’s latched or something like that.
So an inability for the baby to handle the flow does not mean that you have a fast flow, it just means that the baby has an inability to handle the flow, which is probably more of an issue with your baby, less of an issue with your milk supply or anything like that. So I want to make that super clear.
And the other thing I want to make clear to is that judging whether or not something is oversupply a healthy lactating mom will have an oversupply in the beginning of lactation. And here’s what I mean by that.
Once the placenta is born, your progesterone levels drop significantly. And as those levels drop, it allows the prolactin levels in your body to rise. And prolactin is one of the hormones responsible for promoting milk production. And this is all driven by your endocrine system immediately postpartum.
And for the first six to 12 weeks postpartum. It’s all under endocrine control in terms of how much milk you’re making. So if you have a low supply, the first thing we want to look at is your hormones, or lack of proper lactation management. So if you’re only pumping once a day, well, we don’t expect you to make much milk. And that’ll show up on a hormone panel, but it’s all driven by hormones.
Then somewhere between six and 12 weeks, definitely closer to the 12 week mark. For most women, we see it switch to autocrine control of milk production. And what that means is that the amount of milk that’s removed from the breast is now what determines the amount of milk that your breasts make.
So you will see a decrease in production most likely during this time, your breasts will feel softer. And some moms will say Oh, my milk dried up in three months. When it gets to that in just a second. Maybe it did, but maybe you didn’t and it just regulated to fit your baby’s needs.
And so this is usually the timeframe that if you were a really big leaker from the beginning, the leaking tends to die down, things like that. If you’re a really, really big leak, or that could be a sign that you have an oversupply, it could be a sign that you have really porous nipples, milk ducts that terminate on the end of your nipple, it could be that.
But there’s several factors here. So noticing a decrease around three months, if you’ve had an overabundant milk supply so far, yeah, that’s somewhat normal, okay.
And you can maintain that over supply by pumping, if you really want. But again, I don’t really suggest that unless you need to.
So here’s the thing, though, is that let’s say you have this great oversupply in the beginning, a lot of breastfeeding problems can actually be masked by this.
And so a lot of women will contact me, a lot of moms will contact me around the three month mark and say, Wow, my babies, they kind of fall off the growth curve. And we went in for the fourth month checkup, the pediatricians really concerned. And you know, what’s going on, you know, I’m trying all these things, what, what’s happening?
Well, if your baby never had optimal oral function to begin with, whether because they were tied or they were sort of enabled to have a shallow latch for whatever reason, there’s other things going on, their oral function wasn’t quite right, then they were just kind of coasting on the wave of an abundant milk supply.
So they were just drinking at this faucet that was just kind of like a waterfall, and they didn’t really have to put any effort in. And then it kind of snowballs from there.
So if the milk just flows with very little effort, or no effort for the baby, they just have to put their mouth on the breast and they get milk, then, great for them. However, they never develop the proper oral skills that need to be in place. By the time that three month mark rolls rolls around.
So now when the baby, their job is to actually get the milk flowing and to sustain a level of suction that keeps that milk flowing and sends the right signal to the breast and the brain to keep making milk. Then that goes away, then yes, oftentimes, I do see your milk does dry up at three months.
Because that oversupply that your baby was coasting on masked, your baby is doing great with weight gain, it masked the fact that they had poor oral function. And so I see that happen a lot of the time.
The other thing that I see though, is sometimes it happens later on, right? It’s more gradual, it could be around, let’s say the six month mark, and you have an oversupply, but your baby doesn’t have to work particularly hard to get the milk, maybe they even have a shallow latch, but they’re super fat baby, they’re doing great.
Sometimes I do think our bodies are really smart, and they are really great at compensating. We can be so in tune and connected to our babies that I feel like some moms, their bodies just go into oversupply because they know if they didn’t, their babies wouldn’t get enough. And this happens a lot, I think with exclusively breastfeeding moms, especially with babies with ties. So it may even be a situation where the pediatrician says something like well I see a tongue tie, but the baby is gaining great so we don’t need to treat it.
This is very, very often where I see this happen. So your oversupply is a compensation, it doesn’t mean that things are going fully functionally, again, it’s a compensation. It’s sort of a trick.
So if the baby is never learning, to get the right suction, the right tongue, mouth movements, all of that, from the get go or at some point in the early stages of breastfeeding, I do see, sometimes weight gain issues past the six month mark somewhere in there, I do see issues with them being able to handle solid foods, because they’re just relying on this abundant milk flow and things like that. And they kind of reinforce an oversupply because they may nurse very often, or may demand large quantities of milk at any given time. And so you’re kind of stuck in this cycle, where you’re like, well, maybe he’s 11 months and still isn’t interested in solids. That’s not really healthy for their oral development, they actually do need to begin chewing and masticating and handling different textures around the six month mark. It’s very, very important.
