Somebody Help! My Breasts Make Too Much Milk!
Anything in Excess is Not Good--Including Breast Milk
Breasts as hard as rocks and so engorged that the baby couldn’t latch on if she tried...sounds familiar? Here are some simple instructions that will help you make it through the first few weeks after your milk “comes in,” if you have been blessed with the curse of too much milk.
According to the International Breastfeeding Journal (2007), “Overabundant milk supply is an often under-diagnosed condition in otherwise healthy lactating women.” You mainly hear women talk about struggles with low milk supply. In these cases, they have to supplement their child with formula or switch to formula full-time. Hyperlactation is when your breasts produce entirely too much milk, and while some women may see this as a blessing, this is an extremely painful ordeal for the mother and can be traumatic for the poor little baby.
On February 3, 2014, just two and a half hours after arriving to the hospital, I gave birth to a gorgeous 7lb 6oz little girl who we named Chauncey (see pic to the right). My husband didn’t have to ask if I would breastfeed because he already knew the answer. I had breastfed our four-year-old son, Seven, and our one-year-old son, Canaan, so I was a pro at this. Even though I had a few years of breastfeeding experience tucked under my belt, by the time we left the hospital three days later, my breasts had me in so much pain that I was crying. But I knew this was coming because I had already self-diagnosed myself with an issue that is not commonly talked about: hyperlactation.
Too much milk can be a bad thing and below are two tables, one that lists some of the negative symptoms of hyperlactation for mommy as well as some of the negative symptoms for baby.
Symptoms of Too Much Milk - Mommy
hard, engorged, unbelievably painful breasts
one breast leaks severely when the baby is nursing on the other
soaks nursing pads through
breasts always feel full or refill quickly after being emptied
powerful, forceful letdown of milk
mastitis (infection in breast tissue) and/or plugged ducts
Symptoms of Too Much Milk - Baby
green, stringy stools, explosive stools or no stools
baby often chokes and/or aspirates during feedings
lots of wet diapers but few dirty diapers
baby does a lot of cluster feedings because he doesn’t stay full long
colicky, gassy, fussy baby
baby has difficult time of emptying one breast
baby shows aversion to feeding or clamps on to nipple to decrease flow
Engorged Breasts & How to Manage Them
Knock on wood. That’s exactly what your breasts feel like when they’re engorged: hard slabs of wood, two big bricks, a marble countertop (I’m sure you could throw in a horde of fitting similes). Engorgement is one of the most painful experiences that almost every breastfeeding mom goes through. Even moms who decide not to breastfeed still have to suffer through engorgement. The simplest way for a non-breastfeeding mom to battle engorgement is to tuck fresh cabbage leaves into her tight-fitting bra. Doctors aren’t sure why this works, but I swear to you, it works. With my oldest child, Kaniyah, I did not breastfeed and when I tucked those cabbage leaves into my bra, about 2 days later, all my milk was gone. For breastfeeding moms, avoid cabbage leaves like the plague! They will dry up your milk supply and you do not want this to happen.
The key to effectively battling engorgement is to fully empty the breast and do so as quickly as possible. Continued engorgement will cause decreased milk production. But emptying your breasts is a difficult task to accomplish when your breasts are constantly making entirely too much milk. It’s difficult, but it’s possible and it’s critical to maintain a good supply of milk for your baby.
Step 1: Put the baby on the breast that is the fullest. If the breast is too hard for baby to properly latch on to the nipple, self-express milk with your fingers or use a pump to get out just enough milk to soften the breast some.
Step 2: Feed the baby on this same breast for multiple feedings until it is empty. This is called “block” or restrictive feeding.
Step 3: The previous step will of course cause the other breast to become severely engorged. Use a manual pump to intermittently pump just enough milk to bring some relief to this breast until it’s time to switch baby.
Step 4: Once the first breast is completely emptied, when baby is hungry again, block feed on the other breast.
Helpful Tips along the Way
Tip 1: Prescription strength ibuprofen (two 800mg pills) is perfect for the pain and inflammation.
