Many moms worry about having too little milk, but having an overabundance, oversupply or “fast flow” can also make breastfeeding stressful.
Causes and Signs from Baby of Oversupply
A mother may just naturally have oversupply (moms who describe themselves as a “cow”). Other moms may experience oversupply because of over-pumping. The more you pump the more the breasts produce. Pumping more milk than your baby can consume will overstimulate milk production.
There may also be a medical reason for the oversupply, such as polycystic ovary yndrome (PCOS) which has been found to occur in about one-third of moms with this condition.
So how do you know if your milk is flowing too fast for your baby?
Your baby will give you cues or signs during feeding. If your baby is struggling with fast milk flow, he may:
• Gulp the milk so fast it looks as if he were starving • Appear startled -- eyes wide open, noisy gulps, almost no pauses • Pull off frequently but immediately re-latch (milk may drip or spray when he pulls away) • Tug at his ear • Scratch at his face • Squirm • Not look as though eating is restful • Make a clicking sound when nursing • Spit up very often and/or tend to be very gassy • Drip milk out of his mouth • Fuss if pulled in close to the breast
To cope with the fast milk flow, baby may:
• Use a shallow latch • Clamp down on the nipple • Bunch up the back of his tongue, pinching the nipple, thereby protecting his airway • Push away from mom • Roll his chest away from mom while still keeping his head facing the breast
Swallowing fast and clamping of the nipple is usually a sign that milk flow is too fast, and that he is trying to clear his airway to breathe. Your baby may need “extra time and support to learn, coordinate and manage the suck/swallow/breathe process.”
How to Manage Oversupply
So what can you do about oversupply?
1. Be patient. “It may take a couple of weeks to see results from interventions for oversupply, so try to be patient and keep working on it.”
2. Discover what is making your milk flow too fast. Since each baby is unique, determine what makes the milk flow too fast for this baby. Breathing and swallowing issues require different management strategies than if dealing with an oversupply issue only.
3. Tailor breastfeeding. Moms are usually taught breastfeeding rules such as, "switch breasts after 15 minutes" or "the baby must spend at least 20 minutes nursing". Instead, watch your baby’s cues and what he might be trying to tell you, then adapt your feeding techniques.
4. Determine the best position for your baby. Find your baby’s preferred position by watching his cues and allow him to shift and adjust himself. The conventional tummy-to-tummy position is not always the best position for every baby and it is okay to allow your baby to find a position that helps him better cope with the flow and the need to breathe.
5. Use a nipple shield. A nipple shield is a thin, soft flexible silicone nipple that is placed on mother’s breast over the nipple area. International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Beverly Morgan describes in more detail how a nipple shield works in Milk Flow: It’s at the Heart of Breastfeeding.