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Block Feeding Is A Breastfeeding Technique That Just Might Help With One Tricky Condition

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Breastfeeding isn’t always as straightforward as it seems like it should be. Intuitively, it feels like it should be much simpler: Milk comes out, baby drinks the milk, et voila! But mother nature had other plans in mind, to add an extra challenge to breastfeeding for some mothers (thanks, much appreciated mother nature). One such problem is “hyperlactation,” and one proposed solution is block feeding. But what is “block feeding,” and how do you implement the technique?

Hyperlactation can be caused by a few factors, including too much milk-stimulating hormone, genetics, breastfeeding habits, and medications, as the Mayo Clinic explained, adding that it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor about persistent hyperlactation, to rule out an underlying thyroid issue that may require treatment.

Block feeding is a way to treat hyperlactation that involves changing your breastfeeding routine, as lactation consultant Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA, tells Romper. “Block feeding involves restricting baby to one breast for 3-hour or longer blocks of time before giving the other breast,” she wrote in a blog post, a technique that is meant to help slow milk production. Overabundant milk production can be uncomfortable both for the mother and the baby, causing “full and uncomfortable breasts and recurring plugged ducts,” for mom, and “a very fast milk flow that can be hard to manage,” for the baby, Mohrbacher wrote.

Sometimes, block feeding is adopted too readily. Mohrbacher warns that if the block feeding technique is used when milk supply is at a normal level, it can “cause more problems than it solves," including issues such as slow weight gain. In fact, Mohrbacher suggests using the baby’s weight gain as a measure of when to use block feeding: “If baby’s weight gain is double this [about two pounds per month] or more, block feeding for no longer than 1 week makes sense.”

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Another method Mohrbacher recommends is explained in a study published in the International Breastfeeding Journal, titled, “Overabundant milk supply: an alternative way to intervene by full drainage and block feeding,” by Caroline GA van Veldhuizen-Staas. The paper describes the “Full Drainage and Block Feeding Method,” (FDBF) wherein the mother empties both breasts as much as possible (they’ll still continue producing milk continuously thereafter). Then, the baby is “... offered both ‘empty’ breasts to satisfaction,” after which, “... the rest of the day is divided into equal time blocks starting with about three hours, initially,” during which time feeding is restricted to one breast at a time during this “block,” the article stated.

If you’re considering block feeding, the best thing to do is to talk to your doctor/pediatrician, as well as a lactation consultant, to plan a breastfeeding routine that’s right for you and your baby. It’s important to remember that block feeding isn’t necessarily recommended for everyone encountering feeding problems.

"Block feeding is problematic when applied to mothers who do not have hyperlactation," Catherine Watson Genna, BS, IBCLC, wrote for her blog.

"Many mothers know about block feeding, and resort to unilateral feeds when their infants are fussy or have difficulty handling milk flow. Sometimes breastfeeding helpers recommend block feeding in a telephone contact when mothers report infant fussiness, without a good feeding assessment and weight history. Block feeding should only be recommended when the infant is consistently gaining more than 8 oz (225 g) per week and has no risk factors for inefficient feeding if the milk production is reduced."

Consulting with health care professionals will guide you towards the solution that’s right for your own individual needs.