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.


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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.