Milk Paranoia

Not long ago, most of the mothers attending my monthly breastfeeding group had overabundant milk production.  Our meetings were full of their struggles.  At the breast, their babies choked, coughed, and pulled off crying.  Bouts of mastitis were common.  Their babies gained twice the average weight and displayed their “thunder thighs” as living proof.  Some regularly donated the 100-ounce (3 L) minimum required by one area milk bank.  Yet despite the obvious downsides of producing so much milk, not one of these mothers wanted to reduce her production to a level closer to her baby’s need.

One mother beamed as she described her overabundant production, clearly relishing this badge of honor.  She regaled the newcomers with tales of her overflowing freezer, her ability to squirt milk across the room, and the amazing volumes she could express at a sitting.  I toyed with the idea of buying her the tee shirt: “I make milk.  What’s your superpower?”   Others with obvious overproduction lacked her confidence.  They contacted me regularly with worries their milk would disappear.  After developing mastitis and seeing a decrease in her milk, one mother went into a panic, even though she still expressed more milk at work than her baby needed.  These mothers all made it clear they “felt better” making too much milk.  The very thought of reducing their milk production filled them with anxiety.

What was the root of this “milk paranoia?”  I chalked it up to the naysayers around them who make breastfeeding sound like an accident waiting to happen.  They share stories of mothers who wake one morning to discover their milk is gone.  They cast doubt on whether they have enough milk.  They criticize feeding patterns that differ from formula-feeding norms.  Is it any wonder so many mothers suffer from milk paranoia?  Or is even more remarkable that more don’t?