If you’re a resident of the inner west of Sydney, and have been privy to the rumour mill’s latest corker about a woman seen watering the park roses with her breast milk, please try not to worry about the rapid descent of our beloved precinct. Because that woman was not a looney with opinions on rose fertiliser that match her views on vaccination. That woman was me...
Let me back track slightly, to provide some context. After a short walk to have my brows tended to on a sunny Saturday morning, my three-week-old son decided that milk was required – right at that very moment. (Before you judge me on prioritising brows this early on – please note that they had not been managed in approximately six months, and a mother needs to take her small joys where she can.) So, with a screaming child and ten minutes to spare before my appointment, I did what any good mother would do, and bolted to the nearest stretch of grass, sat down on top of a swaddle, and pulled off my shirt (the one day I decided not to opt for a button-down) to feed my son. Ignoring the passing traffic and focusing purely on my son’s latch (the beauty of being a second-time mother with zero dignity remaining), it was a few good minutes before I noticed what the breast not currently feeding my son was up to. In a moment of suffocation, my poor breast pad and nursing bra had popped off, leaving my nipple out in the air, where it was squirting milk at what was quite an impressive distance. Some may even have mistaken the range for a good quality sprinkler. The milk headed straight to the nearby roses and their surrounding mulch, which by the time I left, was quite well watered (milked?).
While this may have been a true moment of horror for some women, for me, it was just another day. So I simply bundled up my son (now quiet, thankfully), pulled my top back on (brand new and now with some very poorly positioned wet patches), and headed to my appointment.
If it’s not already clear, I am one of the lucky few who have been blessed (or is it cursed?) with an extreme oversupply of breastmilk.
Rewind a few years to before my first son was born, and I can say with true sincerity that I had no expectations about breastfeeding. My wonderful mother, beloved aunt and gorgeous grandmother had all experienced great difficulty nursing, and I (as well as my very talented sister and cousins) had been predominantly formula fed. I had no qualms about bottle feeding, no lofty goals around months of breastfeeding, and simply believed (and continue to believe) that fed is best. Therefore, it came as quite a surprise when day three rolled around with both my sons, as my milk came in, and just continued coming. Now somewhat affectionately referred to as The Milk Machine by my family, it seems my body felt that my (admittedly very chubby) boys required the equivalent milk to feed a small nation of babies.
So with years of experience under my belt and far too many silk shirts lost to the cause, here are my top six (very non-expert) tips for anyone attempting to survive an oversupply.
Words: Amy Malpass Hahn
1. Work through the engorgement
After giving birth naturally through an induction, I was fairly sure I had the pain thing down pat. That was, until three days postpartum. While most women experience sore, full breasts as their milk comes in, a woman with an oversupply experiences engorgement like no other. I couldn’t lay on my side as it was excruciating when something simply brushed past my breasts, and when on my back, I felt as though I was being crushed by bricks. If you’re experiencing this (hello! You’re amazing!), ask your midwife for the best pain relief they have on hand (mine came with a prescription), and persist with feeding your baby on demand. I tearfully begged the hospital lactation consultant to fix it, and she calmly assured me that in 48 hours, I would be fine. She was right. Hang in there – you’ll be okay.
2. Do not – I repeat, do not – express
When you’re dealing with an oversupply – particularly in those early days – the temptation to stand in the shower and let the milk flow until you’re drained is extreme. (I would not even dream of touching a pump – the pressure from the water was enough to send my breasts into leaking tap mode.) Whatever you do, avoid the temptation – even if it means heading straight to the Nutella jar every time you get the urge. Your supply won’t regulate itself to your baby’s demands if you’re frantically expressing milk to provide some relief. Your body will simply keep making more. Which is not at all what you want, is it?
3. Always, always have breast pads
You will go through a pack every few days, so always have a few boxes spare in the bathroom. You’ll need to experiment to find the pad that works best for you (these are my favourite), and once you’ve found them, keep a stash everywhere. Your car, your pram, your bag, your best friend’s pantry – wherever you plan to be for the foreseeable future (this includes up to six months post weaning. No, I’m not kidding).
4. Invest in good bras
Unfortunately, ‘good’ is perhaps not the best choice of word when describing the bras you’ll require. While you can admire the Heidi Klum numbers, or even a dainty little Spell bralette from afar, this is not your fate. Sadly, you will require the stretchiest, non-padded, cup-neutral bra you can lay your hands on. These Bonds crops may not be the most attractive bras in my dresser, but they are on high rotation as they can accommodate a cup size that escalates from a C to an F in the time it takes for my newborn to begin grizzling.
5. Eat, eat, eat
In my eyes, if there is ever an excuse to eat, it is not pregnancy, it’s nursing. Nourishing a baby takes energy. So keep yourself well fed, well hydrated, and be kind to yourself. Your body is working so very hard, so give it a bit of love.
6. But avoid the biscuits
According to the Bible that is my Instagram feed, breastfeeding cookies are all the rage. Forever a marketer’s dream, in a 2am online shopping spree, I got click happy and bought a supply – assuming they were a clever ploy to convince mothers that a cookie could be a health food. Sold! Oh dear, was I wrong. These things actually work (as do their nursing tea equivalents). If you are working through an oversupply, take it from me, and just reach for a Tim Tam instead.
While your breasts, your clothing and your onlooking partner may never be the same, rest assured that you’re doing well. Each time you find another wet patch on an unsuspecting area of your home or neighbourhood, just gaze at those chubby rolls on your baby and consider your supply to be exactly what it needs to be. Now please excuse me, I’m off to change my breast pads.