Breastfeeding Trouble – Overactive Letdown

Mom and baby on a comfortable home.As if it’s not hard enough to be tethered to your babe for what seems like 24 hours a day, it really sucks (no pun intended) when your efforts to feed him seem to fail and a one-hour feed turns into two — just in time for the next one to begin. Yay.

I recall lying in bed in fetal position next to my son crying, covered in breast milk, feeling hopeless and wanting to quit the whole damn BF-ing thing. What was I doing wrong?! Would I ever be able to leave my home to feed my son in public without stripping down completely topless and surrounding myself in towels to catch all this misfired milk? Any of this sound familiar?

  • Crying or screaming during feeds (your baby, not you. Well, probably you too.)
  • Pulling off the breast frequently
  • Coughing or gagging
  • Gulping and swallowing air
  • Spitting up

If so, you might be dealing with an oversupply or overactive letdown issue. I know, you’re thinking “What?! On top of everything I have to think about with my newborn, there’s actually something called overactive letdown??” Yep. Think: fire hydrant-like force.

The only reason I know this is because I had the same issue with my first born, and I ended up seeing a lactation consultant to see why my son was doing all the things I mentioned before.

So what can you do? Here are some tips that worked for me.

  • Try the side lying position. Lay on your bed or the couch with your baby facing you and feed him while either lying your head down or propping it up on your hand. This will reduce the pull of gravity and allow the baby to let extra milk trickle down the side of his mouth. Make sure you have a really absorbent burp cloth!
  • Lean back during feeds. If you have a reclining chair, that would be ideal. Again, the key is to reduce the impact of gravity.
  • Burp often. Burp the baby at least twice during the feed to make sure the air doesn’t turn into painful digestive gas.
  • Block feed to adjust your supply. During a feed, only offer one breast. Then when it’s time to feed again, only offer the other. You will feel engorged for the first day or so, but your body will adjust. Sometimes overactive letdown happens because there’s way too much milk, forcing the flow to be too fast.
  • Lay off the pump. I’m pretty sure I caused myself to have a forceful letdown with my first. I despised pumping so I’d crank it to a higher speed just to get it over with. Bad idea. I unleashed Niagara Falls in my son’s mouth.
  • Feed when sleepy. If your baby is drowsy when you feed, he won’t suck so strongly and this will help ease the flow.

If you want to know more about this or other BF-ing issues, reach out to me. I overcame a lot of challenges with my first, including multiple bouts of mastitis… more on that later.

(For the record, I’m not against formula feeding and actually supplemented with both my boys in the beginning. It’s just that, you know, “breast is best” — totally kidding! I just felt compelled to do it, because I could. I know it’s not always possible (or desirable) for many reasons. So, to each her own. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to survive.)


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