What is Breastfeeding Let Down and is it Bad?

Breastfeeding Let Down

In terms of breastfeeding, “let down” is a good thing. It is a reflex that the body uses to let mom know that the mammary glands are ready to release the milk they have produced. 

Let Down Reflex

The let down reflex can be indicated by a tingling sensation. If the breasts are full of milk, or feeding is overdue, there can also be a small discharge of milk. This reflex drips can also occur if you hear your baby cry, or even if you just think about your new little one.

The technical term is milk ejection reflex or MER. As baby latches on and begins to suck, the brain receives a signal to release the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin allows the body to produce milk and oxytocin is the trigger for the let down.

The sensation varies from woman to woman.  Some feel pressure, warmth, or prickly feelings (like pins and needles) or burning.  Let down actually occurs several times during the feeding process, but it is usually only the first release that are noticeable.  The sensations differ from slight discomfort to pain.  

Some women don’t feel anything and that is also normal.  As long as the baby is feeding sufficiently and progressing, there should be no concern.  However, if baby is not getting enough milk, you should contact your physician or lactation consultant.  A significant decrease in milk may result in your child not receiving enough nutrition and the resulting milk production to continue to decrease.

Related: Breast Milk Color – Understanding The Meaning

Breastfeeding Issues

If there are issues with breastfeeding, some of the origins could be from:

  • Exhaustion – And what new parent isn’t?
  • Stress – Tending a newborn can be constant worry.
  • Caffeine – Trying to negotiate the erratic hours it is easy to resort to coffee and soft drinks.
  • Pain – It is difficult to nurse when mom is uncomfortable.
  • Smoking – This substance has many side effects.
  • Dehydration – It is important to stay well hydrated when breastfeeding.

If you are having issues breastfeeding please contact a lactation consultant or pediatrician near you.

Follow your medical professional’s instructions, but here are a few things you might want to try.

  • Pump or hand express a small amount of milk before each feeding.  This can help stimulate the reflex.  Once the milk begins to flow, then hold your baby to the breast.
  • Use a warm cloth for a few minutes prior to feeding time or take a warm shower.
  • Gentle massage may stimulate the glands.  You may need to continue the massage.
  • Be sure you are in a comfortable position before you begin.  Try using a nursing pillow or footstool.  
  • Take deep breaths to relax.

Remember that this is a reflex reaction.  If you create a routine, you can condition your bodily response appropriately.  This should include looking at, touching and smelling your child, settling with the baby skin to skin, and an area free of distractions or with calm music playing.

Nursing your newborn for at least the first six months provides baby with nutrients and antibodies.  It also helps with the bonding process and is beneficial for both mother and child.  In addition, it saves money on formula and has been shown to accelerate maternal weight loss.  

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