Why all this leaking? Doesn’t my baby need that milk?
Well yes, but there are many reasons why mothers leak milk. When a mother has a full milk supply, particularly in the beginning of her breastfeeding relationship, she may leak a good amount of milk both between feedings and during nursing itself. The leaking can work to relieve pressure when a mother’s breasts are really full and can help maintain the positive pressure inside the breast at the desired level. Additionally, a mother’s body is hormonally primed to respond to imagery, sound, smell, and other factors that make her think of her baby. Hearing another baby cry or thinking about nursing your baby might trigger your milk to let down. This leaking is all normal and does not usually last throughout the entire duration of the time your baby is breastfed. You and your baby are connected closely at this point in your lives. Your baby needs you, and you need your baby.
You might find that you leak milk during breastfeeding on the side to which your baby is not latched, and this leaking is also normal. The Milk Ejection Reflex (MER) happens on both sides at once, and it is an important part of getting the milk out of your breast and into your baby’s tummy. The milk ejection reflex can be conditioned to respond to certain situations or stimuli. For example, when a mother is pumping her milk during a separation from her baby, she might look at photos of her baby or smell some of her baby’s clothes to help bring the memory of the baby into the room with her, and she is likely to find that she can express more milk than she would if she did not use these techniques.
If your MER is happening at an inconvenient moment, you can try these tips:
* To stop your letdown, press the heel of your hand over the breast or cross your arms and pull inward toward your chest wall.
* Consider wearing a looser bra, or if you do not usually wear a bra, try a sleep bra. They’re soft, cotton, and mostly just elastic and you may not feel like you are wearing a bra. A change in support might help, but underwire bras are not recommended for breastfeeding women.
* Express or pump if breastfeeding is delayed.
* Consider whether the use of medications or herbs is contributing to leaking (for example, eating a lot of fenugreek-laden foods).
* Many mothers experience leaking during sex. To reduce letdown during sex: before sex, feed your baby or pump and have towels handy to catch leaking milk. Oxytocin is release during orgasm, but it is also a hormone released normally during nursing. Your body won’t know the difference, and you can leak milk during sex just as at other times.
* Change pads often to keep breasts dry.
* Place absorbent towels or crib pads on your bed to catch leaks while you are lying down or sleeping.
If leaking is happening during nursing, you can hold a cloth diaper, washcloth, or burp cloth over the side that leaks, so your milk does not spray. Not all women leak milk, so it is important to remember that leaking milk is not one of the criteria for a healthy milk supply.
What do other mothers say about leaking?
Many mothers dislike feeling wet or being out in public and having a milk release. Some mothers see it mostly as a laundry problem, while others are more concerned about how it feels or may look to others. How you respond to leaking depends on how it makes you feel. Some mothers bring a change of clothes, wear bulky shirts, or insert something called a “breast pad” into the bra, between the skin of the breast and the fabric of the bra, when they want to contain the extra milk. A pad will not prevent the milk from leaking, but it can reduce the amount of milk that gets onto your clothes.
Many mothers do not mind milk getting on their clothes. It does not stain like formula does, and it is easily washed out during normal machine- or hand-washing. Babies do not mind the smell of old milk on clothes. They like that way your skin smells, and they like milky smells. Newborns are born with a highly-developed sense of smell and naturally turn their heads toward the good smells of mama. First, they are attracted by the smell of amniotic fluid, but later, they still identify you as “mama” largely by how you smell.
Here are a few of your options for controlling the extra milk that has leaked from your breasts:
You can purchase store-bought breast pads like these…
You can make your own out of Maxi Pads:
You can adapt other things already around your house:
Sometimes all you really need to do is find something absorbent, like a cloth diaper, that you are already using for something else:
One of our readers (thanks, Tabitha!) mentioned that the benefit of using cloth rather than disposable is that you can reuse them and help control costs if you are on a budget.
Not sure if these will work for you? Well, lets see how they look on someone else!
The Towel, cut in a long piece and folded into thirds:
The downside of using the towel is that when it’s damp, it feels wet, and you need to tuck a new dry one into your bra to prevent milk soaking through. It felt like it added a whole cup size but it was comfy and probably a good option for around the house! If you use the cut cloth diaper, the pad won’t be as “fluffy” as the terry cloth kitchen towel material.
The Maxi Pad look:
If you are a heavy leaker, then these homemade pads might just do the trick. They are less expensive than the store-bought versions, and they have the plastic backing so the milk will not leak through your shirt. Instead of choosing a tight, thin-weight cotton stretch shirt like I did, a darker-colored, looser-fitting shirt or a nursing top would keep the imprint from the pad from showing through. The 1/3 size was a little small, so I would try cutting the maxi pads in half to make a larger protection area.
The Store-Bought Breast Pad:
If you can afford to buy boxes of these, and you like convenience, these might work for you. The thin circular pad manages to hide itself quite brilliantly, but you will probably be changing them a lot. They are small and discreet, but you are likely to need to use lots of them. For the money, the better bargain seems to be making them yourself.
You will notice that we have not mentioned ways to stop leaking. It is up to your individual body to get into the perfect milk-making rhythm with your baby, and a healthy milk supply can come with a certain amount of milk leaking. As your baby grows up and begins to explore other foods, your milk supply will probably reduce itself from the typical peak that occurs from immediately postpartum to about 5-6 months. Finding a way to work with your body’s normal milk production and your natural response to your baby will require individual tailoring. Breastfeeding your baby does not need to keep you from being out in public, visiting your family, or going to the store. With a little creativity and patience, you can make it work for you.
(C) Serena Meyer–All Rights Reserved