It seems that having too much milk is a champagne problem, but it is a problem nonetheless. Don’t believe me? Be sure to read Wendy’s story about oversupply before reading on.
Before I explain how to manage too much milk, I first want to define what it means to have too much milk. But before I can define “too much milk,” I want to define what is average or normal. Defining normal is important for two reasons: One, you should not follow the advice in this series of blogs if you do not, in fact, have an oversupply of milk. Two, if you are a mom who makes too much milk, you need to offer that up as a disclaimer every time you talk to another breastfeeding mom. For instance, during the dreaded “how much do you pump” conversation, the oversupply mom may say, “I pump six ounces (or more) from both breasts combined. But, I am an overproducer.” It is simply not fair to average breastfeeding moms for them to believe that their three ounces combined from both breasts is too little, because it isn’t at all.
Also, note that determining whether or not you have an oversupply can’t be done until two weeks at the earliest, ideally closer to four weeks. In the early weeks, your body is still trying to figure out how much milk you want it to make, so it can easily and quickly increase or decrease.
Okay, so what is normal?
If you have an average milk supply and you are exclusively breastfeeding (i.e., not supplementing with formula or feeding solids), your baby probably gains about five to seven ounces a week. Most often, your baby accepts both breasts at each feeding, though at times, she may want just one. That is most often first thing in the morning when your breasts feel fuller.
If you pump within 15-20 minutes of completing a breastfeeding session, you will probably get one to two ounces combined. If you pump in place of breastfeeding, about two or three hours from your last breastfeeding or pumping session, you will collect about three to five ounces from both breasts combined. Occasionally, if the baby gives you a blessed chunk of sleep or you accidentally go four to six hours without pumping, you may get six ounces combined.
If you have an average supply, once your baby is about five to six weeks old, you most likely don’t “feel” like you have to pump or feed the baby at the two to three hour mark. Rather, your boobs start to get a little angry around the four to six hour mark.
If you have met with a quality IBCLC at two weeks postpartum or later and she has done a transfer weigh, your baby probably will have eaten about 45-60 milliliters from the first breast and an addition 15-30 milliliters from the second breast.
Moms with an average milk supply usually don’t complain about their baby “chugging,” “choking,” or “coughing” at the breast. Their babies may show small signs of spit up, but not at every feeding and not copious amounts. It is notable though that babies can spit up for a lot of reasons. It is not a good idea to follow the advice on this blog just based upon your baby spitting up.
Finally, moms with an average milk supply enjoy a pretty textbook nursing pattern. Their babies ask to eat every two to three hours around the clock. The baby often nurses for the classic fifteen to twenty minutes on the first breast and another ten to fifteen minutes on the second breast. Moms with an average supply usually report having a baby that “hangs out on the breast and uses it as a pacifier.” This is because once that baby is done eating, there is nothing but a delicious tasting nipple left to just suck and nap on.
So, then, what is oversupply?
If you have an oversupply of milk your baby probably gains about eight to 16 ounces a week. Most often, your baby accepts one breast at each feeding. It is rare that your baby accepts both breasts, though if she does, it is almost always in the evening when your breasts feel softer.
If you pump within 15-20 minutes of completing a breastfeeding session, you will probably get three to five ounces from the breast the baby did not drink from and one to three ounces from the breast the baby did drink from. If you pump in place of breastfeeding, about two or three hours from your last breastfeeding or pumping session… well, here is where your true oversupply will show us what it can do. If average is three to five ounces combined and you are getting that from each breast, you have an oversupply. If you are getting more than five ounces from each breast (and, ahem, you don’t have twins) then you have, let’s call it, an aggressive oversupply. You body thinks it is feeding three or four babies, not one. Occasionally, if the baby gives you a blessed chunk of sleep or you accidentally go four to six hours without pumping… oh wait, this probably rarely ever happens to you because your boobs will wake you up before the baby wakes you up.
If you have an oversupply, you are probably constantly aware of the fullness of your breasts and your need to nurse. You can barely make it to the three hour mark without coaxing the baby to nurse (perhaps even before she is ready) because you need the relief.
If you have an oversupply, you may be reliant on your pump at least once if not multiple times per day if the baby doesn’t do a good enough job softening you. You may be a little too familiar with plugged ducts and mastitis.
If you have met with a quality IBCLC at two weeks postpartum or later and she has done a transfer weigh, your baby probably ate about 90-120 milliliters (three to four ounces) from the first breast. If that baby dared attempt the second breast, he may have taken in (accidentally or on purpose) an additional 30-60 milliliters (one to two ounces) before tapping out.
Moms with an oversupply report that their babies are “quick nursers,” sometimes finishing in as short of a period as five to ten minutes! They report that their babies seem like they are drinking really fast the whole time. Their babies cough and sputter if they let down their guard for even a moment and disorganize their suck, swallow, breathe pattern. (I like to joke that there are bones in mom’s milk when this happens). Moms with an oversupply worry they are “drowning” their baby. There is often milk everywhere. All the time.
Their babies may or may not spit up. Some babies can handle big feedings like champs, others regularly overeat themselves and promptly “vurp” up the extra. And yes, I 100% believe that breastfed babies can overeat themselves if they are drinking copious amount of milk being poured into their mouths faster than they can think.
So, do you think you might have an oversupply? Read on.
The next question we must ask is, “So what?” Is oversupply causing a problem in your life and/or your baby’s life and does it require attention?
If you have a happy, fat baby who may or may not happily puke on himself, your baby doesn’t have a problem with your milk supply.
If you have boobs that feel full most of the time, but have adjusted to taking turns at every other feeding without needing to be pumped, your boobs don’t have a problem with your oversupply.
If you have a fussy, spitty, pukey baby…
If you have a baby with lime green poops…
If you have a baby that seems gassy because she swallows so much air while nursing…
If you are a slave to your pump and your baby…
If you have chronic and repeated boughts of mastitis…
If you have hundreds of ounces in your freezer and there is no room left for ice cream…
You may have an oversupply problem. Check out the next blog on how to manage your oversupply.