Unfortunately it's really not that simple.
Firstly, other problems apart from an over supply and fast let down can cause all of the above.
Secondly, as with most things even if there is a huge supply, we shouldn't start with resolution but with the question of why. Is there a reason mum's breasts are not regulating?
1. What else can present as fast letdown/milk ejection?
I began pondering "fast letdown" with my first baby. She had all the above symptoms when feeding. If she pulled off, milk would shoot everywhere and I could always feel a strong sensation during letdown. She would suffer intermittent green explosive nappies too.
A breastfeeding counsellor at the time suggested I had over supply and to block feed. I did some reading and much seemed to confirm what I was being told.
Yet I didn't feel I had an over supply - I felt I had a good milk supply, but no engorgement or over fullness like in the early days. What's more block feeding wasn't really an option, because after a few minutes on the first side she would pull, writhe, fuss and refuse to go back on it - so the only option was to switch her to the other.
I now know that my daughter had a disorganised suck.
My milk ejection/letdown was totally normal, but my daughter couldn't co-ordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing rapidly enough - and hence ended up doing the above.
This was further confirmed during out attempts to introduce a bottle (I bought in to the notion/myth that all babies would need to take one at some point and should be introduced at 6 weeks). When we finally managed to coax her to take even a small amount (which was no mean feat!) she would also cough, splutter and appear to drown on a slow flow teat. The Health visitor at the time said it was because a breastfed baby had a stronger suck - in reality a baby struggling to use the appropriate action, may compensate with an almost "super suck".
Catherine Watson Genna in her book Supporting Sucking Skills writes:
"Multiple studies confirm that during infant feeding, breathing stops during each swallow. This presents a unique challenge for a baby, who swallows after each suck, and must rapidly switch between swallowing and breathing "and
"Flow plays an important role in these relationships. High flow, whether it is actually high or just perceived by the baby as high, can upset the delicate balance of sucking, swallowing and breathing co-ordination."What I now observe in practice is if we take a baby with a very co-ordinated organised suck, and give him a good flow of milk - he will feed with long pauses, swallowing big mouthfuls of milk:
Click here to see this in practice
But a baby with a disorganised suck receiving a good letdown, will often start to get faster and faster, as they struggle to switch rapidly between swallowing and breathing - the result? Coughing/spluttering/pulling off...
I liken it to running down a steep hill, you manage it for so long - getting faster and faster until you reach a point it all goes wrong and you fall over.
In fact if we read this great list on Kellymom regarding over supply, every single symptom of forceful letdown can also be attributable to a disorganised suck - because as Catherine highlighted if the baby perceives the flow as fast, that is problematic. It was this piece at the time I was struggling with my daughter, and the words "often linked with over supply" not "always linked with", that gave me the confidence mine wasn't supply linked - but for years it puzzled me what caused these "fast supply" symptoms.
What's more these babies may also struggle to continue pulling milk from the breast once the initial milk ejection reflex has subsided. So they may fuss, pull, arch and cry - if the other breast is offered they may again drink rapidly for a few minutes before again stopping.
Sometimes these mums are told their baby is just a "rapid, effective feeder", that they "power feed" in a few minutes, or perhaps that they are snackers or grazers - and again sometimes this is true; as the video link above highlights a baby feeding effectively needs to feed for a much shorter period than one who isn't. Other times feeds are short because the baby can't sustain effective feeding for a longer period of time - you need to be pretty sure which situation you have in front of you before thinking about the best course of action to resolve?
Considering green stools - if we think of why a baby dealing with over supply has green nappies - it is because the lactose/fat ratio is out of whack. See why a baby not feeding great may also end up in this situation, even if mum had a normal supply?
2. The problem with starting with a solution.
If you consider the above, it's pretty clear that "misdiagnosing" an over supply and recommending techniques to reduce (such as block feeding) can quickly cause more problems if supply wasn't the problem at all.
Furthermore, if a baby is continually not feeding effectively, the breasts can struggle to regulate.
|Piazza Maggiore, Italy, taken by Gio|
Also interesting are the cases where one breast appears to be over producing whilst the second seems to have much less supply. Watch these babies carefully and you may note they feed much more effectively from one side than the other, so it may not be the case that one breast is "over producing", as much as one breast is providing most of the nutrition because baby isn't feeding well on the other.
Again reducing supply in this instance can quickly leave baby in a tricky position!
Lastly please never consider taking steps to block feed or reduce supply if you have a baby that isn't gaining weight appropriately, without seeking help from someone appropriately qualified such as a Lactation Consultant.
A mum I saw recently had been advised to do so as her breasts were full and painful. This however wasn't because of a production issue, but because her baby was not feeding effectively enough to drain the breasts well causing blockages and congestion (which was reflected in his weight). Mum followed advice to block feed and ended up having to source donor milk to supplement whilst bringing her supply back up to normal levels.
This really brings us full circle to an earlier entry I made discussing why information and support is much more valuable than advice. If we're not really listening and thinking, building up a complete picture and working holistically, but instead simply dishing out standardised advice to every mum with a fussy feeder and green nappies - whether our actions are well intended or not, we risk putting the final nail in the coffin.