And if you listen on the episodes, we’ve talked about world development in ties on this podcast, or you follow me on social media, you know that I think this is really important. I know it’s important for their oral facial development, their airway development, all of that.
So what I want to encourage you is that if there’s anything that you see, going on with breastfeeding, that you’re like, Hmm, you know, that just doesn’t seem optimal. That may seem kind of weird. Or if you see something dysfunctional, that’s normalized, like an oversupply, like an under supply, like spitting up, like a colicky baby, like any of those things, you really don’t have to just accept that that’s the way it is. There’s always a reason as to why it’s going on.
And in the case of oversupply, If you’re happy with it, and it’s what you want, then you can create that for yourself. And you can do that but I would say I think the majority of moms and babies really don’t enjoy it. And from the baby’s perspective and oversupply can often really make breastfeeding unenjoyable for them.
I do see oversupply and extreme cases contribute to babies being at the breast for very, very short periods of time. Because they find a way to get all the milk they need in five minutes. And sometimes moms go, Wow, he’s really efficient. This is really great. Yeah, babies can be efficient in nursing well, and get all the milk they need in five minutes when they’re past the newborn stage. But for the most part, I would say that that’s really compensating. And it really isn’t how breastfeeding should be going.
Breastfeeding is more than just milk, your baby shouldn’t only want to be there to get the milk. But if you have an oversupply and your babies are nursing, they can’t do that non nutritive sucking at the end, because they’re going to get too much food.
So not spending enough time at the breast actually can contribute to poor oral function and development as well. I remember one of my clients, her baby would only nurse six times a day for like five minutes. And that was it. And he was the fattest baby I’ve ever seen. Now, her issue was inflammation. Once we made some changes to her diet, things calmed down, but had been going on for so long that it takes a lot of time for inflammation to go down in your body. And I’m not going to go into specific recommendations here.
But diet, there’s definitely supplements, you can look up anti-inflammatory diet, things like that, if you’re looking to better your health, but that’s a larger conversation about your own overall health, not just about breastfeeding and lactation. But it does need to be addressed in order for breastfeeding lactation to go really, really well. But babies feel like they’re being waterboarded.
They’re drowning, they’re sometimes choking and coughing and sputtering on this milk that they just cannot handle it all. Or the flow is just way too fast. And you’re trying to hand express before you ask your baby or do all these things that you shouldn’t have to do.
But what’s unfortunate is that sometimes, like in extreme cases, I see babies who start to have an oral aversion, they start to refuse the breast. Because it’s just such an unpleasant experience. Imagine if every time you went to take a drink of water from your glass, that it was kind of like the glass was being flipped completely upside down, and you’re expected to try and swallow all the water coming out of it was very, very hard to do. And it’s very unpleasant. And over time, your brain would wire in such a way where you would just not want to nurse, you would not want to drink that glass of water. And so sometimes I see babies having a really, really hard time with oversupply, they’re not really enjoying breastfeeding.
They go there just for their nutritional needs. And that’s it. And again, that’s not really what breastfeeding is supposed to be all about.
I see a lot of babies, especially with moms who go back to work who are taking bottles during the day and things like that are doing much better. Because the bottle isn’t going to necessarily be this super fast flow. I mean, it can be, but they can actually regulate and modulate that flow a little better at the bottle. If they have a mom with an oversupply.
Now with an under supply, that’s not really the case. But with an oversupply it is and so those babies may end up preferring the bottle, and now you’re stuck pumping, which isn’t super fun if you don’t want to do it.
So there’s a lot of reasons why I find oversupply to be super problematic. And the other thing that I find too is that once a mom has an oversupply and especially if she’s experienced plugged ducts for mastitis, she can end up having a lot of fear, almost like a little bit of PTSD, because she doesn’t want to not pump enough because she’s afraid of getting out of her plugged duct or afraid of getting mastitis again, and I understand that fear. And what you never want to do is you don’t want to just start dropping pumping sessions.
Like you just want to slowly gradually decrease the amount of time that you’re pumping and this may be very slow for some moms it might be quicker for others but the way you want to go about doing this as if you’ve realized you’re listening to this episode you’re like Oh man, I’ve totally induced an oversupply and pumping way too much. Way too often whatever, I should probably drop some pumping sessions but I don’t want to get plugged ducts.
Well here’s how you do that. If you’re normally pumping for 15 minutes, the next time you pump for just 12 minutes and just pump the same amount of times a day but only pump for 12 minutes. So you’re going to leave a little more milk than the rest but you’re not going to leave enough for you to get a plugged duct or mastitis most likely.
