Breastfeeding advice: Leaky boobs and oversupply

Lactation Consultant Johanna Cusack offers her expertise on how to manage leaky boobs and oversupply for breastfeeding mums.

One thing mothers really enjoy about breastfeeding is how convenient it is once feeding is established. Nothing to prepare or wash up – just pick up baby and off you go!

There are many tips that can help a new mum in the early weeks, and I am often asked about managing leaking and oversupply. These might look similar initially, but are actually quite different.


As breastfeeding works on a ‘supply and demand’ system, the early weeks are spent feeding frequently to help build up supply – at least eight to 12 times per 24 hours.

It takes about four to six weeks for mother and baby to get ‘in sync’ with each other, and until that happens a mother may find that she leaks between feeds.

Leaking occurs when a mother has a ‘letdown’, or a release of milk when baby isn’t feeding. Letdown is triggered by the time to feed, hearing baby cry, or even thinking about baby! It’s often nature’s way of telling you it’s time to find a place to relax and feed your little one.

Most mothers experience some leakage while breastfeeding, but this varies from mother to mother and isn’t necessarily a reflection on milk supply. There is some suggestion that leaking can actually help prevent mastitis, as the frequent release of milk helps avoid blockages. Usually leaking reduces or disappears altogether after the first few weeks, and is more of a minor nuisance and laundry issue than a sign of a larger problem.

Tips for Managing Leaking:

Nursing pads. Worn in the bra, there are a variety of disposable pads in different sizes and absorbencies (try to avoid plastic backed ones to as your nipples need to breathe) and are available at most chemists. Some mothers prefer reusable, washable, soft cotton breastpads, so it depends on what a mum needs them for and how much she leaks as opposed to what type will work best.

• If you feel milk starting to leak and can’t feed your baby straight away, you can cross your arms across your chest and press the heels of your palms into your nipples for eight to ten seconds. This usually works to stop the flow.

Patterned clothing and layering are also fantastic, so if you leak a bit it won’t be noticeable. Lovely coloured scarves or wraps are great too, as they are stylish and can also double at covering up any wetness that may soak through into your clothing.

• Feed frequently in the early weeks to regulate supply and demand, allowing baby to finish each breast without timing feeds.


Oversupply is when a mother’s body produces milk in abundant quantities. Milk can leak forcefully or even spray out of the breasts making feeding difficult as baby has a hard time coping with the volume and flow – often coming off the breast, sputtering and crying. Blocked ducts and mastitis can occur as there is more milk than baby can drink.

Tips for helping with oversupply:

Feed your baby for a few seconds, and when the initial letdown happens take your baby off, allowing the milk to flow into a cloth until the flow slows. Then latch your baby on again.

Let gravity help. Feed your baby in a semi-reclined position to slow the flow of milk. Use a recliner chair, rocker or some pillows on the sofa to support your neck and back and put your feet up. This is called ‘laidback’ breastfeeding and this ‘uphill’ feeding can really help slow the flow.

Feed frequently in the early weeks to regulate supply and demand, allowing baby to finish each breast without timing feeds.

Don’t do anything to reduce your milk supply until you’ve established the cause of the oversupply. Your local voluntary breastfeeding support is there to help you.

If you are having problems or would enjoy meeting other breastfeeding mums, contact or attend your local group such as La Leche League or Cuidiu. The trained counsellor in attendance will be able to help you with your questions and provide support.

If oversupply is causing problems like mastitis, weight gain issues, or fussiness, I encourage you to seek out help from your local Lactation Consultant.

Oversupply can be caused by many things – tongue tie, hormones, positioning, baby’s feeding pattern, pumping – so it’s important to thoroughly investigate what is happening. Find your local Lactation Consultant.

For every breastfeeding problem, there is usually a breastfeeding solution. If you have questions or need support, I would encourage you to get help as early as possible so that breastfeeding can be the pleasure it is meant to be, both for you and your baby.

About Johanna: Johanna Riley Cusack is a Lactation Consultant in Clare and Limerick. 

More like this:

Newborn feeding issues
Breastfeeding advice for newborns
Breastfeeding in Ireland

Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.


Building strong girls

How can we help our daughters to become the confident, healthy young woman we want them to be?



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….