Breastfeeding is recommended as the first choice of feeding by the World Health Organization and many other pediatric bodies all over the world. It is one of the best starts in life you can give your newborn.
But what if you have problems with an oversupply of milk? Are your breasts hard, painful, and leaking more than they should between feeds? You may be suffering from hyperlactation syndrome.
What exactly is hyperlactation? Let’s find out.
What Is an Oversupply of Milk?
Many mothers suffer from this problem. It is an overactive milk supply which uses the term hyperlactation. It can be a problem for the infant when the breast milk comes out fast and with more force than they can take, often causing coughing or choking.
When this happens, the baby may not feed well. They might not be able to take in as much milk as they need, or possibly fill up with the watery milk (foremilk) and air, as they can't latch on successfully.
What Are the Signs of Hyperlactation?
For a mother, the signs can be determined as the breasts constantly feeling overly full and hard. They can sometimes develop congested milk ducts and possibly even mastitis. If this happens, it can be very painful, and if not treated immediately, can recur often.
You may possibly experience pain upon the let-down reflex of the milk. Breasts will leak substantially between feeds, saturating your breast pads making it so they have to be changed frequently.
A forceful let-down with spraying can also be felt, and excessive leaking from one breast as the infant feeds from the other.
From your baby's point of view, they may feed for five or 10 minutes and then grip the nipple to stem the flow (which could lead to having sore nipples). Another symptom that can appear is that your little one can be filled with gas if there is a disproportion of foremilk and hindmilk. The hindmilk is creamier and more satisfying than the watery foremilk.
They can become very fussy, may gag and pull away, and create an excessive amount of posseting after being fed. Sometimes hyperlactation is misinterpreted as reflux. Your baby could possibly suffer watery green stools as they have filled up on the foremilk with no particular goodness.
Infants do lose a small amount of their birth weight within a few days of being born. If your baby isn't able to feed correctly and get the right nutrients, they will carry on losing weight. On the other hand, it’s even possible that your baby may gain too much weight.
What Is the Cause of Hyperlactation?
There are several causes for hyperlactation:
- Inaccuracy or mismanagement when breastfeeding. Such as not latching on correctly or using an incorrect feeding position.
- When there is an overabundance of the hormone prolactin (stimulates milk production) in the blood causing hyperprolactinemia.
- A predisposition from birth. The mother has hereditary dense tissue in the breast and an overabundance of alveoli.
- Some medications that actually increase the production of milk. These include antipsychotic drugs that act on the production of prolactin, certain sedatives, and antidepressants. Always take medical advice before taking any medication, even herbal supplements.
In What Sort of Time Frame Does Milk Production Regulate?
When first breastfeeding, some mothers do tend to produce more milk than one baby can take. I remember the early days with breasts like watermelons that leaked non-stop. Fortunately, this usually corrects itself within six to 12 weeks. It’s at this point that prolactin levels start to decrease and the milk supply starts to level out.
If you are still producing more milk than necessary to feed one baby after this time frame, and experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms, you’re likely suffering from hyperlactation.
Can Milk Production Be Reduced?
The answer is yes; your milk production can be reduced in many ways. If you find yourself suffering from hyperlactation, there’s many ways to help:
- By applying cold compresses to the breasts in the form of cold cabbage leaves or a cold pack of ice.
- The more milk you release, the more you will produce. Do not use a breast pump if possible. If your breasts are full and you need some relief, only express the smallest amount possible as each time you express the milk, the breasts are receiving information to produce extra milk.
- Try a different feeding position. You could try what is called laid back feeding. Feeding your baby in a reposed position, even lying down, can be advantageous for the reason that it gives your baby more management over the flow. Lean back slightly, so gravity can help slow the flow too.
- Your baby can set their own rate if they are able to lift their head for a breather, especially if the flow of milk is too fast. It would be well advised to position a towel beneath you to absorb any wasted milk, so you don’t end up with a big wet patch.
- Burp baby often so they can release any gas they may have swallowed.
- It may seem obvious, but avoid drinking lactation teas or taking supplements to instigate the production of breast milk as this could be a part of the problem causing the overproduction.
- Another option to try and reduce your supply of milk is to begin block feeding. The way block feeding works is to feed baby on one breast only for a set amount of time (usually three to four hours). Leaving the other breast full for some time signals to the body to slow milk production down. Of course, this should be done in conjunction with seeing a lactation specialist as you don't want any problems with your breasts.
How Quickly Will the Breasts Dry Up?
Trying to reduce milk production is usually the route most women take when they suffer from hyperlactation. For others, however, stopping nursing altogether seems like the only way to live comfortably again.
If you have decided to wean your little one entirely and stop breastfeeding, the length of time it will take for the breasts to dry up will depend, of course, on how long you have been breastfeeding for and the decision you make as to how you will do it. For some women, it will take just a few days, and for others it will be weeks.
There are several methods that you can try:
- Stopping altogether, cold turkey: This may be the quickest and easiest way. At this time, you need to have the correct bra and be prepared for minor pain and engorgement. Stopping breastfeeding suddenly has possible complications such as a risk of infection.
- Herbal remedies: Such as sage, peppermint, parsley, and jasmine. There’s not a lot of proof that these methods work and little is known about side effects for both mom and baby, so double-check with a health professional before you use herbs.
- Cabbage leaves inside the bra: Take the leaves of a green cabbage, wash them and put inside the fridge to chill. Place a leaf in each side of your bra, and change every 2 hours or so. This can help with engorgement and may help prevent milk production over time.
- Birth control pills with estrogen: These have been shown to affect the production and drying up of the milk ducts.
Always take medical advice before pursuing any of these remedies. Never attempt to bind the breasts or restrict your fluid intake as a method for slowing or stopping your milk production—they don’t work and can be dangerous. Stay hydrated and handle your breasts carefully; they’ll no doubt be tender during this period.
No More Crying Over Spilled Milk
It is not always clear if a mother is experiencing hyperlactation. It may not always be the case, even with an overproduction of breast milk. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and finding it challenging to reduce your supply, see your doctor.
You should always seek medical advice before putting anything aforementioned into practice for fear of problems later down the line.