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Too much milk while breastfeeding

July 12, 2011

This is a repost – I’m posting it again because so many readers said they found it helpful. I hope one of you find it useful too.

Both times I breastfed, I had major oversupply issues. I’m sure some of you are saying, “So what? Better to have too much milk than too little!”

Let me tell you that since I have had too little milk too – both problems stink.

Recently though, it occurred to me that I should write down what worked for my oversupply in case it might work for someone else. I am NOT a nurse or doctor……well, obviously, so take all I say with that in mind.

When I brought Birch home, my milk had just come in. I was a bit engorged which is fairly typical for the first week after you give birth. However, about 9 days into it, I determined with the help of my lactation consultant, that I was no longer just postpartum engorged but oversupplied. (Make sure that you are truly facing oversupply and not regular postpartum engorgement which can happen for up to 2 weeks). Birch was gagging, spitting up and just plain miserable. He had terrible gas because he was getting so much milk so fast that he was getting air pockets. Contributing to the gas problem too was the oversupply of the foremilk that was so heavy in sugar and less fat. He was grumpy- and so was I. What had happened to this lovely idea of blissfully nursing?

So, after seeing 3 lactation consultants (you can see my reviews of them here), I was able to determine how to get rid of my milk oversupply. (Not everyone who has this issue needs to take all of these measures or to this extreme). It took a lot of steps to find my resolution. Here they are:

STEP 1: In between nursing, I iced my breasts to help decrease the milk supply for those first few weeks. I was pretty diligent about this. I used bags of peas and just stuck them in a big nursing bra and walked around like that even when my brother-in-law was visiting. (Which reminds me: NEVER let your brother-in-law come visit right after the baby is born- for MANY reasons, but most of all so that if you want to walk around in your bra, you don’t have to think twice about it!)
Conclusion: This seems to work for a lot of women, but not for me.

STEP 2: I put cabbage leaves in my bra along with the bags of peas. I felt like a dysfunctional vegetable garden. What I did find fascinating was how terribly hot the cabbage leaves got in a short period of time. That made me feel like they were working.
Conclusion: I love the idea of cabbage leaves as a remedy. It makes sense- each of their leaves is a perfect breast cup! This didn’t work for me in the end though either.

STEP 3: I pumped my one breast before nursing for 90 seconds just to take the top off so that it wasn’t such a strong force of milk coming out for Birch. This seemed counterintuitive to me since I didn’t want my boobs to think they should start making more milk! However, this is what was recommended to me. I did this in between icing and cabbage patch leaves. I barely got any sleep. It was horrible.
Conclusion: This just totally exhausted me, I don’t know if it had any affect.

STEP 4: Birch gagged while nursing because my let-down was like a faucet gushing. Oh, I felt so badly. So, I nursed him on my side, or leaning way back or lying down on my back with him on top of me. (The latter position was only easy to do as he got older and could hold his own head). (See 2 of the 3 positions in photos above).
Conclusion: This helped tremendously. Birch gagged a lot less and the milk slowed down.

STEP 5: I took Sudafed at the recommendation of a lactation consultant named Tamara. I took 60 mg for 10 days straight. On the 11th day, I woke up and my milk supply had been reduced.

FINAL CONCLUSION:Joy, joy, joy! I think the icing in combination with the Sudafed really helped. I also think time made the difference. My hormones had settled in too and Birch and I were on a pretty good schedule. The changes took place when he was 10 weeks old. Then we had a fantastic nursing experience and all turned out rosy. It was worth it all. Really.

With Willow, I had the same problem, but it was resolved differently.

STEP 1: I determined right away that I was going to take Sudafed when I realized I was having oversupply issues again (on day 10 !) and not just the typical post-partum engorgement. (Make sure that you are truly facing oversupply and not regular postpartum engorgement which can happen for up to 2 weeks). This time I took 120 mg of Sudafed daily. I did this to speed up the results. Wouldn’t you know that didn’t work?
Conclusion: I took Sudafed for 19 days before I felt it worked in conjunction with Step 2.

STEP 2: I block nursed- and I think this was instrumental. Block nursing is offering the same breast for three hour blocks of time. In other words, you start off nursing from your right (for the sake of this explanation) breast. After the baby’s initial feeding, try and nurse off the right one again before offering up the left one for a full 3 hours. Your left breast will feel like it is going to explode. If you can’t stand it, then hand or pump express a little so that you feel more comfortable. I found it helpful to have cotton nursing pads in my bra at all times while block nursing. I leaked everywhere and it wasn’t pretty. After 3 hours, you can nurse on your left breast. Nurse only on the left breast for the next 3 hours. Gradually, you will extend the time so that you will be nursing off one breast for 3.5 hours, 4 hours, 4.5 hours, 5 hours, etc. This is a way of telling your boobs, “I don’t need as much milk from you left breast, so slow down your milk production.” I found I needed to go up to 8 hours on each breast to finally help decrease the milk supply. (I think this might be atypical though). Here is the most crucial part of block nursing: if you don’t have a good latch, it is nearly impossible to do this. It will hurt like *&%! if you are nursing for 5, 6 hours on cracked nipples. So, please get your latch down right initially. There are great videos online about latching (youtube) or call a local lactation consultant or family.
Conclusion: Block nursing really did it for me this time. I was super diligent about it and kept a stopwatch to make sure I stayed on target.

STEP 2: I nursed Willow lying down almost all of the time. In fact, it got so that she didn’t like to nurse in the cradle hold or any other way! Eventually, once my milk supply was down, I retrained her. But if I didn’t nurse her lying down, she was spitting up, gagging and had horrible gas.

FINAL CONCLUSION: In the end, the combination of block nursing, positioning for nursing and Sudafed is what solved my oversupply with Willow.

****Breastfeeding with Willow was done while consulting my amazing lactation consultant: Kathy Lilleskov. (On the record- I did the Sudafed without her recommendation)

****For more information on breastfeeding in general or oversupply issues visit my favorite breastfeeding site: Kellymom.com