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How block feeding can help breastfeeding
Do you feel like you are making gallons of milk?
Does your baby struggle during breastfeeding?
If you answered yes to both of those questions you may have an oversupply of breast milk.
Moms who don’t make enough milk often get sympathy. Moms who make too much milk are often told they are lucky. This can be the furthest thing from the truth.
Block feeding could be the answer to your breastfeeding struggles.
It has helped a lot of moms and babies be happier with breastfeeding.
It’s important to make sure that it’s the right tool for the right problem.
- Make sure oversupply is the problem you have. Block feeding reduces your milk supply.
- Don’t overdo block feeding.
- Don’t underdo it.
Don’t do it because it’s the trend of the moment.
Oversupply and the Fussy Baby
Oversupply causes problems for your baby because it creates an imbalance in the amount of foremilk and hindmilk your baby gets.
What is Foremilk and Hindmilk?
Foremilk and hindmilk refer to the amount of water and fat in your breast milk.
If you haven’t been caught up in this whole tidal wave of different kinds of milk, let me fill you in. Or, just don’t worry about it. Keep doing what you are doing, because if you’re happy and your baby is happy and gaining weight at a normal rate, there’s no need to give it a second thought.
When your baby first latches on to your breast the first milk she gets is high in water content. This is called the foremilk. As your breast starts to drain the fat content increases. This is called the hindmilk.
The foremilk helps quench your baby’s thirst and keeps her hydrated. The hindmilk helps satisfy your baby’s hunger and givers her calories to grow on.
An important word there is “helps.” All milk satisfies thirst, hydration, hunger and provides calories. But there is some difference.
Some people refer to foremilk as skim milk and hindmilk as cream. You can even see the difference in pumped milk.
There are two reasons that oversupply causes a fussy baby.
- It can result in your baby getting too much of the foremilk
- The milk can come out too fast. We’ll talk more about this in a minute.
A lot of milk means a lot of foremilk. Baby latches on, gets a lot of foremilk and feels full. So baby may not get a balanced amount of the foremilk and hindmilk. As a result, the amount of milk sugars is unbalanced with the enzyme that breaks down those sugars. This causes a lot of gas to be produced.
At this point you may want me to cut to the chase and tell you how long it takes to get to the hindmilk. There is not a specific amount of time when the fat content increases. It will vary depending on several different things.
A lot of moms out there are stressing about foremilk and hindmilk. They ask me about it all the time. I’ve even heard them refer to hindmilk as “the good milk.”
They may have read or been told they “need” to make sure their baby gets to the hindmilk.
I have always wondered why nobody talks about the middle milk? (Just kidding.)
For sure you don’t need to stress if you and your little one are happy and he is gaining a normal amount of weight.
Especially when those little ones are big. And some are. Big.
I love it when a mom brings a baby who looks like this, to my breastfeeding group. And asks how she makes sure he gets her hindmilk. I tell her that I’m pretty sure that she is making straight up cream.
If you’re not in the everyone is happy category, let’s talk about how to decrease your oversupply and make breastfeeding fun by block feeding.
What is block feeding?
Block feeding is feeding from one breast for a certain period of time.
The goal is to decrease the amount of milk that your breasts are making when you have an oversupply of breast milk.
Some moms feed on one breast at each feeding. They alternate each breast. Their baby is satisfied with one breast. Their baby is happy and grows at a normal rate.
This is not what I’m talking about when I use the term block feeding.
Block feeding has more to do with feeding on one side for a specific period of time. The amount of time will vary from mom to mom. How long she needs to stay with one breast depends on how much of an oversupply she has.
Decreasing Milk Production by Block Feeding
Breast milk production works on a feedback system.
- If you completely drain your breasts they will increase production.
- If you leave a little bit of milk in your breast they will keep making the same amount of milk.
- If you leave a lot of milk in your breasts they will decrease how much they are making.
How block feeding helps breastfeeding
Block feeding will help oversupply because you will be leaving a lot of milk in your breast (Source). It will also help your baby get more of your hindmilk by thoroughly draining your breasts.
Less milk and a happier baby. Did you just say, “Sign me up!”
The blocks of time can vary widely. Usually, a mom will start with a three or four-hour block of time.
True story…I worked with one mom who had to do an eight-hour block. Neither she nor her baby was very happy for a couple of weeks. We finally got her supply under control and they went on to have a long nursing relationship. She only had to do that for a short time, but it was what her baby needed.
That is by far the longest block of time I’ve ever had to have a mom do.
Don’t do something this drastic unless you are working with a lactation consultant who has done a thorough consult.
Consider these things when trying to decide what block of time to start with:
- Is your baby feeding on both breasts at most feedings right now?
- >Start by feeding on one breast at each feeding.
- If things improve you have solved your problem. Easy peasy!
- If no improvement, go to the next question.
- How long does your baby go between feedings?
- If your baby eats every 90 min-2 hrs > offer one breast every 3 hours. If your baby eats every 2-3 hours > offer only one breast for a 3-4 hour block of time.
- >If there is no improvement after 48 hours then increase your block by one hour.
- If you are pumping, how much milk you can pump out after a good feeding?
- The more milk you can pump out, the longer your block will last.
Most of the time it only takes a week or two to decrease your supply.
Re-evaluate if there are any signs your milk supply is decreasing too much. It is a good idea to do some weight checks while you are working on this. Some baby’s gain more than average weight when there is an oversupply. Decreasing weight gain but still in the average range is fine.
Sometimes a baby gains poorly when there is an oversupply because they are not getting enough calories from too much foremilk. This is unusual though. Talk to a lactation consultant if you think this is what is happening with your baby.
I do not recommend trying block feeding without the guidance of a lactation consultant if your baby is not gaining enough weight. Even if you are pumping enough milk to feed the neighborhood. Get help from a lactation consultant.
Pay attention to your baby’s cues. If he acts like he is frustrated or he is acting like he is not satisfied then switch to the other side sooner than your block schedule says to.
The Breastfeeding Block Feeding Sweet Spot
You’ll know you’ve found your sweet spot when you have a happy baby who is gaining weight normally and you don’t have to pump to be comfortable.
Be flexible. You may find that you have been happily feeding on one side for weeks and all of a sudden your baby is no longer satisfied. Start offering both sides and you should be all good again.
Fast Milk Flow
Some of the symptoms of oversupply are the same as fast milk flow.
Fast milk flow is exactly what it sounds like, the milk comes out quickly. Moms with oversupply can have fast milk flow. Moms with an average supply can also have a fast milk flow.
Signs of fast milk flow:
- Pulling off when the milk lets down
- Baby clamping on breast
The way your baby is positioned can help him handle fast flow. Try to get him above your breast.
Leaning back or sitting upright both work well.
Breastfeeding should be a positive and fun experience. If you have oversupply it can be anything but that.
Block feeding can help make breastfeeding be more enjoyable for both you and you baby. If you have been struggling with oversupply give it a try or talk to a lactation consultant. She can help you decide if it makes sense for you.
How Block Feeding Can Help Breastfeeding
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.