When it comes to breast milk, like pretty much anything else you can think of, there can be too much of a good thing. As relieved as I was not to have a shortage of milk for my baby, there are reasons why oversupply can be the worst. It’s painful, messy, and is constantly catching you and the baby by surprise. Every. Single. Time.
I didn't experience oversupply with my first baby. In fact, I had some undersupply issues towards the end of her first year, and had to supplement with formula (one bottle a day) until my daughter transitioned to cow’s milk for all but her nighttime feedings. Breastfeeding my second kid was very different than my first. For the first month-and-a-half of my son’s life ewI had oversupply, and it presented a unique set of breastfeeding problems from what I had the first time around.
I tried different nursing positions to lessen the flow but I didn’t always want to breastfeed in a prone position. The recommendation to pump a bit before having the baby latch on, to avoid having the kid choke on the force of my letdown, didn’t work for me, either. I already had a toddler, so my nursing sessions were compromised as it was, with my attention often divided. My son and I just rode it out and finally, about six weeks later, everything evened out and I continued to nurse him for the next two years. We never really “solved” the oversupply situation, we just both grew out of it.
Looking back at the experience, it was such a small amount of time, but it left an indelible mark on my memory of him as a newborn. That’s not totally a bad thing. I mean, at least I remember that stage well. I also remember all the reasons why oversupply is just the worst:
As you get more deft at it, you can practically breastfeed with one hand. I’ve stirred sauces, fired off emails, and even taken a much-needed bathroom break with a kid on my boob. However, during those first six weeks of my son’s life and when overproduction was in high gear, I needed both my hands. Sometimes even that wasn’t enough to ensure I didn’t flood my baby’s face, or the surrounding area, while nursing.
This is how it would go with my newborn son: he’d latch on and we’d give it a few seconds until letdown. He’d start sputtering, I’d pull my breast out of his mouth, he’d start wailing, I’d fumble to catch the jettisoning milk into some kind of absorbent cloth until the flow slowed down. I’d wipe both of us down, stick my boob back in his mouth, he’d look up at me like “WTF?” and then nurse for 20 minutes. Burp, switch sides, repeat. Then do the whole thing again, two-and-a-half hours later. So, you can see why I didn’t like to leave the house f(or longer than a trip to the supermarket) during those first few weeks.
I’d try to time it so as soon as I felt letdown, I’d pull my boob out of my baby’s mouth to avoid any choking or sputtering, but he had a strong latch. It wasn’t until the milk was jettisoning into his mouth, and he’d start gagging, that he’d loosen his grip so I could relieve him of the liquid rush. Poor kid.
I’d prepare for a feeding session with an armful of burp rags and old towels. I leaked through my nursing pads, into my bras and through my shirts. Then, of course, there were my son’s onesies and the nursing pillow covers, all of which would get soaked, no matter how diligently I tried to absorb the spray.
This killed me. All this perfectly good, nutritious milk, shooting out of me with no way to funnel it into a container for later when I would return to work. Even thinking about it now, six years later, makes me twitch.
It’s not a contest of “who has it worst,” but no matter how much of a drag it was to deal with my overproduction, my heart really goes out to the moms who felt they weren’t producing enough and were doing everything possible to increase their milk supply. Feeling like a failure is par for the course when it comes to parenting, but when you have no control over aspects of your body (whether it’s overproducing or underproducing) it’s incredibly frustrating. We just have to remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can, and we’ll make whatever adjustments we need to and at the end of the day, our kids will be fed and it really doesn’t matter how.
My husband was a help, which is to say that he fetched towels for me. A lactation consultant offered some advice, suggesting a nipple shield (yet one more thing to deal with in this whole nursing process, and one I ditched when I kept forgetting to clean it). After the fact, I found a few moms who shared their experience as over-suppliers. We would commiserate and I’m grateful for that forum, but when I was in the throes of oversupply, it wasn’t so easy to pick up the phone and text a fellow sufferer about our common ordeal. New motherhood is isolating and it's hard not having someone I could easily reach out to, to vent at or laugh with at the messy ridiculousness of our good fortune.
You can manage oversupply, but you can’t really train your body to stop it in the first month or so postpartum. At the six-week mark, though, my body magically adjusted to my son’s needs. There was no more forceful letdown where he’d get shot in the face with milk, and I no longer had to wait to put him on my boob until after the waterfall action subsided. We got into a good rhythm and though I’m still haunted by all my oversupply issues, my son has no recollection. Though, he never grew to be a fan of milk...