Let Down Reflex And Breastfeeding

6 min read

Written by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

let down reflex and breastfeeding
While you breastfeed the baby, your body produces hormones responsible for collecting milk in the breasts. This is termed as ‘let down’ which essentially is a ‘reflex’ or a natural reaction that sends a message to your brain to release the hormones prolactin and oxytocin when your baby sucks your breast. The milk thus gets released from your milk ducts, and this is known as to let down Reflex And Breastfeeding.

This reflex occurs each time you breastfeed. However, the time of its occurrence varies- in the beginning, it occurs in a few minutes, but with the advancement of breastfeeding, the reflex becomes more efficient and takes a few seconds. A good letdown reflex is a prime requirement for being able to breastfeed your baby properly. However, too much or too little letdown runs into other issues with breastfeeding.

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Let Down Reflex And Breastfeeding

Let down reflex is very important for successful breastfeeding because it facilitates milk to flow from the breast to the mouth of the baby. With no letdown, your baby will get only a fraction of foremilk.

The problem arises when this letdown becomes excessive or profuse. If your baby seems content and happy after feeding, is gaining appropriate weight, and wets 6-8 diapers a day, your letdown seems to be fine and suited to your baby’s needs.

How Does Let Down Reflex Feel?

How Does Let Down Reflex Feel_

Let down reflex is felt as a tingling sensation when your baby has been sucking at a breast for about 2 minutes. Letdowns generally occur more than once during a breastfeeding session, but most women feel the initial letdown. Some women also experience a letdown when they think about their baby or hear the baby cry.

Their milk begins to flow even when the baby is not nursing. After a few days post-delivery, you may not feel this letdown sensation as your milk has not yet come down. However, once your milk comes, you have been breastfeeding for several weeks.

You might feel the following sensations while let down reflex occurs:

  1. Tingling sensation or pricking of needles under arms and towards your breasts
  2. Shooting or dripping of milk from other breasts
  3. Strong cramping in the uterus, particularly in the initial days after childbirth
  4. Breasts might feel full
  5. The baby’s suck-suck will become a gradual swallowing

Fast Let Down Causing Reflex

Fast Let Down Causing Reflex

Some women think that there is nothing wrong with having a fast letdown, probably they have not experienced it! Having too much milk or a fast letdown can cause many problems- both for the mother and the nursing baby.

You can easily make out whether the letdown is forceful or not simply by looking at the baby’s behavior. If your baby pulls off your breasts quite often or coughs and chokes, remember the letdown is forceful and excessive.

The mother experiences pain and discomfort while breastfeeding, whereas coughing and choking are common in babies. Engorged breast is a source of tremendous pain, and pumping seems to be the obvious solution. Right identification of the situation and proper management is required to tackle the problem.

Overactive Letdown And Reflex

An overactive letdown can be very distressing for the newborn who is trying to get the hang of sucking breasts and swallowing. The baby can swallow air and consume too much milk in a gush. The baby may also gain too much weight too quickly. Gassiness and colic are other discomforts your baby may go through.

Here are some simple signs indicating overactive letdown to look for:

  • Baby feels choked while feeding
  • Baby coughs during and after feeding
  • Baby pulling back at nipples or breasts
  • Excessively gulping or squeaking
  • Making too much clicking sound at nipples
  • If milk is seen dribbling from the baby’s mouth
  • Crying while feeding
  • Too much hiccoughs or spitting up

An overactive ‘let down’ often comes along with milk oversupply. This is because ‘Nature’ wants to ensure a sufficient supply of milk for the newborn. You do not need to panic as the baby will resolve the issue on its own. Babies experiencing an overactive letdown of milk can have gas and colic problems.

This is because they are not getting all nutritious ‘hindmilk.’ ‘Hindmilk’ is creamy and gives satiety, nourishment, and contentment to the baby. Read more about hyperlactation here.

Tips To Deal With Overactive ‘Let Down’

Express milk

Wondering how to deal with overactive letdown? The following tips will help.

  1. Clampdown the areola This will allow the baby to drink milk at a slow and controlled pace
  2. Massage and warm compresses Gently massage your breasts with a massage cream in circles. You can also apply warm compresses to your breast
  3. Nursing laid back Laidback nursing or biological nurturing is an effective way to feed the baby while having an overactive letdown
  4. Pull back your baby Discontinue feeding if you experience an overactive letdown
  5. Nurse early and often Make sure you nurse at least 10 times per 24 hours. Don’t skip feedings (even at night)
  6. Don’t limit the baby’s time at the breast  Allow the baby to finish the first breast before offering the other side. Switch sides only once baby pulls off or falls asleep
  7. Express milk You can try expressing some milk before you nurse your baby. This will let the first letdown pass before your baby sucks
  8. One each feeding Offer your baby just one breast at each feeding
  9. Hyperlactation Most overactive letdowns are associated with hyperlactation or an overabundant supply of breast milk. Try treating this first. Please read about it here.

Slow Letdown

Sometimes the letdown reflex does not work effectively. It might become difficult, slow, and even painful apart from being hyperactive. Such situations can result in feeding problems and can adversely affect a baby’s health. A slow letdown can be hard on a baby who is hungry and wants to feed. This may cause the baby to cry, get frustrated, or bite on your breast.

Slow letdown can be caused by exhaustion, stress, use of alcohol or smoking, and even pain. Warm compressing, gently massaging, and pumping your milk may help to deal with a slow letdown reflex. Avoid smoking and drinking altogether. Eat a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated.

Let Down Reflex Pain

Let Down Reflex Pain

Sore, cracked nipples, and swollen hard breasts filled with excessive milk can lead to tremendous pain during the letdown process. You might notice shooting pain in your breasts and the uterine contractions also become more prominent and painful. These are more common during the first two weeks after childbirth.

The joys of breastfeeding can be tainted with a painful letdown. Fear creeps in, and mothers often become reluctant to feed, and this can lead to weaning the baby early. In such a case, you should seek medical help from your doctor or a lactation expert and have pleasant feeding and bonding sessions with your baby.

Tips To Ease Let Down Pain

  • Apply a soothing, moisturizing lotion or cream on the cracked, sore nipples
  • Consult your pediatrician if the baby develops oral thrush- common with feeding via sore nipples
  • Consult your doctor before taking pain relievers such as ibuprofen

Does Overactive Let Down Hurt?

Overactive letdown fills the breasts with excessive milk, and they become engorged, swollen, and painful. Breastfeeding can, in turn, become unpleasant. You can pump the milk out and apply a warm compress. This will provide relief from pain and discomfort.

‘Let down’ is normal and make sure it should not affect your baby’s feeding. It is a passing phase and will surely pass off!

Editorial Team,

With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.

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