If you are at the beginning of your breastfeeding journey it can feel like there is so much that you need to learn about.
I know it certainly felt that way for me a few years ago. Thankfully once you start to breastfeed you pick up bits of information as you go, some through your own experiences and some through deliberate learning.
One of the things you will notice as you start to breastfeed is the let-down reflex. I’ll explain a little more in a moment.
I’ve taken the time to answer some of your most pressing questions about milk let down so you can be fully prepared for what to expect.
What is let down?
Let down is simply the release of milk from your breasts. There is usually a reflex that takes place in your breasts once your baby starts to feed.
Most of the time you will feel your let down after your baby has been feeding for about a minute or so on the breast.
It might feel like a very strange sensation the first time that it happens but you will soon get used to it.
Just note that usually, you will not get a let down until your breast milk has come in so if you have just given birth don’t start panicking if you don’t get a let-down sensation start away.
Your baby is fed with colostrum to begin with in the first few days of life and not milk so try not to get that confused.
How do you trigger a let-down?
A let down is triggered once your baby latches onto your breast and begins to suck. There are nerves in your breasts that become stimulated as your baby suckles and oxytocin is released and encourages the milk to be released into the milk ducts.
There is nothing that you can do to force a let down to happen but there are little things that you can help encourage a let down to take place.
Try to relax as much as possible. When you are stressed or feel agitated in can make it more difficult for things to progress naturally. Especially in the early days of breastfeeding it is recommended that you relax and rest as much as you can.
2. Look at your baby
As you put your baby onto your breast try to focus on your baby feeding. Put away your phone and any other distractions and just look at your baby latching onto your breast.
Looking at your baby feeding can help to trigger your let-down reflex.
3. A warm shower
Taking a warm shower or using a warm cloth on your breasts before feeding can also help to get things moving along.
4. Massage your breasts
Massaging your breasts for a few minutes before a feed can also help to trigger a let-down
5. Skin to skin contact
Having skin to skin contact is another great way to get your milk to let down.
What does a let down feel like?
A let down can feel slightly different from woman to woman but usually, it is a warm tingling feeling that you get in your breasts.
Your let down might even feel as though you can feel your milk traveling downwards towards your nipple.
Your breasts may even feel more full as you experience a let-down.
Some women don’t feel their let down at all. If this is you it’s not something that you need to worry about. There are other ways you can tell if you are having a let down aside from what you are feeling.
You can see some of the other signs of a let down below.
Signs of a let-down
There are other ways that you can tell if your milk is being let down aside from the feelings that you get as a mom.
When you are experiencing a let down you will notice your baby’s swallowing begin to change. Each swallow will become much deeper and deliberate. You may even hear some quite loud swallowing noises coming from your baby as they take huge gulps of milk.
Your milk flow will be much heavier during let down and you may see milk coming out of the side of your baby’s mouth as they try to deal with the influx of milk.
It’s also not uncommon to feel your uterus contract as your baby feeds more rigorously.
You might notice that as your baby feeds and you experience a let down that your other breast begins to spray breast milk. Some people like to catch that milk using a breast pump or keep a breast pad in place so that they don’t end up completely wet with breastmilk.
Why am I getting milk let-down when I am not feeding?
When you start to breastfeed your body starts to get very accustomed to the patterns of breastfeeding especially if you have put your baby on a breastfeeding schedule.
The more your body gets used to producing milk the more it will provide it on a supply and demand basis. That means that you will experience let down at times when your baby is due to feed even though they may not be on the breast yet.
There is an emotional trigger that is sparked when you come into contact with your baby so it’s quite common to experience a let down even if you are not feeding at that particular moment.
Related post: Baby hunger cues that you should know about
Why do breasts randomly let down?
Your breasts will continue to randomly or at least what seems like is randomly let down until your breast milk gets more stable.
As discussed before your breasts begin to work on a supply and demand basis.
If your baby is feeding a lot more than usual because they are either having a growth spurt or are unwell, then for the next few days you can expect that your breasts will produce more milk to meet the demands of your baby even if your baby’s feeding habits go back to normal.
Give it a few days and your milk let down should settle again.
Why is there no let down when pumping?
Pumping breast milk is a funny thing because your body can react differently to it compared to your baby latching on.
