Pumping Too Much Milk is Not Good

I label my milk as “three hours” instead of “three ounces”

This year I planted an experimental garden. Among the plants I chose were cherry tomatoes. These little tomatoes are very prolific. So prolific in fact that I cannot pick them all and handfulls of them fall to the ground to rot and be eaten by insects.

They over-produce. We get several pounds of tomatoes each day.

When my daughter was born, I over-produced too.

This led me to have engorgement, mastitis and painful leaky breasts. It led my baby to have frothy green poops and painful gas that kept her up at night crying because her belly hurt from all the milk.

I was able to pump 9 ounces in a single session after she took a longer nap, and then wake her up and nurse her until her belly was full.

This is TERRIBLE.

Unless you are exclusively pumping (in which case you want to pump as much milk as you can to overcome supply stabilization and the difficulties of exclusive pumping), pumping large amounts is never a good thing.

With her oldest brother I was barely able to pump, and I was so jealous of the women who could pump ounces at a time. At most I was able to pump a quarter of an ounce from both breasts combined. He exclusively breastfed for 6 months, gained like a chubberoo, and then went on to continue nursing until he self-weaned at 3.

With her middle brother I was able to pump a lot. But by then I understood that is not necessarily a good thing.

Like the cherry tomatoes, when you over-produce the leftovers go to waste. If you do not remove the milk from your breasts, it can cause mastitis. If you do remove the milk from your breasts you maintain an oversupply that eats away at your nutritional reserves in order to feed bags in a freezer. Bags that pose just as much of a threat to your supply as those cans of formula I refused to bring home.

Oversupply is not a good thing unless you’re looking to feed another baby from the pumped milk.

Ideally you make exactly what your baby needs, no more and no less. When your baby’s needs change the change in nursing patterns tells your breasts to adapt the milk to meet baby’s needs without stretching his belly. Through this he learns to nurse until his needs are met. Not to stuff himself. Not to over-eat. But to nurse until his needs are met and he pops off ready to explore the world.

I realize now what I didn’t realize before. Breastfeeding is not a milk making competition. A stockpile of hundreds of ounces is not always necessary and is not always good. Pumping that much milk destroys mom’s nutritional reserves, and weaning from those pumping sessions can be hard. Too many bottles from a stockpile can destroy mom’s milk supply or give baby bottle preference causing her to go from oversupply to a bottle fed baby while wondering what happened.

Breastfeeding is supply and demand, not something that needs to be stockpiled. Even if I have to return to work it’s best to pump what you eat while we are separated rather than having massive stores of milk that make it tempting to skip a pump break here and there and that allow my supply to slowly spiral.

I like to keep an emergency supply on hand, but that can be built up without needing to pump huge amounts.

a half ounce to 3 ounces is average pump output and does not run that much of a risk of mom having too much oversupply. I tend to stop pumping once I hit the three ounce marker. That’s three hours worth of milk in a bag that I label as “three hours” just so no one will be confused about how much to feed the baby while I’m gone.

A healthy supply is maintained by feeding baby from the breast whenever possible, using bottles as seldom as possible, feeding smaller amounts by bottle, and not being tempted to maintain or use a huge stash of either pumped milk or formula.

  8 comments for “Pumping Too Much Milk is Not Good

  1. Anna
    December 18, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Since going back to work and integrating pumping and bottles into our lives, I have been having many of the issues and concerns you discuss here. I have had mastitis twice (just awful) and am being caught between well meaning caregivers (aka grandparents) who want to bottle feed my 4 month old son, 6+++ ounces every 3 hours, because “he takes it” and “cries when you take the bottle away”. I can’t keep up, supply wise, with this kind of intake. And although my instincts were telling me this isn’t working for me and him, I don’t want to starve my son. It might be time for a trip to my LC to discuss. Thanks for your advice on this topic.

    • sarah
      December 18, 2012 at 11:11 am

      It’s definitely time to get to a LC to discuss.

      I’d suggest familiarizing yourself with the “one ounce per hour” rule of bottle feeding a breastfed baby: http://nurshable.com/2011/12/29/the-one-ounce-per-hour-rule-of-bottle-feeding/ which explains why you do not give a breastfed baby a bottle larger than 3-4oz at a time, and why you try to pace the feeds. (Exclusive pumping/bottle feeding is different. This is for moms that are separated from baby for a portion of each day.It’s also not a hard/fast rule.)

      Here’s some information on why it’s easy to overfeed with a bottle: http://nurshable.com/2012/01/10/overfeeding-a-baby-with-a-bottle-vs-the-breast/

      Here’s information on bottle feeding a breastfed baby: http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/feeding-tools/bottle-feeding/

    • Kitkat33
      November 24, 2014 at 3:39 am

      Babies can’t overheat too much. Bottle fed babies may eat 1-2 ounces more than necessary but not more than that.

      Green poo in your baby means he us getting too much fore milk and not enough hind milk. This happens when baby does not fully drain your breast leaving the hind milk still in there.

      You could fix this by pumping breasts till empty. Bottle will have perfect balance of both to prevent improper nutrition to your child.

  2. Anna
    December 19, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Thanks for the response and the links. I am going to share this information with his caregivers.

  3. Becky Worthman
    January 28, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    So how do you navigate oversupply? I regularly pump 5 oz at work (3x day) and 10oz in the morning when I wake…baby only eats about 1-1.5 oz per hour I am gone. I donate the freezer supply becuase I don’t want to see it wasted, but I never thought of my milk lacking nutrients from oversupply…

    • sarah
      January 28, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      It won’t lack nutrients, it will just take more of your nutrients. If your diet is healthy you’ll be fine. It’s just more taxing on you and your system to make the extra milk, and it’s why the body generally tries to stabilize supply and why stabilization is a good thing as opposed to a “ACK! I AM DRYING UP!” thing.

      If you’re donating the milk that is a wonderful reason to maintain the oversupply (assuming you wish to continue donating).

      Milk donation is a wonderful use of oversupply. :)

  4. Patty
    October 25, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I have a 3 1/2 month old son. we have been dealing with oversupply it has been one of the most difficult things I have experience.
    I have tried cabbage leaves, sage tea, block feeding.
    we’ve had a couple of good days I tried feeding only from one side at a time, and offering the other breast next. drinking sage tea daily.
    but I went to work after couple of great days and pumped every 3 hours 4oz each from both breast and I was back where I started :( so frustrating.

    today we are doing better, since I was home yesterday and today. but going to work on MOnday again and will work 3 days a week starting next week.
    should I pump one breast at a time? and stop at 3 oz if I do every 3 hours.
    should I do one breast at at time every 4 hours? stop at 4 oz
    Please help!!!!

    • Linda
      September 2, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      I was told by my lactation consultant every three hours and stop at 4 ounces. Making sure to empty out once a day, normally in the morning. I’ve also stopped pumping in the evening not going past 8 hours before pumping. Typically however long my 2 month old will stay asleep. Considering I empty it out I have immediate relief. Doing this has helped a lot with the oversupply. I find I can go an extra hour without pumping if I need to and not feel engorged or start leaking.

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