How a large milk supply affects babies at the breast

Why does my baby choke so often and only breastfeed for 10 minutes?

If mothers have a large milk supply, the baby will behave differently at the breast. With a large supply, milk flows quickly during the let-down and in large amounts. As a result, the baby may only want one breast per feed, may feed more often to compensate for taking only one breast, and may feed more quickly. The baby may also be upset at the breast, and may choke, gulp, or pant. Babies will try to slow the flow to avoid drinking too quickly and choking. They may latch very tentatively, clamp, tug, and pull back from the breast, or let go of the breast for a few seconds with the letdown and then re-latch. Babies will tend to have frequent and painful tummy cramps and may spit and vomit more than other babies, or may have green stools. 

A) Breastfeeding patterns when mothers have a large milk supply

When a mother has a large milk supply, her milk flows quickly during the let-down and in large amounts. Her baby may breastfeed differently from those whose mothers have an average supply. There are a number of tools to address such behaviours and challenges.

1) One breast at each feed

If you have a large supply, you may notice that your baby’s breastfeeding pattern is different from that of other babies. Your baby may:

  • Only want one breast per feed because it provides enough milk.
  • Feed a little more often to compensate for taking only one breast. The baby may feed every two hours instead of three.
  • Feed more quickly. For example, the feed of a one-month old baby may only last for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Not settle into the second stage (“I really like this”) and third stage (“I’m done”) of breastfeeding.
  • Not relax during breastfeeding but rather look slightly stressed.

2) Take both breasts but only feed six times in one day

A few babies manage to take both breasts when their mother has a large milk supply, but they feed relatively infrequently, perhaps 6 -7 times in 24 hours. As infrequent breastfeeding can be a cause of poor growth, mothers sometimes worry that these babies are not taking in enough milk. However this is a normal pattern in this situation and these babies grow well.

B) Behaviour at the breast when mothers have a large milk supply

Babies of mothers with a large milk supply behave very differently while breastfeeding. They may:

  • Be upset and agitated.
  • Make complaining or frustrated noises when the milk comes too quickly.
  • Choke at least once at most feeds.
  • Make lots of gulping sounds.
  • Pant heavily.
  • Click at the beginning or throughout the feed.

The video below shows a baby breastfeeding; his mother has a larger milk supply. When the baby sucks, his voice and hand and arm movements show that he is slightly stressed by the rapid movement of milk. He calms down when not sucking.

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C) Coping tools used by babies when mothers have a large milk supply

If a lot of milk is presented quickly, babies may try to slow the flow. To avoid drinking too quickly and choking, they may:

  1. Latch very tentatively instead of deeply.
  2. Clamp and tug and pull back from the breast during feeds.
  3. Release the breast for a few seconds to allow the let-down to pass and then re-latch.

As the milk supply decreases to match the baby’s needs and as the baby grows and learns to cope with the milk flow, the feeds become calmer. This usually happens within the first few months after delivery.

D) Effect on the baby’s tummy

Compared to the average baby, swallowing large amounts of milk over a short time can result in more tummy cramps during and after feeds. It can also cause such babies to swallow more air. Loud gulping can be a sign of this.

Such babies may benefit from over-the-shoulder back massage to decrease the pain.

These babies may also:

  • Spit frequently.
  • Vomit once or twice a week.
  • Have green stools (poop).