how to lower milk supply

How to lower milk supply without killing it

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Sitting in the midst of the noisy crowd, surrounded by smelly animals and bright colors, I stared in awe at the woman walking the tightrope near the top of the circus tent. She balanced ever so carefully between two realities: stuck where she is and landing painfully where she eventually wants to be. Trying too hard to be in one spot could slam her harshly into the other. And when it comes to getting a lower milk supply, a lot of breastfeeding moms feel like they’re walking that same tightrope. Their current milk supply is too strong, and they want to reduce it. But they can’t completely nix the milk flow while nursing a baby. So they’re stuck trying to find a balance between having too much milk and dried-up mammaries.

If you’ve ever experienced an oversupply of milk, you can probably relate. There are all kinds of helpful articles out there telling you how to get more milk or how to dry up your milk when you stop breastfeeding. But most people don’t talk about the moms with too much milk.

how to lower milk supply

Here’s to you, nursing mama. I know you’re not trying to dry up your milk supply completely. You just want to take a little off the top! I’m gonna help you get less milk and still be able to keep breastfeeding!

Too much of a good thing

Mae West once said that “too much of a good thing is wonderful,” but that’s not entirely true. Water is a good thing, but too much is a flood. Love is a good thing, but too much love can be suffocating.

Brownies are a good thing, and too much….okay, that doesn’t prove my point. You can’t have too many brownies. But you can have too much milk!

Signs of breastmilk oversupply

The issue of a milk oversupply can manifest itself in a few different ways.  Here are some signs your milk production is a bit too strong:

  • A forceful or painful milk letdown (or ejection reflex if you want to sound smart).
  • Your baby starts to nurse and then pulls away.
  • Baby frequently chokes or sputters while nursing. Changing your position can help immensely!
  • Baby is arching and struggling at the breast – it may seem like he’s fighting you!
  • Mastitis or plugged milk duct
  • Your little one “bites” down like he’s trying to clamp off the flow of milk.
  • You often feel full or engorged.
  • You see green, foamy poop in those diapers.
  • Your baby is gassy or spits up a lot
  • Baby has weight issues – either gaining too quickly or too slowly

Those aren’t all the signs. Check out La Leche League for a full list! None of these are necessarily conclusive by themselves. And some of these things are normal to a small degree.

But if you’re reading this list and thinking I spied on you while you were breastfeeding, then this article is definitely for you.

Related Post: What REALLY causes breastmilk oversupply?

Lowering supply while pumping

Pumping is incredibly useful for most moms. Some moms exclusively pump. And a lot of working moms pump for baby’s bottles while they’re at work. And other moms just like to keep a stash of frozen milk to thaw for special occasions like a night out or dad volunteering a 2AM feeding (don’t hold your breath).

If you’re cxclusively pumping

There are a lot of perks to exclusive pumping. Anyone can feed your baby. You’re not waiting to defend yourself for nursing in public. And for those moms that get weirded out by the intimate contact of nursing, problem solved!

But an aspect of exclusive pumping that can be tricky is knowing exactly how much you’re going to need. Obviously, you need at least a few days’ worths of stored milk. How much exactly? Since I’ve never exclusively pumped, I’m afraid I can’t say for sure, but exclusivepumping.com has a ton of great information!

Don’t try to keep more on hand than your baby will realistically use soon. If you have more than enough, slow down your pumping for several days to give your milk supply a chance to reduce itself.

Keeping a stash of breastmilk

If you don’t pump exclusively and you’re a milk hoarding fiend, I now give you permission to lay off that breast pump! You don’t need a massive stash of breastmilk unless you’re expecting some sort of emergency. In which case, pump away and don’t try to reduce your milk supply.

don't lower milk supply if you're stocking up for an emergency

However, if you’re one of the many mamas who take pride in a healthy stash of milk, let me give you some guidelines:

  • If you work away from your baby and need to keep a supply for bottles while you’re away, only store enough for a week at a time. If you have more than a week’s worth, cut your pumping in half until you’re down to a one week supply.
  • If your baby drinks from the breast almost exclusively and you store milk for convenience or a rainy day, you only need enough stored milk for 3 or 4 feedings. Anything more is overkill

Now I like to see a big stash of frozen milk too, but if you’re actively trying to reduce your supply, don’t pump if you have more than the milk you strictly need. 

