Breastfeeding is a time for nurturing and bonding with your baby, and as wonderful as it can be, there are also some challenges associated with it. For example, learning how to deal with leaking breasts can be stressful, especially for first-timers.
While leaking is certainly a burden, it is a reminder that you are producing enough milk for your baby. It is also the body's way of preventing plugged milk ducts and relieving that feeling of fullness many nursing moms get in their breasts. Every breastfeeding woman is different. While some mothers never leak, others will barely be able to keep dry.
What causes my breasts to leak?
Breastfeeding mothers will release two hormones: prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin tells your breasts to continue producing milk and oxytocin tells your breasts to release the milk. This sudden release of milk is called a “letdown” and when the breasts become too full, they will begin to leak.
Some mothers may even feel a tingling sensation before their milk starts to leak. Others simply notice an unwelcome wet spot on their clothing with no pre-warning tingling.
Is it normal for my breasts to leak?
It is very normal for your breasts to leak during the first few weeks after having your baby.
Your breasts may leak:
- In the morning when your milk supply is at its highest
- Overnight if you haven’t released enough milk during the day
- From just one breast during or in between feedings
- From both breasts when you're not feeding
Do all breastfeeding women leak breast milk?
While leaking is common, not all mothers will experience it. As mentioned, leaking occurs more often during the early weeks when your newborn’s feeding schedule is constantly changing. Once your baby has developed a more consistent feeding pattern (around 2-3 months old,) your breasts will know how much milk to make, and when to make it. This is when leaking will occur less often or stop completely.
Additionally, a mother’s body is hormonally programmed to respond to the sounds and smells of her baby. Hearing your baby cry or thinking about nursing your baby could actually trigger your milk to let down. This leaking is normal and does not usually last throughout the entire breastfeeding duration. Leaking can also occur when you delay or skip a feeding, causing your breasts to overfill. Even an orgasm can trigger a milk letdown as it can stimulate a release of oxytocin.
How can I deal with leaky breasts?
Nursing moms will likely experience leaky breasts at some point during their breastfeeding period. While this can be very inconvenient and rather embarrassing, it’s only temporary and will eventually subside. How quickly or slowly this happens varies from woman to woman. In the meantime, you can deal with this issue by following these nine helpful tips we have outlined for you below.
9 Apply Firm Pressure To Your Breasts
Before your breasts start to leak, they may likely feel full and tingly. This sensation can be an indicator of a milk letdown. If you feel this tingling sensation, begin to apply firm pressure by hugging yourself for about 15-30 seconds. If your breasts are too sensitive, you can also use the base of your palm to apply this pressure more gently.
It is important however to limit this practice in the early weeks proceeding labor, as you are still establishing your milk supply. Efforts to prevent leaking, especially in these early weeks, can interfere or tamper with your milk source.
8 Use Nursing Pads To Prevent Leaking
Nursing pads are one of those items that you may not even think about while preparing for motherhood. But, once you’ve had your baby and begin to nurse, you will notice a greater need for them. Nursing pads come in all shapes and sizes: disposable as well as reusable. You can even make your own breast pads using cloth diapers, cotton fabric, or handkerchiefs.
It is recommended that nursing mothers use cloth nursing pads over disposable ones. Why? Unlike disposable nursing pads, which have been linked to breastfeeding problems, reusable cloth nursing pads will more effectively absorb your leaky breast.
Most disposable nursing pads are made with a plastic lining, which can be effective for keeping your clothing dry, but not your areola. If possible, avoid nursing pads with a plastic liner so bacteria won’t spread onto your nipples. Disposable pads may be small and discreet, but you will likely need to use more of them more often, which could also get expensive if you are a frequent leaker.
Some breastfeeding problems that can occur if your areola is constantly damp are:
- Cracked/dry nipples
- Tender/sore nipples
- Painful/overactive letdown
7 Wear Dark or Printed Clothing
Consider wearing clothing that will camouflage any sign of wetness. For example, when picking out pieces for your wardrobe, keep in mind that patterns, prints and darker colors will hide any unexpected leaks much better than solids or light colors.