Now if you do end up getting that you really just need to be working with an IBCLC so that we can give you a customized plan because this should work for most moms.
But decreasing the amount of time and then staying at that 12 minute mark for like a few days right and then and then dialing it back to like 10 minutes and until you’re at that level, you’re at the Gold level like okay, I’ve decreased this amount. Now this is right where I want to be and right where I want to stay!
Now over time, you might find that you need to increase the amount of time you pump if you start to see your supply go lower than you’d like. So it’s easy to do, it’s easy to ramp back up to that 12 or 15 minutes again, just depends on your body, and you’re just going to have to play around with it, the only person who can really tell you is you just by trial and error. And so, it’s just an important thing to understand.
But the more milk that’s left in the breast, the more that your breast actually releases. There’s pathways there. And it’s going to tell your body to make less milk. So this is what we mean by supply and demand, when we say this.
If the milk is left in the breast, your body gets the signal that there doesn’t need to be any more milk made, or you need to slow down the rate of milk production, because the breasts are going to get too full.
So it’s a really, really easy way to discourage making more milk. So if you’re looking to dry your milk, that’s the principle that you’re going to follow.
Now, if you’re looking to increase your milk supply, what do you want to do? Well, you want to empty your breasts, now your breasts are always making milk.
So that’s basically an impossible task. But we want to basically get out as much milk as we physically can, in a short period of time, like 15-20 minutes. And the more often that you do that, the easier it’s going to be for your body to not only make more milk, it’s not even really about making more milk necessarily, it’s about speeding up the rate of milk production, which in turn ends up making more milk.
So if you’re starting to pump every two hours, as opposed to every four, well over time, you’re going to see an increase in milk production.
Same thing with oversupply. Instead of pumping every two hours, start pumping every four and then you’re going to see the milk supply decrease. Right? So that would be what we’re looking for.
The thing that I actually see that people think is really benign, they don’t think it’s a pump. And it isn’t a pump in the traditional sense of the word. But these silicone breast pumps. Like the haaka is like a really popular brand. And there’s a bunch of, sort of Chinese knockoffs.
Those, while they’re not creating any sort of a pumping action, they’re just purely creating suction. When they’re overused, if they’re used for every feeding, they can absolutely induce continued engorgement and eventually an oversupply.
And so a lot of moms will say well I don’t pump, you know, so I don’t know how I ended up with this oversupply? And I’m like, do you use a haaka? They’re like, Oh, yeah, like every feeding, you know, but that’s not a pump. And I’m like, Yeah, but you know, that amount of suction for that length of time. And the fact that it’s removing milk from your breast, is doing something to encourage more milk production.
So you’ve got to be mindful of just anything you’re doing like that. So those are some of the ways that I try to help moms through countering oversupply and dealing with it.
Now, if you’re finding, hey, I’ve tried all these things, I’m still struggling with it, that’s really when you need to get the help of someone professional to work with you on this issue. To go through some drastic diet, lifestyle, supplement changes, that sort of thing.
But oversupply is not necessarily a godsend. It really isn’t. It is not necessarily something to strive to have. It’s really unhealthy to have too little milk, or to have too much milk is really a state of of dysfunction.
It’s not what our bodies are meant to do. We’re not meant to be over producers, we’re not meant to be under producers, neither of those options is healthy for us, or our babies.
So I want to make sure that we’re kind of like Goldilocks, right? Not too hot, not too cold. This one’s just right. And that’s what we’re really looking for with milk production.
So what I’d love for you to do is just to reframe this in your mind. Now, if you’re following some of these accounts, influencers products, whatever, and Pinterest, and you’re seeing all this stuff about how many ounces this, how many ounces that just realize, that’s not normal.
And it’s not necessarily what you should strive for. Now, if you have triplets, I mean, by all means, yes, we want to make sure you’re making enough milk for three babies.
But you know, that’s really really rare. I’ve only ever had one client who’s had triplets. I’ve had plenty of twin clients, but triplets is really rare. And we can make enough milk to support triplets. And I think that’s amazing. That’s amazing. That’s absolutely a superpower that we have.
But to think that because you have one baby that you should also be producing enough milk for three babies is just kind of silly, quite honestly. And it’s a lot of extra work for you.
So I know that you really don’t want to be spending your days behind the pump. I know that you would like to enjoy life more. And I know that you would probably like to take some of this pressure off of yourself. What I would encourage you to do is that if you realize that kind you’re of in this camp, first of all, if you have an oversupply, please stop drinking teas or taking pills or cookies or whatever to increase your supply. Stop making oatmeal every morning. I mean, oatmeal is fine, you can eat it.
