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How To Decrease Breast Milk Supply
“If breastfeeding is so natural, why is it so hard?”
We’ve all seen the pictures of the blissfully content mother cradling her infant at her breast. And isn’t it true that they are usually in a rocking chair?
Would your picture show a miserable mother and miserable baby?
Do You Have Too Much Breast Milk?
You may have too much breast milk if:
- You always feel engorged.
- You go through bra pads like there is no tomorrow because you leak so much.
- You get clogged ducts again and again.
- Maybe you’ve gotten mastitis
- Your baby is fussy or cries when she breastfeeds.
- Your baby chokes and sputters when your milk lets down.
- She may come off the breast when your milk first lets down.
- Your milk sprays everywhere.
- She is very gassy.
- Clicking sounds may be heard when she sucks.
- She spits up all the time, especially right after feedings.
- She has green poops most of the time.
- It feels like she is biting you when she breastfeeds.
- This can cause sore nipples.
- She feeds for very short periods of time.
- She may want to eat very frequently most of the time.
- Yet, she may be struggling to gain enough weight.
- Or, your baby gains weight rapidly
- You pump large amounts of milk, even if you have just fed. Seriously, you need another freezer!
- Feedings are NO FUN!
If you’ve agreed with several of these statements, you may have an oversupply of milk.
Low milk supply gets lots of attention.
Having a whole lot of milk isn’t always sunshine and unicorns though. There really can be too much of a good thing if you have too much milk.
The good news is that you and your baby don’t have to suffer.
Probably the most important thing is to make sure that oversupply is the problem that you are dealing with. There are other things that can have the same symptoms as overabundant milk supply:
- Forceful let-down
- Rigid feeding schedules
Fun fact: medical terms to describe oversupply are hyperlactation and hypergalactia.
Why Oversupply of Breast Milk Happens
We are told that supply equals demand.
To a certain extent that is true. It can also be a big fat lie.
Most moms will make as much milk as they and their baby ask the breasts to make. Usually.
However, some moms will do everything right and never have enough milk. Other moms can do everything wrong and still have tons of milk.
The most milk I have ever seen a mom produce (with my own eyes) was 24 oz. It was during a consult and her baby had fed and then she pumped 21 oz. That is a lot of milk.
Some of it is just the luck of the draw. Sometimes it is from things a mom does. Rarely it can be caused by a medical disorder.
How Moms Can Cause Oversupply of Breast Milk
- Excessive pumping – this is probably one of the most common reasons for oversupply
- Taking herbs to increase supply when supply is normal.
- I don’t recommend this.
Oversupply of breast milk and pumping
There are lots of reasons to pump.
A mom may start pumping to build up a stash of milk in the freezer. A freezer stash is always a good idea.
Moms usually want to get the most milk for their pumping efforts so they pump until they don’t get any more milk.
After a while her freezer is full but she finds that if she doesn’t pump then her breasts feel uncomfortably full. So, she keeps pumping until she is empty.
With time, she finds that she is making even more milk! She has to pump even more often to stay comfortable. She starts shopping for a new freezer! (Just kidding. Sort of).
It becomes a vicious cycle.
This happens because milk production works on a feedback system.
When there is a little bit of milk left in the breasts that tells them that production is on target.
If there is a lot of milk left in the breasts the message is to dial production down a bit.
If the breasts are completely drained, then it tells them to step up milk production.
Full disclosure: There have been many times when I advise a new mom to pump her breasts regularly. I might do it even if her baby is breastfeeding well.
The reason is that little babies can stimulate little milk supplies. Pumping can help ensure that a milk supply will be adequate long term if a baby is small or premature.
It is true that oversupply of breast milk has its own set of challenges and problems. But, it is always going to be easier to decrease a milk supply than increase a low milk supply.
If I have to err on the side of creating an oversupply when there is a risk of low supply, that is what I will choose.
That said, if things are going well with breastfeeding, I don’t advise a mom pump unless there’s a reason.
Preventing oversupply of breast milk
Pumping for Engorgement
When your milk first comes in, supply usually overshoots your baby’s needs initially. Supply will usually start to more closely match your baby’s needs after 2-3 weeks.
Most moms get engorged when their milk first comes in. If your baby’s appetite is not keeping up with how much milk you are making, you may want to pump.
This is the first thing that can confuse your breasts about how much milk to make.
I want to be clear, when you get engorged you need for your breasts to soften at least every four hours. Breasts that get hard with no relief can shut down milk production because of the pressure.
If your baby is not taking enough of your milk to soften your breasts, go ahead and pump. However, you don’t have to pump until you are empty. Just pump until you are more comfortable.
