While some breastfeeding moms consider milk oversupply a dream, for others it can seem more like a nightmare. Oversupply might mean you’re struggling with engorgement issues and a fussy baby who can’t latch or swallow well.
If you think you might have oversupply issues, you may have heard of block feeding. But before you try it, make sure you talk to a lactation consultant. Sometimes what you think might be oversupply is actually another issue altogether, like overactive letdown.
If your lactation consultant confirms you’re making more than enough milk for your growing baby, and your baby has been gaining weight at a healthy rate, they might suggest block feeding as a solution.
So, is it the right technique for you? How do you do it? What does a block feeding schedule look like? Don’t worry, we won’t leave you hanging without answers…
Block feeding is a breastfeeding method used to manage milk supply by reducing production to match your baby’s needs.
Breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis. When your breast is stimulated frequently and emptied fully, it produces more milk. When milk is left in your breast and your breast is not stimulated, it stops producing as much milk.
Block feeding leaves milk inside your breast for a longer period of time, so that your body won’t think it needs to keep producing at such a high rate.
First, decide what feeding will be the beginning of your block feeding schedule. About an hour before, use your breast pump for a short period of time on each breast. This will help soften the breast and relax the milk ejection reflex just enough, setting you up for success.
When your baby gets hungry and the feeding starts, offer only one breast. Let your baby eat from that breast as long as they want. For the next 3 to 6 hours, bring baby back to that same side, only.
Your goal is to feed your baby on the same side, only, for the entire block of time. Your baby should still feed on demand during this time, whenever they give cues that they’re hungry.
For the next block, offer the other breast, and repeat the process on the other side.
If the unused breast starts to feel uncomfortable during your 6-hour block, try to pump only enough to relieve pressure. Avoid emptying the breast if you can, because that will tell your body to make more milk.
You can also use a cool compress on that breast to decrease discomfort — use the compress for no more than 30 minutes at a time with at least an hour break between uses.
For most people, it’s recommended to start with a short block schedule of only 3 hours at a time. If you’re a lactating parent with a large amount of extra milk, you may need longer blocks — like 8 to 10 hours — before switching sides.
As your body adjusts to the block feeding schedule, it’s possible you may get very uncomfortable. If you decide to pump fully, restart the block feeding schedule.
Block feeding is usually only used for a temporary period to get milk supply to a manageable level. It’s generally not recommended to block feed for longer than a week. Consult with your doctor, midwife, or lactation specialist to see how long you should block feed.
Because block feeding is used for people trying to manage oversupply, this strategy should not be used by anyone who wants to increase their milk production.
Block feeding is not advised in the very early days after the birth of your baby. During the first 4 to 6 weeks postpartum, your breast milk volume is increasing rapidly and adapting to your growing baby.
It’s usually a good idea to establish your body’s natural milk supply by feeding on both breasts at each feeding. Or alternate breasts at each feed, depending on your baby’s hunger level.
Consult a lactation specialist about oversupply if, after 4 to 6 weeks, you find:
- your breasts are frequently feeling engorged despite regular feeds
- your baby is gagging, gulping, or coughing during feeds
- your breasts are frequently leaking milk
While block feeding may seem like an easy solution to oversupply issues, milk is being left inside the breast for longer periods of time than normal. This means there is an increased risk of clogged ducts and mastitis.
To prevent these issues, there are some things you can do:
- Make sure to keep your breast area clean to avoid any bacterial infection.
- Take measures to ensure a good latch.
- Massage your breasts during feedings to help encourage full drainage.
- Switch feeding positions often to ensure that your breasts are being properly drained from all sides.
- Consider easing into block feeding by slowly extending the time you feed exclusively on one breast.
If you do see evidence of a clogged duct or mastitis, take action quickly to prevent it from getting worse! See your care provider immediately if you notice signs of infection, such as a fever, red marks, or extreme pain.
For people struggling with oversupply, feeling less engorgement (and the unpleasant side effects that can follow) is a major benefit of block feeding.
However, block feeding also has benefits for the baby. Block feeding allows babies to get at more of the high protein, high fat hindmilk found at the end of a breastfeeding session.
Drinking more hindmilk can often improve digestion and prevent your baby from experiencing excessive gas, according to the La Leche League.
It’s also easier for little mouths to properly latch on less engorged breasts. Furthermore, because your baby will be able to control the flow of milk better with their tongue instead of clamping down on the breast, you may experience less nipple pain.
While these might sound like small benefits, they can make a big difference in comfort, nutrition, and ease of breastfeeding for both mom and baby.
Depending on the recommendations of your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant, your block feeding schedule may look different than the one below, with longer or shorter blocks for each breast.
Here’s an example block feeding schedule, with an anticipated first feeding at 8 a.m. and 6-hour blocks:
- 7 a.m.: Pump just enough to relieve pressure on both breasts
- 8 a.m.: Feed your baby on your right breast. Let your baby decide when they’re finished.
- 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.: All feedings that follow in this window stay on the right breast.
- 2 p.m.: Feed baby on your left breast. Let your baby decide when they’re finished.
- 2:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.: All feedings that follow in this window stay on your left breast.
If you’re experiencing breast milk oversupply issues, you’re probably willing to try just about anything to end the uncomfortable side effects! Check with a lactation consultant to confirm your oversupply, and talk to your pediatrician to make sure your baby’s weight is appropriate.
Block feeding can be an effective way to get your milk supply under control, but it’s important to keep an eye out for clogged ducts or mastitis if you use this method. You’ll also want to make sure that your little one doesn’t seem overly hungry after a few feeds on the same breast, too.
Remember, block feeding is just temporary until your milk supply is more manageable. After your milk supply decreases, you can return to feeding as usual to keep your milk supply at the right volume for your growing baby.