Breastfeeding Moms: Are You Pumping Too Much?

I had milk envy when I was breastfeeding my second son. You know those moms who exclusively breastfeed, and still have enough milk pumped to stock the freezer? I always wanted to be that mom. It meant security for my baby that while I was away at work, he wouldn’t starve and I wouldn’t have to give him formula.

To me, that freezer full was something to be proud of — like those moms who had it were better at breastfeeding than me or maybe they were better moms than me. I always had a few extra ounces stashed, but never got that freezer full. And I always felt a little bad that I didn’t have more to offer. But what I overlooked was that my son was fat. We are talking wrist rolls and thighs that were amazingly chubby. And he had little sausage fingers and toes. He was well nourished, healthy and happy. He had exactly what he needed.

And that’s the point. Breastfeeding is designed so that if we respond to our baby’s feeding cues right from the beginning, and things don’t get complicated by bad latches, formula supplementation, pacifiers, etc., then we will make enough milk for our baby. He will take what he needs, and our body will adjust our supply accordingly. Simple, uncomplicated and amazing.

Once breastfeeding is going well, our supply should adjust to our baby’s needs by around week three. If we need to have a bit of milk on hand for time away from baby, then pump as many times as needed to store a couple of ounces. Maybe we pump a couple of times a week to store milk up for a stash for when we head back to work. But pumping too much, too often — while it will fill the freezer — can cause problems for us and our baby.

Complications From Too Much Milk

Some moms pump so much that if they skip a pumping session, their breasts become over full. Incomplete emptying of the breast can lead to plugged ducts and mastitis (this can also happen for other reasons, but if it happens, contact a lactation consultant for help). Both plugged ducts and mastitis are uncomfortable situations. Mastitis usually requires medical treatment, and makes moms feel like they have the flu with a fever and body aches. No mom needs that. Ironically, the end result of this situation can be a reduced milk supply — the opposite of the original goal.

Baby pulling away, coughing or choking during your milk letting down may be a sign that you are making too much milk. At the beginning of breastfeeding, before your body has adapted to your baby’s needs, this is common. Within a very short time, your body adjusts production to your baby’s needs and this should stop. But if your pumping regimen has caused you to have too much milk all the time, this can continue to happen.

Too much milk can cause gas, fussiness and other tummy troubles, as well as breast refusal by your little one. So while breast may be best, it may become unpleasant for your baby. Sometimes these symptoms are mistakenly diagnosed as other medical problems that may result in unneeded treatment for your baby, or early weaning.

The most important thing for each mom to remember is that each of us is unique and capable of making just the right amount of milk. Have confidence in your body’s ability to produce exactly what your baby needs. There is nothing wrong if you don’t have enough milk stored up to feed the neighborhood. This is your breastfeeding experience and you have just the right amount of milk in your body for your baby.

IMG_0735Angie is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Parent Instructor for ProMedica and a former Labor and Delivery nurse at ProMedica Toledo Hospital. Click here to read previous columns from her breastfeeding series, Let’s Spill the Milk!