Engorgement usually only lasts 24-48 hours.
Pump only if you need to
If you are pumping for a freezer stash, and you get a lot when you pump, don’t pump every day. Also, pump at a different times of day.
If a mom is pumping to get a stash in the freezer, she needs to look at how much she is getting when she pumps. She may need to adjust how long or how frequently she pumps.
A mom who can pump more than 3 oz after feeding her baby should only pump once every 2-3 days to build that stash.
If you pump a lot you may be able to decrease your breast milk oversupply by not pumping or decreasing the amount of milk you pump. You can decrease the number of times that you pump or you can pump less milk when you pump.
I cannot emphasize enough that before you try to decrease your milk supply, make sure that oversupply is your problem. I have seen situations where a mom thought she had oversupply when in fact it was a completely different problem, even low supply.
As with many things, it is always good to discuss your situation with a lactation consultant.
When Is It Okay to Start Decreasing Your Milk Supply?
I do not recommend doing anything to decrease your milk supply until your baby is at least 6 weeks old. Sometimes it takes that long for your body to figure out how much milk it should be making.
Your supply may down-regulate on its own.
One Side vs Both Sides
A mom with an oversupply should only be feeding one breast per feeding.
Block Feeding and Oversupply
Your breasts usually will respond to how much milk is left in them. You can use this to your advantage to decrease your milk supply. This is the first thing you should try.
Feed on one breast at a feeding. Use that breast for a certain block of time.
This is called block feeding.
The block of time can vary.
I worked with one mom who had to go eight hours on one side! That is an extreme case, but that is what she needed. This mom and baby went on to happily breastfeed for over 18 months.
After a few days your body should respond by decreasing your overall milk supply.
You may feel uncomfortably full during this time. If you feel like you must pump some milk off, pump just enough to feel more comfortable.
Do not pump until you are empty.
You may get to the point where you need to feed both breasts at a feeding. Watch your baby’s cues. If he has drained one breast and does not seem satisfied, then offer the other side.
If block feeding does not solve your oversupply problem, then move on to natural remedies.
How to Reduce Milk Supply Naturally
There are foods that can decrease milk supply.
Peppermint oil to dry up milk supply
Peppermint can decrease milk supply. I have had moms use peppermint to decrease their milk supply in various forms for years. It is very effective.
You can drink peppermint tea, eat peppermint candies or put a drop of essential oil in your water or in a capsule.
Herbs to decrease milk supply
Sage is an herb that can decrease supply. It can be taken in a capsule or you can drink it as a tea. It has a rather bitter taste so you may want to sweeten it with some honey.
Any time you take any herb you should do some research. See if it could interact with any medications you are taking. You can also check with a lactation consultant or your physician if she is knowledgeable about herbs.
With both peppermint and sage I recommend that you start out slow. Drink one cup a day and give it a couple of days to see if it helps. If you are not seeing much difference you can increase the amount. You could also try doing both peppermint and sage.
Cabbage Leaves and Breastfeeding
Cabbage leaves have been used to decrease engorgement.
This is something that you can try. Rinse chilled green cabbage leaves. Use enough leaves to cover each breast. Replace them when they wilt.
Lactation consultants tell moms not to leave them on for longer than one hour. Anecdotally, moms have reported a decrease in milk supply with prolonged use of cabbage leave.
Take a break after a couple of hours. If you don’t notice any difference after a day of this, keep them on for three hours at a time.
You are not trying to dry up so don’t leave them on continuously.
Drugs That Can Decrease Milk Supply
Antihistamines and Milk Supply
Pseudophedrine can decrease milk supply (Source). Since this is a medication it should be taken with caution. I recommend talking to your health care provider if you do this. Start with a minimal dose.
Birth Control Pills and Milk Supply
There is conflicting information about whether birth control pills can decrease your milk supply. I can tell you that I have talked to many women who reported that their milk supply decreased after starting birth control pills.
My concern is how reversible it is if your supply decreases too much.
How to Decrease Milk Supply Without Getting Mastitis
Listen to your breasts! Try not to get overly full. Try a different method of decreasing your supply.
What to Do With Excess Breast Milk
Make sure that you have an abundant freezer stash before you think about this.
- Donate excess milk to you nearest milk bank.
- Milk Baths
- Make popsicles for teething
- Make pudding treats for your baby (after they start solids of course!).
- Some people have even made ice cream
Having too much milk can bring its own set of challenges and problems. It can be managed though! Don’t get discouraged. Just follow the recommendations here and find that “sweet spot” for milk production.
How To Decrease Breast Milk Supply
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.