Tip 2: Frozen peas in a bag helps with the swelling and soreness
Tip 3: A hot shower with the spigot pointed at your breasts works wonders (but keep those nipples covered or you’ll die).
Tip 4: In this stage of breastfeeding, a manual pump is better than an electrical one because it gives you mobility and one free hand.
Tip 5: Save the milk you pump and store it for later use (it’s okay if the milk is very yellowish in color; this is just an abundance of colostrum present).
Mommies know that a baby’s poop tells us a lot about what’s going on inside of baby. If you are breastfeeding, baby’s forceful stool, greenish stringy stool or lack of stool is usually a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance problem. Hindmilk is rich in fat content and is what thickens baby up, but this milk comes in after the foremilk. The foremilk is what comes out of the breast first and it is very watery and high in sugar content. According to La Leche League International (Bastien, 1998), “A combined intake of both foremilk and hindmilk is the optimum result.” However with hyperlactation, it is difficult for the infant to get a balanced amount of foremilk and hindmilk; he usually gets too much of one and not enough of the other.
Forceful Stools and/or Greenish Stringy Stools
No, your baby is not sick, and yes, his explosive bowel movement in public can be embarrassing because it is very loud and baby usually jumps from the force of it. This is happening because of the foremilk/hindmilk imbalance. This forceful stool or stringy green stool happens because the foremilk is so high in sugar that it causes “rapid gastric passage” which leads to a concentration of lactose in the small intestines that is too high for the infant (International Breastfeeding Journal, 2007). Keep reading to find ways to resolve this issue.
No Stool at All
Many breastfeeding moms battle with a baby who does not pass any bowel movements for days at a time. The infant could be constipated or the infant could be lacking in poop because she isn’t getting enough of the fatty content that comes from the hindmilk. My baby has a lot of M.I.A (missing in action) poops, but don’t worry too much about this if when baby finally does have a BM, it’s the motherload.
Solution 2: Feed baby as often as possible, at least 10-12 times every 24 hours. This will increase baby’s likelihood of getting as much milk as possible, both foremilk and hindmilk.
Solution 3: Find comfortable breastfeeding holds that will put baby’s head above the breast instead of below it. With baby on top of the nipple, gravity helps hold back some of the force and the flow of overactive milk ducts.
Solutions to Hyperlactating & Stool Problems
Solution 1: Pump immediately before feeding baby. This will drastically decrease the amount of foremilk that baby will have to drink and help her get to the rich hindmilk quicker. (But don’t pump too much of the foremilk because this is the stuff that keeps baby hydrated.) Also, pumping first will eliminate baby having to deal with the forceful letdown of your milk, decreasing the likelihood of those forceful BMs.
A Piece of Encouragement to Breastfeeding Moms
My Three Greatest Breastfeeding Survival Tools
2. Handheld breast pump
3. Tricky breastfeeding hold
Breastfeeding can be difficult, but it’s well worth the trouble, both for you and baby. The first six weeks are the hardest, so if you can get past that milestone, find encouragement in knowing that the worst part is over.
In closing, the three tools in my breastfeeding kit that help me survive the initial stages of breastfeeding are prescription strength ibuprofen for the swelling, a hand held breast pump for immediate relief, and breastfeeding my baby while lying flat on my back with her mouth parallel to my body. It’s a tricky hold to master and you may have to hold back baby’s forehead to keep her from suffocating, but it really helps to slow down the flow.
Just remember to stay encouraged and don’t give up. If you have a problem with hyperactive milk ducts, things will get better for you. Eventually, your body will regulate how much milk your baby needs and your supply will decrease enough to bring both you and baby optimum relief. Hope you find this hub helpful in your own breastfeeding endeavors and if you have any questions for me, feel free to leave a comment below.
True/False: How Much Do You Know about Breast Milk?
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- Breastfeeding | womenshealth.gov
If you want to find out more information and resources that will assist you with breastfeeding, view this government page from the Office of Women Health.
© 2014 Jessica Barrow