What is a Milk Letdown?

what-is-a-milk-letdown

Breastfeeding is full of all kinds of fun stuff. Most of my early breastfeeding days were filled with the thoughts of, “why didn’t someone tell me about this part?” Bleeding nipples, how big your boobs get after your milk comes in, one-size-fits-all nursing bras being a lie, milk literally shooting out of your nipple, etc, etc, etc… Well, you might have heard the term, “milk letdown.” That was just another one of those fun things I learned about on my own…

So what is a milk letdown?

what-is-a-milk-letdownSimply put, it is a reflex that signals the release of milk into the milk ducts in your breast. This reflex is typically triggered by your baby suckling at the breast for a minute or two. Some moms have a very sensitive letdown reflex and can experience it before starting to nurse or at the very beginning. 

It can be triggered even when away from your baby without nursing. I can be out without my baby and a simple thought of my baby or if I hear another baby, my milk will letdown… Strange, right? Again, this wasn’t something that I was prepared for. It caught me off guard the first time it happened and I left Target with leaking boobs and a wet shirt. 

(Related: Find out what products are best for sore nipples.)

How can you tell your milk is letting down?

Most moms describe the feeling of their milk letting down as a tingling or a warm feeling. Others might feel calm, relaxed, sleepy, or thirsty, and in some cases, nausea, negative emotions, itching, or even a headache. 

Some moms don’t feel anything at all. 

My letdown was always very obvious. I am one of those fortunate moms who feels a wave of nausea along with a tingling sensation in my breast. The nausea reminds me of morning sickness (yep…). It comes on suddenly and within seconds of my milk letting down, it is gone. I honestly do not know anyone else who experiences nausea like I do… lucky me.

On the flip side, a good friend of mine doesn’t feel anything. She had no idea when her milk would let down. If you aren’t feeling any obvious signs, don’t worry. Just because you can’t feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. 

what-is-a-milk-letdown

One big clue as to when your milk lets down is your baby. You will see your baby’s nursing pattern change. Nursing sessions typically start with your hungry baby suckling quite fast in a short, choppy way. Once your milk lets down, that pattern will change. Suddenly, your baby’s suckling will be longer and deeper. You will notice your baby swallowing and even making a gulping sound. 

(Related: See why this pump is amazing at mimicking a hungry baby’s natural nursing pattern!)

Milk Letdown and Pumping

what-is-a-milk-letdown

Bring an article of clothing or a blanket of your baby’s and smell/touch it.

One common issue that Pumping Moms have is getting their milk to letdown while pumping. If you have a sensitive letdown, this might not be an issue but for those that don’t, trying to induce their milk to letdown while away from their baby can be frustrating and difficult.

If you are having trouble with getting your milk to letdown while pumping, try these tips:

  1. Relax – Put some music on. Try not to stress too much about it. 
  2. Think about your baby – Look at a picture or video. Imagine your baby when you nurse.
  3. Bring something of your baby’s – Have an article of clothing or blanket and smell it/touch it. 
  4. Massage your breasts before and while pumping.
  5. Use a heat compress to help the milk flow.

Stressing about pumping can lead to less output, so try your best to relax. 

Have any tips for triggering your letdown that worked for you? Or have questions? Drop me a comment below!

Click here to learn more tips for working and pumping!


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