Having your baby latched onto your breast is much more emotional than having a machine attached to you.
Some moms find it more difficult to connect with a breast pump machine. If you are having problems with let down whilst pumping then its a good idea to make a connection with your baby to help you.
You can look at a picture of your baby or have an item of clothing that belongs to your baby near you that you can smell.
I personally found it very difficult to have a let down when I tried to pump my breast milk. I found that it was much easier for me to express milk using my hands than with a machine.
If you are having problems with no let down when pumping then perhaps try using your hands to begin with. As your milk starts to flow a little better you can then switch back to the breast pump again.
Why has my milk supply suddenly decreased?
Breastfeeding works best when you are fully relaxed.
Feeling tension or any type of stress can lead to your milk supply decreasing.
You must also learn to look after yourself as a mom too. It’s easy to always put your baby first and then forget about yourself.
Make sure that you stay hydrated as breastfeeding can dehydrate you.
Make sure you are eating a well-balanced diet and are eating 3 meals a day at the right times. A breastfeeding baby takes nutrients away from you so make sure that you are replacing those nutrients. If you are struggling then some post-pregnancy vitamins like these ones might be able to help you keep your energy and health up.
Remember as I said before breastfeeding is very much supply and demand so if you are not breastfeeding as much then you can expect that your levels of milk production will drop also.
Why is there no let down on one side?
There could be a number of different reasons for this but some of the main reasons tend to be quite simple.
Your baby could prefer one breast over the other. This is very common in some baby’s and you might even already have noticed it yourself.
It could also be due to your nipple or the flow of milk that your breast gives.
Sometimes one breast might flow better for your baby than the other.
In this case, you may start to notice that the unfavoured breast will not produce as much milk as the favored breast. When this happens you will begin to have a lot less let down sensations in the unfavoured breast.
You can counteract this by making sure that you switch breasts at each feed.
If you are like me and can never remember which breast your baby last fed from then you can try using a milk band which you simply switch over each time you do a feed.
Why am I having slow let down in the evening?
There are a few possible reasons for this.
Usually, come the evening time we are feeling very tired and drained especially if we have other children to look after. You might be feeling tired and hungry and it could affect your milk let down.
In the mornings we have rested and are feeling charged which is why pumping breast milk in the morning is always recommended as your milk flows better at this time of the day.
If you are having a problem with your let down in the evening then try to stay as relaxed as possible and try not to stress about it as that will only make matters worse.
Make sure you are deliberately drinking more water in the evenings before your baby is due to feed and try to make sure that you have also had something to eat.
This way you are much more likely to counteract having slow let down in the evening.
My let down has stopped working
In this case, the first thing that you need to do is to find out if your let down really has stopped working of if you are just not feeling the sensation anymore.
As your baby grows you may stop feeling let down altogether, this is completely normal. Your body will already be accustomed to how much milk your baby needs and things would have leveled out so won’t feel a let down like you did before.
If you are certain that your let down really has stopped working and your baby has been feeding in the same way as they always have then you have a couple of choices here.
1. You can seek professional help from an expert.
2. Try this breastfeeding course from Milkology
3. Check to see if your breasts have become engorged.
Breasts can become engorged if your baby is feeding less than they usually would. If this is the case your breasts will start to become hard and you may not feel your let down anymore.
Try applying a warm cloth on your breasts and try to express out a little milk by hand before you latch on your baby to feed.
I am no longer getting a let down from my pump
Pumping milk can be very tricky. In fact, some women claim that no matter what they do they just cannot seem to connect with the breast pump and therefore there is no let down when pumping.
Unfortunately, when this happens there is not a whole lot that you can do about it except try to express by hand first.
Expressing by hand first might help to get your milk started.
You must also note that when you start to pump your breast milk your let down will not be continuous. When you start to pump you may only get a few drops of milk here and there. After a few minutes you might experience let down and your milk will seem free-flowing and then your let down will stop and you will be back to drops again.
This is completely normal and nothing for you to worry about.
Final thoughts on what a let down is
Having a let down can be really confusing as sometimes you just don’t know what to expect.
There will be some good days and some not so good in the early days but the more you breastfeed the more you will understand your body and be able to see what can cause things to get thrown off course.
Keep going and it will get better!