By Sam Kimura

Oh hey there, mama! Breastfeeding is not always easy— especially if you have an oversupply or an overactive letdown reflex.

As a Registered Nurse and Mama Coach, I am frequently called by moms who are telling me that they can’t figure out why their baby is so irritable in spite of having a great milk supply. With assessment, often it is observed that babies struggle at the breast because mama’s supply does not match their demands and the fast letdown is creating a very very gassy baby!

When I was dreaming of having babies, I truly imagined my journey being one that included luxurious naps, long lunches with friends and never- ending baby giggles. While this was true some of the time, I was not prepared for how difficult breastfeeding would be for me and the shame and guilt that arises when you don’t love breastfeeding. The exhaustion of being solely responsible for nourishing another human was overwhelming and I felt like my children hated to nurse because they cried and cried and cried for hours after I would feed them.  If this is your story, please reach out to your village. Ask someone for more support in your breastfeeding journey— talk to a friend about how you’re feeling, seek out a lactation specialist, or a counselor who is trained in maternal mental health. You’re not alone and this gets so much easier.

What is a fast letdown?

When you latch your baby and feel a letdown of milk, does your baby look like they are chugging at the breast and are trying to keep up but can’t? Does baby pull back often, just to be bathed by your milk supply? An overactive letdown can be really difficult to manage as a new mom who is new to breastfeeding because it can appear like your baby hates this task that is meant to be “so easy”, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Imagine a little tummy like a ping pong ball. When babies feed with a suck-swallow-breathe rhythm, they are able to fill up their tummy with mostly milk and maybe a little bit of air that can be resolved with a burp after their feed. Babies who are adapting to an overactive letdown reflex will feed with a swallow-breathe-swallow-breathe pattern, which means that half of their little ping pong ball is filled with air.  The milk they do ingest will be processed quickly and baby will seem hungry again in an hour. The cycle perpetuates a vicious circle of being too tired to take a full feed and watching to feed very often because baby is hungry. Add on the extra discomfort from having a gassy baby, and this becomes a big issue for moms.

Signs of a fast or forceful letdown with breastfeeding include:

  • Baby will gag, sputter and cough while breastfeeding, especially when mom is very full
  • Your baby dislikes comfort nursing
  • You may notice that you leak milk often in between feeds
  • When baby pulls off from breastfeeding, your milk spray does not slow down
  • Very irritable and wants to feed often
  • Clicking during nursing as baby tries to keep up with supply

How to manage a fast letdown and oversupply?

The secret trick to feeding babies when you are struggling with a fast letdown and oversupply is to unlatch baby often and burp every 30 seconds -1 minute when feeding. When you feel the letdown happen and baby is gulping milk, take baby off and allow the milk to flow in to a blanket until the flow slows. The goal with these feeds will often be to allow baby to fill up on as much milk as possible, and reduce the amount of air they are taking in during the feed. Baby is less likely to have trapped intestinal air (the kind that hurts and causes baby to pull their legs up and cry) when you burp often and focus on filling with milk.

At night if you are very full, try to hand express for 2 minutes (or throw on a manual pump to remove the initial letdown) before you feed baby. Watch for effective feeds— long, drawn out sucks and swallows from your breast. Avoid having baby latch and gulp!

A fast letdown will often resolve itself once baby is about 16 weeks and can manage the flow of milk better. You may also notice at this time that your supply is starting to regulate better for your baby’s needs.

Let’s talk about you though!

Mamas, breastfeeding is hard. Breastfeeding can be very hard on your mental health whether you are someone with a fantastic milk supply or whether you struggle to keep up with demand. I often hear from mothers that they feel an immense amount of guilt and shame for disliking breastfeeding, in spite of having a good supply. It’s okay not to love this.

Here are some of the amazing gifts you are giving your child in addition to breastfeeding—

  • Your baby is loved beyond measure
  • Whether baby is formula fed or breastfed, baby is fed! Your baby is growing every day with your continued support to their nourishment
  • When you smile at your baby, you’re connecting beautiful happy neurons in their brain. A simple smile is helping your baby develop in to a healthy human being
  • Your baby is safe, secure and is developing a healthy attachment to you whether you breastfeed or bottle feed.

My biggest challenge to breastfeeding was an oversupply and fast letdown. It took me two babies and many educational courses about breastfeeding and lactation to learn that my babies didn’t hate breastfeeding, it was just really hard for them as well. My biggest piece of advice for new moms is to be kind to yourself. You’re feeding a human and this is hard, laborious work and the best time to stop breastfeeding will always be when you are ready to stop breastfeeding. Try not to quit on your worst day, ask for help if you want to continue but can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, and if you are really done that is okay too. Mental health always comes first, always.

That said, here are some extra tips for taking care of yourself while breastfeeding your little one…

  • Make sure you are supported, (whether this is a supportive partner, lactation support group, and or lactation consultant)
  • Stay on top of your own hydration, meals, prenatal vitamins and nutrition (consult with a dr. as necessary)
  • Rest when needed, it’s okay to pump and have a partner bottle feed if your nipples are sore or if you need the extra sleep at night
  • Honor that everyone’s breastfeeding journey looks different, you & your efforts to nourish your child are so enough, whatever that may be

Wishing you all the best & rest,

Sam Kimura is part of a nationwide group of Registered Nurses in Canada, who are committed to making motherhood easier with science, empathy and support. Sam provides sleep coaching, lactation support, prenatal classes and CPR instruction for parents anywhere in the world, ensuring that your family values and goals are met with evidence-based research and personalized care.
Instagram @samthemamacoach