We may have heard or seen many breastfeeding mothers complain about low milk supply. However, at the other end of the spectrum we have mothers troubled by ‘oversupply’ of breast milk. This condition is also known as hyper lactation or hypergalactia.
It usually begins 3 to 4 weeks after the baby’s birth and is due to excessive increase in the prolactin hormone (which is the hormone responsible for milk production). This problem is so troublesome that mothers sometimes get overwhelmed.
When there is an oversupply of breast milk, it doesn’t just result in an increase in milk production, it also causes the milk to gush out, making it difficult to nurse the baby.
What does the mother experience?
- The breasts continuously feel full and engorged.
- When nursing on one breast, milk may spray from the other breast.
- Constant milk leakage.
- The breasts do not feel soft even after nursing the baby. This may make the mother express more milk. While this may give temporary relief, the breasts will refill again in no time. In fact, pumping can make the prolactin rise and worsen the situation.
What does the baby experience?
If the baby can manage the larger flow of milk, she will enjoy it. But if the flow is too much for the baby, he or she may:
- Gag, choke or cough while nursing.
- Pull at the breast frequently when nursing.
- Clamp down on the nipple to slow down the flow (this can be painful for the mother).
- Get very gassy since the baby lands up drinking a lot of foremilk which is rich in lactose and causes gas formation.
Don’t worry! Let us understand how to manage this:
- Whether breastfeeding in a cradle hold, cross cradle hold or football hold, the mother must recline on a couple of pillows, ensuring that the baby is on top (facing down), tummy to tummy with her.
- If the baby pulls at the breast during nursing due to the milk gushing out, the mother can catch the spraying milk in a towel and gently pinch at the base of the nipple for a minute. Once the flow slows down, she can put the baby back on the breast.
- If the milk flow is fast right from the start of the nursing session then the mother can gently hand express until the flow slows down and then feed the baby.
- Mothers should reduce consumption of galactogogues like methi, bajra, sesame seeds, if they are having any (PS. a galactogogue is a substance that boosts milk production).
These steps generally help bring the milk supply to normal within a few weeks.
What to do if the oversupply does not get managed by the usual technique?
- Block feeding technique – This method is to be used only under the supervision of an expert lactation consultant because if it is not done correctly it may actually cause painful swelling of the breast with fever and low milk supply. It involves nursing the baby from only one breast for 6 to 8 hours and blocking the feeding from the other breast (so that it becomes overfull leading to reduction of milk supply on that side). Over the next 6 to 8 hours, the same process should be repeated with the other breast.
- Use of certain medicines like pseudoephedrine, cabergoline etc. can be considered after seeking the doctor’s advice.
So to conclude, breast milk oversupply can be a frustrating experience that can snowball into other problems quickly. Therefore if you are not sure how to manage it, please take help at the right time.
Dr. Preeti Gangan
MBBS, DCH, IBCLC
Paediatrician and Lactation Consultant