My baby and I were both frustrated and crying. We had just endured another nursing session that was stressful, uncomfortable and unsuccessful.
I contemplated quitting. My husband was trying to be encouraging, and told me I didn’t have anything to prove. If I wanted to quit I should quit and not feel guilty about it.
But I genuinely didn’t want to quit. I wanted to nurse my baby as long as possible.
When we talk about breastfeeding challenges, the conversation frequently pivots to low milk supply. However, the source of my breastfeeding frustration was the exact opposite—my body produced an excessive amount of milk, far more than was necessary to adequately feed my baby. Now, it may seem like an abundant milk supply is nothing to complain about; however, overproduction comes with it’s own unique set of frustrations and challenges.
I nursed three of my five children. With my oldest, things went fairly well, aside from the usual issues associated with being a first-time mom learning to nurse.
With the second and third babies I nursed, things changed. I’m not sure if it was because the two younger boys were a full pound larger than their older brother, but something shifted and my body kicked into overdrive.
In both instances, my boobs swelled to comical proportions. They would leak—no—explode without warning at the most inopportune times. (With my third I was more prepared and invested in good nursing pads right away.)
Feeding sessions were full of frustration and tears. My letdown was painful and ferocious, and my kids’ tiny newborn mouths couldn’t keep up when the floodgates opened. I once heard the analogy that for a baby, a forceful let down is like trying to drink from a fire hose. This was certainly the case with my kids. They would choke, gag, and scream. They would constantly break their latch, pulling on and off, which made it very difficult (and painful) to fall into a feeding rhythm. Nursing sessions were frequently too short since the kids would gulp way too much milk right at the beginning and swallow a lot of air as they pulled on and off of my breast. Even though the feeding sessions were short, my babies would projectile vomit most of what they ate and were hungry again in less than two hours. They spit up all of the time, and they had periods of being very gassy/fussy.
The good news is that with the right strategies, oversupply issues can be managed.
Here are a few techniques that made nursing with an abundance of milk more manageable for me:
- When my kids were very small, I discovered that placing them in a more upright position during feedings was helpful. This way, they didn’t have to fight against gravity when the “floodgates” opened. There are several suggested positions one can try (chest-to-chest is one example, but I didn’t find it comfortable). One of my favorites was a very supported football hold, using several pillows to get the baby’s head higher than my breast.
- It’s often recommended to alternate breasts every feeding as a way to balance milk production. This approach worked fairly well with my older son, it was a bit more challenging with my younger baby as I frequently struggled with clogged ducts and two nasty bouts of mastitis. Light pumping or hand expression can help relieve pressure on the unused side. If you take this approach, however, be sure to express a very small amount (just enough to relieve any pressure) or you’ll end up at back square one.
- One technique I used with my younger son was to nurse and/or pump for a minute or two, and when my milk let down, I would catch the forceful stream in a cloth diaper or burp rag. Once the big rush of milk was out of the way, I would continue nursing the baby. This method is messy and time consuming, but it helped ease the baby’s frustration at the beginning of the feeding session and helped us fall into a more comfortable rhythm.
- Don’t be afraid to get help! I cannot stress this point enough. I’m a person who doesn’t like to ask for help. I prefer to tough things out on my own, but if you’re learning to nurse good support is essential no matter what challenges you face. Although I asked the nurses and lactation consultant at the hospital for advice, I regret not reaching out to the numerous experts in our community when I experienced more long-term struggles at home. No matter how much parenting experience you have, we all know how tough those first few weeks with a new baby can be. Not asking for additional help only increased my sense of loneliness and frustration. (For a list of Corridor lactation consultants/resources click here.)
Fortunately after a couple of months of using the above techniques, my body got the message and settled down a bit. We were able to move forward and enjoy more relaxed (if still messy) feeding sessions.
Have any of you experienced oversupply issues? What advice would you give a new mom?
*Photo via Flickr user Andrew Magill