Breastfeeding not only creates a bond between you and your baby, it also provides your baby with nutrients that promote healthy growth.
Breast milk has antibodies that strengthen your baby’s immune system, protecting them from infections and diseases.
Even if you’re convinced that breast milk is the best choice for your baby, you may have questions. Among your list of concerns, you may wonder whether your let-down reflex is normal. Find out more here.
“Let-down” is the release of milk from the breast. It’s a normal reflex that occurs when nerves in your breasts are stimulated, usually as a result of your baby sucking. This sets in motion a chain of events, and hormones are released into your bloodstream.
The hormone prolactin stimulates milk production, and the hormone oxytocin causes your breast to release or “let down” milk.
Let-down, or the availability of milk, is different for every mother. Some women let down within seconds of their baby beginning to suck, but it takes others several minutes to let down. Therefore, you shouldn’t compare your reflex with another mother’s reflex.
Knowing what to expect during let-down can help you determine whether your reflex is normal.
Some breastfeeding mothers can feel their milk flow from their ducts to their nipples, but others don’t. You may notice different sensations in or around your breasts, such as:
- a tingling sensation, which feels like pins and needles
- a feeling of fullness
- milk leaking from your other breast
These sensations can develop immediately after giving birth, or they may not start until several weeks into breastfeeding. It varies from mother to mother.
Other bodily responses
Let-down can also trigger other natural responses. Although you may only feed your baby from one breast, let-down typically happens in both breasts simultaneously.
You shouldn’t be surprised if your other breast begins to leak. Also, don’t be alarmed if you feel your uterus contract when you let down. This is also normal.
Your milk may let down at a slow and steady pace. Sometimes, however, let down is fast and forceful.
Your baby could choke if they suck too much milk at once. The flow of milk does gradually slow down, though, and it becomes more comfortable for your baby.
If you don’t want to risk your baby choking, use your hand and squeeze out a little milk before each feeding. Fast-flowing milk not only increases the likelihood of choking, but some people believe it can cause gas and colic.
Let-down is a normal reflex when your baby sucks on your breasts, but it can also take place before your baby latches on. You may notice your milk let down when you hear your baby cry or if you’re overdue for a feeding.
Additionally, touching your breasts or using a breast pump can prompt let-down. This is called “expressing.”
Let-down comes easily and naturally for some breastfeeding mothers, but others have trouble getting their milk to flow.
If you have trouble with let-down — whether you're feeding or expressing — there are several things you can do to help the process:
- sip on a warm beverage
- listen to soothing, calm music
- take a warm shower before feeding
- hold your baby close to your body
- gently massage your breasts to stimulate milk flow
It’s important to remember that let-down is different for every person. You may have a physical response and feel tingling or fullness around the breasts every time milk is ready to flow, or you may feel nothing.
If you have concerns about your let-down reflex, talk to your doctor. Also, let your doctor know if you’re having pain during let-down. A painful let-down reflex isn’t unusual, and the pain typically goes away once you adjust to breastfeeding.
If pain doesn’t improve, it can be a sign of:
- a clogged milk duct
- a breast infection
- a strained muscle from giving birth
- your breasts producing too much milk