But if you’re trying to do things to increase your supply or keep it up and you have an oversupply, please stop doing those things your body doesn’t need that clearly.
And I just would really like to encourage you to stop needlessly spending your money on products that you really don’t need, and that really aren’t going to offer you much in return.
That being said, if you are trying all these things, and you’re looking for really, most of the time just altering the supply and demand sort of chain that we have with breast milk production, that’s usually enough.
But sometimes moms need a little more. In that case, I do find Mint is very helpful, like drinking a cup of mint tea a day, maybe you go up to as much as two. But that can actually be really helpful for getting your milk supply to tamp down a bit. But you really don’t want to do that, unless you’re working with a lactation consultant.
And I say that because you can overdo it. And now you can knock your supply down too far. And to get back up again, it’s like a whole other thing, I don’t want you to just suddenly give up breastfeeding because you took the wrong sort of herb or whatever.
So please, please be very, very careful with taking things like parsley, mint, or sage, which are very well known for decreasing milk supply as well as pharmaceuticals like Sudafed, or Benadryl.
So we don’t want to just go to the extreme and again, look to a product to solve our breastfeeding problems. Most of the time product is not going to solve your breastfeeding problems. In fact, I mean, I would say nearly 100% of the time, that’s not the answer.
Now product can help you. But it also has to be done with proper lactation management, meaning like that you understand the normal amounts of milk that your baby needs, normal breastfeeding behaviors, and latching and pumping, and sleep and all the things that go along with it.
And so you’ve kind of pieced together the episodes that I’ve put together already. And any of the episodes that come after this one, to try to sort of make it like one big large sort of breastfeeding class, right?
Because there’s just so much to learn, and so much to know, and there’s only so much information we can take in at one time.
But I hope that if you are one of those moms who was wondering about oversupply think she might have it, was thinking about creating one and you listened to this episode, I would love for you to just relax into the fact that normal breast milk supply is really going to look something like two to three ounces every two to three hours. That’s what’s normal. And if you’re pumping, after you’re breastfeeding your baby, and you get milk, well, let me put it this way. Unless you have a low milk supply, if you pump after you nurse your baby at the breast, and you get milk, then that’s normal.
Because your breasts are always making milk, they’re never empty. But let’s say you pump two to three ounces after you breastfed your baby. And we know the baby got milk. They drank enough, they had a full feeding, then that means that you make two to three ounces extra.
So I’ve had so many women contact me and say, you know, I can only pump two ounces after breastfeeding. What do you mean only? Only? that’s two ounces extra, like there’s a lot of moms that would be super jealous of that right now.
And that’s not quite what I would say an oversupply, like it’s technically more milk than your baby needs. But it’s not the same as pumping four ounces after your baby breastfeeds. That’s an oversupply for sure.
And I don’t want to say there’s like an exact number, that we can go off of or something like that. But, sometimes it’s not until you leave your baby and you’re separated and you have to pump in lieu of breastfeeding, where you realize, oh, yeah, I actually am making a lot.
And so that’s one of the things we have to keep in mind is that if you’re pumping after you’re breastfeeding, that’s really not a measure of like that you’re only making that amount of milk .
It’s really a measure of the extra milk that you’re making. So you make two to three ounces extra in that timeframe of feeding your baby. Very cool. Congratulations to you.
So don’t ever measure your worth by how many ounces you can pump, but certainly don’t measure your milk production by what you can pump, let alone what you can pump after or in addition to breastfeeding. Very, very important distinction to make.
So please, please, please remember this information, share it with moms that you know that need it. Again, if you are a regular listener, thank you for subscribing. I appreciate it. Thank you for the reviews, you’re leaving on iTunes. They’re so amazing.
I’d love to hear your feedback, your stories. If you haven’t left one, please, please do so. I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the podcast. Basically just talking into a microphone a lot of the time and so not really sure what you guys are thinking about this.
If you have not yet subscribed to the podcast, subscribe, because there’s some incredible interviews I’ve got coming up, some different changing topics. I try to keep things current as well as just go back to some basic breastfeeding information that I feel like really everyone should have. And so I appreciate all of you listeners out there. Thank you so much for tuning in to Breastfeeding Talk today, and I’ll see you on the next episode.
In this episode, Jacqueline Kincer, IBCLC goes into the reasons why oversupply of breastmilk is actually a problem, and not a good thing. Many moms seem to feel inadequate if they aren’t able to pump bottles FULL of milk. This perception is undermining mothers and sabotaging breastfeeding.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- What oversupply is and is not
- Why oversupply happens
- Real strategies to fix oversupply
- Why we can no longer measure motherhood in ounces