It can happen to any breastfeeding mom. Suddenly, the front of your T-shirt has one or two dark circles. Oh, no, breast milk leakage! So common and so annoying.
But really, there’s a lot to do both to reduce breast milk leaking and to prevent it from showing.
Leaking breasts can be a real problem for some women, but for most breastfeeding moms, leaking slows down and even stops over time. When leaking breast milk, coping strategies involve both ways to reduce the leaking and endure the situation.
Why does breast milk leaking occur?
As mentioned previously, leaking is very common and normal, and, in most cases, it stops as your body gets used to breastfeeding. It occurs more during the earlier weeks of breastfeeding while your body is still learning how much milk to produce for your baby’s needs.
Too Full Breasts
If your breasts are too full, it is more likely that leaking will happen. In this case, it is actually beneficial because it relieves the pressure and helps prevent plugged milk ducts or mastitis. Once you and your baby find a rhythm and a baby develops a more consistent feeding schedule, you’ll probably start producing just the right amount of milk for the next feeding session.
Let-down reflex and hormones
The let-down reflex is a natural automatic reaction that happens in the body as the baby breastfeeds. When a baby latches onto the breast and starts breastfeeding, your brain gets the message to release the hormones oxytocin and prolactin. While prolactin is responsible for milk production, oxytocin triggers the release of your breast milk.
In case of a hyperactive let-down reflex, a woman may see breast milk leaking heavily or even spraying out of her breasts.
Breast Milk Oversupply
According to some sources, leaking breasts may point to an overabundant milk supply. Other symptoms that point to oversupply include plugged milk ducts, pain, the ability to pump several ounces of breast milk after feeding, etc. Further, in case of oversupply, moms often notice that their baby coughs or chokes during feeding.
Because leaking is also quite common with normal milk supply, it shouldn’t be taken as a definitive sign of oversupply.
What can trigger leaking?
Leaking may already start during pregnancy which is entirely normal. The substance leaked during pregnancy is called colostrum, the first milk a body produces in preparation for your baby’s arrival.
During the feeding session, you may notice that the breast your baby is currently not breastfeeding from is leaking milk. That is a common occurrence and nothing to worry about.
Our bodies are truly amazing, and this is one proof of it. When you hear your baby cry or even when you hear someone else’s baby cry, your breasts may start leaking milk. Even looking at your baby’s picture or thinking about your baby might trigger leaking.
During orgasm, oxytocin is released. This is the hormone we mentioned earlier, the one responsible for the let-down reflex. This release of oxytocin may lead to breast milk leaking during orgasm.
As explained previously, leaking is more likely when your breasts are too full. To prevent it, it is good to relieve the pressure a bit by breastfeeding if the baby is ready to eat, pumping, or hand-expressing some milk. However, it is important to avoid pumping too much because this may actually boost milk production.
When does the leaking stop?
For some women, leaking slowly reduces and eventually stops once their milk production is synced with how often the baby wants to eat. However, leaking may start again if there is a change in a feeding schedule, but that will eventually stop too.
For other women, leaking will be present as long as their child breastfeeds or may even continue during weaning. According to some sources, it is not unusual even if the leaking continues for up to three weeks after the child stops breastfeeding.
A small research study (referenced below) concluded that among breastfeeding moms in the study, 66% of them still experienced leaking breasts 6 months post partum. So, even if the leaking can be annoying, it is completely normal.
How To Deal With and Stop Leaking Breast Milk
Pressure on Your Nipple
If you notice that you’re about to start leaking, you can press your index finger against the nipple. That will make the leakage stop. If that’s not possible, for example if you are out somewhere around people, you can also press your arms towards your chest to obtain the same result (but in a more discrete way).
Quite often one breast starts to leak when the baby starts to nurse from the other breast. So be prepared by pressing againts that other nipple even before the leaking starts.
However, you may want to avoid doing that in the first few weeks after delivery because it may negatively impact the let-down or lead to plugged milk ducts.
Less Full Breasts
To prevent leakage, try to avoid getting really full breasts, especially on occasions when the leakage might be embarrassing. You can breastfeed to relieve the pressure if your baby is ready to eat, or you can pump or hand-express some milk. However, make sure to pump only until your breasts feel comfortable. Don’t pump too much or too often because you may stimulate your breasts to make even more milk.
Cold Cabbage Leaves
A home remedy to prevent leakage is refrigerated cabbage leaves tucked in your bra. I have never tried it myself, but some women say it really works. Why not give it a try if nothing else helps.
If you think you have overabundant milk supply, you can try some herbs to reduce the milk supply. Just be aware that leaking can certainly happen at normal supply too!
Wear Nursing Pads
Wear nursing pads. I personally prefer disposable pads, because they are so practical. Just make sure to change them often and bring lots of them in your diaper bag, otherwise they can give you fungus, especially if your baby has oral thrush, if you walk around with moist nursing pads.
Finally, don’t use tops that will make the leakage obvious. Patterns of all kinds are great! Also, tops that are not too tight will help.
When to Call a Doctor
- If a discharge is bloody or contains pus
- If the leaking continues significantly after you’ve stopped breastfeeding
- If you notice signs of mastitis:
- a swollen area on your breast that is painful to touch
- a hard area on your breast or a breast lump
- breast pain or a burning sensation that may be constant or only present when you breastfeed
- flu-like symptoms including fever, chills
Hope this helps! All leaking moms, please share additional tips below
And here you can watch the video with Kim Kardashian leaking breast milk. If she can do it on TV without freeking out, then maybe we all should be a cool about this very natural thing too. :-)
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing are based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians who assist in reviewing and writing articles.