You can also carry a light jacket or sweater that you can put over the top of your shirt should your breasts begin to leak onto your clothing.
6 Release Any Excess Breast Milk
Pumping out any excess milk can prevent your breasts from leaking. When you begin to feel that tingling sensation, try to breastfeed as soon as you possibly can. If your baby isn’t hungry or if he is not around to feed, make sure to pump out the excess milk.
Relieving excess milk from your breast will not only help to prevent further leakage, but it will also prevent your breast duct from clogging. Even worse, you could develop mastitis. This occurs when the tissue in your breast becomes painfully inflamed. If you get mastitis, you will experience severe pain and may need up to 24 hours of rest. That is why it’s very important to treat a clogged breast duct as soon as you notice it.
Signs you might have a clogged breast duct:
- You have a small, hard lump that is sore to the touch or a very tender spot in your breast or underarm
- There is redness around the breast
- You feeling a hot sensation or swelling that may relieve itself after nursing
If your breast duct becomes clogged, you can treat it by doing the following:
- If it’s not too painful, nurse from the clogged breast so your baby can help to dislodge the plug. If your baby doesn’t nurse enough to empty the breast, use a breast pump.
- Massage: before nursing your baby, massage the sore area as much as possible by applying warm compresses.
- Get as much rest as possible. Besides breastfeeding frequently, resting is the most important thing to do, as it will help to relieve any unnecessary stress you may have.
- Change your nursing position. If possible, lie down while nursing your baby. Lying down may help drain out the clogged duct better than nursing your baby in an upright position.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration will only make your body more stressed and will eventually lead to a weakened immune system.
- Eat well. Focus on eating nutritious foods to boost your immune system.
- Use a cooling pad or ice pack to ease any swelling, pain or discomfort you may have.
- Take medication. When all else fails, try taking an anti-inflammatory pain reliever (such as ibuprofen) but only after you have consulted with your doctor.
5 Laugh It Off
You will likely experience a leaky breast more than once during your breastfeeding period. Just remember that you’re not alone in this struggle.
Humor can help you cope. Laughing it off can definitely go a long way when dealing with little annoyances. When the leaking does subside, you’ll have some funny stories to share.
4 Bring Spare Clothing
Covering up leaking breasts with dark or printed clothing may only be suitable for shorter periods of time. Even though leaking may be disguised, it’s still there, which could be a very uncomfortable feeling.
If you are away from home for a longer period of time, consider bringing a spare bra and top so you can keep dry, especially if the leaking becomes unmanageable for you.
3 Wear A Looser Bra
During this breastfeeding period, your breasts will be much heavier than usual. You may think that wearing a bra with underwire will help with support, but these bras are detrimental to lactating breasts.
Underwire bras are not recommended for breastfeeding women as the wiring can sometimes cause blockages in the milk ducts. Consider wearing a looser bra, or if you do not usually wear a bra, try a sleep bra.
2 Keep Your Bedding Dry
It's very common for breastfeeding mothers to leak overnight. If your breasts do begin to leak during the night, place a bath or a nursing towel on top of your bed sheet. This will help protect your mattress and will also keep the sheet beneath you dry.
Again, stocking up on nursing pads will be a nighttime lifesaver. They will soak up leaking milk, while keeping your night clothes nice and dry.
1 Release Your Milk Before Sex
Many mothers will experience leaking during or immediately after an orgasm. To prevent this letdown, feed your baby or pump out any excess breast milk before you have sex. As mentioned, oxytocin also referred to as the “love hormone,” will release during an orgasm. Not only does this hormone release during intercourse, but it is also released while breastfeeding. So, if you begin to leak during sex, it is likely because your body won’t know the difference.
A leaking breast does not need to keep you from being out in public or feeling uncomfortable. If you do experience a leak, just know that you are not alone and that the leaking will eventually subside. Rest assured, there are many ways to deal with this issue for the short period of time that it does occur. The most important thing to do during your time breastfeeding is not to worry about leaking, but rather learning how to share this beautiful bond with your baby.