Don’t hate her because she makes more milk than you.
Having an oversupply of breast milk seems like a blessing. Something no woman should complain about.
You kind of hate her, don’t you? She sits at support group explaining that she has no more room in her freezer, that she can pump eight ounces after the baby has breastfed. You are struggling to get a single ounce in your freezer. Or maybe you don’t even make enough for your baby and you need to supplement with formula.
Don’t hate her.
I am going to introduce you to Wendy and her second son, Logan. Wendy explains, “I’m a huge over-supplier. Huge, like 75-80 ounces per day! Those of you with normal or low supply are probably thinking, “What’s the problem with that?” Well, I didn’t have triplets. I was feeding a 10 pound baby about 30 ounces of milk a day and freezing the rest.”
“At first, I thought this was a great thing. I was going to have so much milk for my return to work. I wouldn’t run out of my daycare supply like I did with my first baby. It was going to be great! However, that excitement quickly changed. There came a point when I had completely filled my upstairs freezer and was running out of room in my deep freezer. There was no room for anything other than milk. I stored any frozen foods we had (luckily it wasn’t much) at my mom’s. Having all this extra milk was really becoming a problem, but in more ways than just milk storage.”
Reasons (other than storage) why having too much milk can be too much of a good thing:
- You are not only beholden to your baby, you are beholden to your pump.
Many breastfeeding moms know the feeling of getting a little too full after a long car ride, an unexpected blessed chunk of sleep at night, or a missed pump at work with the subsequent sweet relief of then having a hungry baby release all that pressure. It is kind of like having to pee really bad, panicking as you make your way to the bathroom, then finally hitting the toilet seat. The pain and panic, followed by the pleasure of release.
This isn’t a pleasant experience. Most oversupply moms experience this pressure and panic of full breasts almost every time it is time to nurse. Some oversupply moms feel it before it is time for the baby to nurse.
Some oversupply moms get to experience the sweet release after the baby nurses, but most are left feeling unsatisfied. There is simply too much milk for the baby to drain it to the point where she can feel comfortable again. Each time, at least one breast is left full and firm. This leads us to another reason why having an oversupply sucks:
- You are not only dependent on your baby, you are dependent on your pump.
Like Wendy said, she had a milk storage problem. She had expressed so much milk that there was nowhere to keep it! But, consider this. What had to happen in Wendy’s life to be able to have all that expressed milk? She had to pump. She didn’t want to pump, she had to pump. Logan would nurse, but with the volume she was producing, he hardly scratched the surface by taking off a few ounces.
In the early weeks of breastfeeding, Wendy had to pump after most breastfeeding sessions. She couldn’t roll over and go back to sleep and she couldn’t play with her baby when he was done nursing; she had to hook up to the pump. That sucks. Because if she didn’t, she would fall victim to another one of those reasons that being an over-producer is really difficult.
If breasts are left uncomfortably full for too long, milk can thicken is spots and become more difficult to drain. If you aren’t familiar with it, consider this: mothers describe mastitis as feeling like “being run over by a truck.”
- Babies don’t like drinking from a fire hose.
Some babies handle an oversupply like a champ. A lot of babies simply can’t handle it. They develop interesting and upsetting ways of coping with being asked to nurse like they are chugging a beer at a frat party.
- They clamp (aka biting without teeth). If milk is coming too fast, they simply use their gums to stop it. This was what Logan decided to do. Wendy says, “Let me tell you, that nipple pain and the damage was something that mentally I had to overcome. Just the thought of putting him near my breast was traumatizing! Parts of my nipples were missing! It took weeks to recover.” Wendy is putting it mildly. When a baby clamps repeatedly, it leads to significant nipple trauma and bruising, often with subsequent vasospasms. It is quite smart of them to help them cope with the flow, but it is big trouble for mama’s nipples.
- They puke. A lot. These babies are forced to eat so much so fast, that they often overeat themselves. Yes, a breastfed baby can eat too much at the breast! If his belly is unhappy with the speed and volume at which it was filled, it will give it right back to mom. Sometimes, this is a laundry problem, and sometimes it is a medical issue. Always, it is a mess.
- They cough and sputter and choke while nursing. It is really hard to chug a whole boob without stopping to catch your breath! Suck, swallow, breathe, SUCK, SWALLOW, BREATHE, SUCK-SWALLOW-BREATHE!! It is high pressure and potentially a little scary. At times, baby may feel panicky, as if he is drowning.
- They sometimes just cry at the breast and refuse, especially if they have had a number of “near drowning” experiences. This is heartbreaking to watch because it is clear that this baby wants to eat, but is scared to eat, so he simply won’t.
- All of the oversupply issues often leave a mother trapped in a vicious cycle. She tries to nurse, watches her baby struggle, and then he pukes all over her. Once she gets baby settled, she has to pump.
Wendy remembers, “I was finally able to nurse Logan with a nipple shield to try and slow things down for him, but even after nursing, I couldn’t avoid pumping. My pump was just as important as my diaper bag. I couldn’t go anywhere without it. Not only was pumping in addition to nursing an inconvenience, but emotionally it became very taxing. I missed out on things with my family and friends because after nursing Logan, I would have to excuse myself to pump as well.”
- Last, but not least, she can’t sleep even when the baby is sleeping.
Maybe the baby doesn’t need to eat, but her boobs need to be pumped.
With every challenge there is a silver lining. You might be wondering what Wendy did with all that milk in her freezer. She and Logan were able to donate almost 1,200 ounces to the milk bank to help babies—possibly up to 4,800 babies!
As I preach in my blog about milk hoarding, please, please don’t let excess milk sit in the freezer and spoil. Donate it if you can.
Wendy says, “Our hope is that it can help lots of tiny babies become as strong and healthy as Logan!”
Wendy donated her milk to the King’s Daughters Milk Bank at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughter. Click here for more information about donation to their milk bank.
Nemours recently opened a Milk Donation Program as well. Now we are able to keep our Delaware breastmilk local!