Cut out snacking

This technique isn’t for newborns! Don’t even think of trying this if your baby is less than 6 weeks old! If your baby is 6 weeks old or younger, you need to establish a consistent milk supply. Until then, engorgement is common and consistent feedings will level that out.

Now if your baby is older than 6 weeks and you have too much milk, then the first step to getting a lower milk supply is to cut out snacking. The baby’s snacking, not yours! Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Go get some cheese!

When your little one nurses, make sure he gets a full feeding at every meal. You know that face when he’s stuffed silly and has a goofy milk-drunk smile on his face? Shoot for this every time.

And then don’t let him snack. He can have another full meal when he’s actually hungry. So ignore the first hunger cues (if your baby is less than 6 weeks old, stop reading this. Seriously!), and wait until he’s actually hungry before you feed him.

I am NOT suggesting starving him, missing a feeding, or any sort of cruelty. Just make sure he’s legitimately hungry and not just feeling snackish.

Time-block your feedings

The usual advice for breastfeeding is to start with one side, let the baby have his full meal, then offer the second side kind of like dessert. And at the next feeding, start with the second side, let them have their entire meal, then offer the first side like it’s dessert.

Usually, this is great advice.

When you’re trying to slow your milk factory, you can tweak this technique for your own benefit. Instead of switching sides, you can create blocks of time where you always start on the same side.

Related Post: 4 Best ways to remove a milk stain

How to time-block

Keep offering both breasts at each feeding. It’ll keep the engorgement to a minimum and prevent clogged ducts or mastitis.

Let your little one get a belly full at the first breast and then offer him the other side. But at the next feeding or 2, start with the same side instead of switching.

This way, you start with the left side for 2 or 3 feedings (or a period of 4-6 hours) and then move to the right side for 2 to 3 feedings.

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Using sage tea slows milk production

You can buy sage tea online or from health food stores, but probably not at your local grocery. It’s renowned for reducing milk supply! For a lower milk supply, start by brewing the tea for half the length of time suggested. Drink the tea at half strength once a day for a few days.

If your milk supply is still too plentiful, then brew the tea for the suggested time and drink full strength once a day for a few days. Increase to twice a day if needed.

Word of caution: don’t drink too much too fast! Give it time to see how your milk supply responds to the sage.

Another word of caution: it has a very intense flavor. Blech. Add cream or sweetener if the taste is too much for you.

Peppermint oil slows milk production

Peppermint is famous for slowing milk production! You can enjoy candies made with peppermint oil, or peppermint candies may help. I never knew how much to eat though. Which can be problematic.

Peppermint essential oil is awesome for oversupply and engorgement issues. I have friends who swear it reduces their milk supply, but I used it for various things while breast and I never noticed it affecting my milk supply.

That is… unless I apply it directly to the breast! I discovered this technique out of sheer desperation one day. Diffusing the essential oil or wearing it on your body may not affect your supply. Applying it directly to your breasts (not your nipples or areolas) will.

If you apply a light coat of oil (any kind will work, I prefer coconut oil) and then place a drop of peppermint essential oil on the top of your breast and rub it all around, avoiding the areola and nipple.

Don’t use more than a drop at a time, and don’t do this more than once a day for the first few days. Your mammary glands may be extra sensitive, and it could reduce your milk supply more than you want.

Supplementing with formula can help

Supplementing with formula isn’t for everyone. I have a few friends who vehemently (and loudly) oppose the use of baby formula. That’s not me. I think breastmilk is best, but I don’t think baby formula is the devil.

I love breastfeeding, and I want your baby to enjoy all the benefits of breastmilk. But I think we both know that you’re not gonna keep nursing him if it’s too hard. And oversupply definitely makes breastfeeding hard.

So the main concept you need to understand is “milk out, milk in.” Essentially, your body replaces the milk that’s removed from your breast – regardless of whether it’s nursed, pumped, or hand expressed in the shower. The more milk you remove, the more milk you make.

Give it a try

Once you’re sure that you truly have a problem with breastmilk oversupply, try some of these techniques! A word of caution though, please don’t do them all at once!

It would be much wiser to start with an easy one (like cutting out your little one’s snacking) for a few days, then adding in time-blocked nursing for a few days, and slowly then adding in products like peppermint oil, sage tea, or baby formula.

The good news is that your boobs are incredibly smart and they adapt quickly to changes. You can probably get a reduced milk supply without ever spending a penny on products!

Have you struggled with oversupply? Please tell me about it in the comments!

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