Are My Problems Caused by Oversupply?

QUESTION

Dear Lactation Consultant,
My son, Zak was born on 2/12/04 and has been exclusively breastfed since day 2 (he was given formula in the hospital against my wishes). I've been having some problems lately and don't know where to turn...I'm hoping this is it. Here's an explanation of what's been going on.

He's getting very fussy at the breast quite a few a times a day now -- crying, pulling himself off, and our nursing sessions last forever because I just don't know when he's full! I'm putting him to my breast constantly. Anyway, I went looking online and I saw an article on too much milk. Because of his symptoms and the fact that he gained 18 ounces in 9 days. I saw a picture of a woman who has milk squirting towards her baby from her breast and I do squirt, but it requires pressure on the breast (The picture doesn't show her applying pressure to make the milk squirt out). Could this be part of the problem?

I leak constantly. I also have pain for a few seconds during each feeding (from both breasts) and from my nipples, but those go away after he starts to eat. I'm becoming very discouraged. I almost want to give up because I'm becoming more sore again and my breasts leak constantly (even dripping on my foot when I'm standing up!). He's fussy after each feeding, so I don't know when to stop.

Here are his stats:

  • Birthdate: 2/12/04
  • Not premature, born at 38 weeks 3 days due to low platelets via c-section
  • Not first child. I have another that was born in 98. I tried nursing my first, but stopped at 3 weeks because of pain and bad advice.
  • Birthweight: 9 pounds, 6 ounces (when we left the hospital he was at 8 pounds, 7 ounces)
  • Weight as of 3/8/04: 10 pounds, 9 ounces
  • No formula, however he was given two bottles at birth because of an ignorant hospital staff.
  • He nurses every 2-2 &fract12; hours all day, every 3 at night. He nurses for about an hour on both sides.
  • Recently he's been nursing constantly.
  • He poops 1-2 times a day (2-3 substantial ones), and he's got a wet diaper every time he eats -- sometimes they're soaking. Poop is darker yellow (like dried mustard), seedy and contains curds. Urine has no color.
  • No diaper rash, just really pink -- looks irritated.

He arches his back and pulls my nipple with him, which is very painful. He acts fussy sometimes right at the end of each breast so I always offer him the other breast. Recently, though, he's been crying while on (usually) the second breast. I can hear him swallowing, sometimes gulping. He's very gassy, and he does spit up often too. I burp him every time he comes off the breast, and usually, can produce one each time. Thank you!

Marki

ANSWER

Hi Marki,

It does sound like you have an oversupply problem based on what you are describing. In fact, it's a textbook description. This is a very frustrating situation for both you and your baby, but the good news is that it is something that should resolve itself over time. Generally, oversupply problems are improving by 6 weeks, and should be pretty much under control by 3 months.

In the meantime, I would refer you back to the article for more advice on how to encourage your milk supply to "settle down" to the point where you are making enough milk for your baby, but not too much. Offering one breast at a feeding is usually the first step in this process. If he fusses after he has been on the breast for less than 15 minutes, try putting him back on the same breast again if it has been less than 2 hours since the last feeding.I would really be surprised if he is still hungry after emptying one breast, although he may be fussy and just want to suck. You could also try offering him a pacifier if he still seems antsy after finishing one breast. Sometimes babies just want to suck for comfort after their tummies are full, and they get angry when you offer them the breast, but will settle right down with a pacifier.

The leaking should also lessen with time, with most nursing moms noticing a marked decrease after the first six weeks of breastfeeding. There are exceptions to every rule, however, and if your milk continues to leak to the point where it is a real inconvenience, you might want to try BLIS (Breastmilk Leakage Inhibitor System). It's not very expensive, and works great for many moms who experience long term problems with leaking. There is information about BLIS on my website if you want to find out more about it.

Try to hang in there! I work with so many moms who are struggling to produce enough milk for their babies that it seems like such a shame for a mother to wean because she has too much milk, especially since the problem will lessen over time if you can just make it a while longer.

-- Anne, IBCLC

Kathleen Tackett

Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a health psychologist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Research Associate Professor of Psychology specializing in women's health at the Family Research Lab, University of New Hampshire. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association in both the Divisions of Health Psychology and Trauma Psychology. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is a La Leche League leader, chair of the New Hampshire Breastfeeding Taskforce, and the Area Coordinator of Leaders for La Leche League of Maine and New Hampshire.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett is author of more than 140 journal articles, book chapters and other publications, and author or editor of 15 books including The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood (2005, Hale Publications), Depression in New Mothers (2005, Haworth), and Breastfeeding Made Simple, co-authored with Nancy Mohrbacher (2005, New Harbinger). She is on the editorial boards of the journals Child Abuse and Neglect, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse and the Journal of Human Lactation, and regularly reviews for 27 other journals in the fields of trauma, women's health, interpersonal violence, depression, and child development. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is the "Ask a Lactation Consultant" columnist on Pregnancy.org and serves on the Board of Directors of Attachment Parenting International.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett received a Bachelor's and Master's degree in psychology from California State University, Chico, and a Ph.D. from Brandeis University in social and developmental psychology. She has won several awards including the Outstanding Research Study Award from the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, and was named 2003 Distinguished Alumna, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, California State University, Chico.