Experiencing a “let-down” takes on a whole new meaning when you enter parenthood. The reality is that “let-down” when it comes to breastfeeding is a hugely crucial biological function. This post dives into what a “let-down” is and how to trigger a “let-down.”
What is a “let-down”?
Your Milk Ejection Reflex (often referred to as “let-down”) is when your milk releases from the alveoli (milk-producing and storing lobules). This release allows for easy breastmilk accessibility as babies draw the milk out through the milk ducts.
How does a “let-down” occur?
The first step in the let-down process is when baby begins feeding by suckling at the breast. The suckling action stimulates the nerves in the breast. As the nerves are stimulated, the nerves send signals to the brain (or, more specifically, the pituitary gland). The pituitary gland releases two hormones: prolactin (milk production hormone) and oxytocin (a hormone that helps release milk). The oxytocin stimulates the muscles surrounding the alveoli in the breast and pushes the milk out into the milk ducts.
Let-down can also occur when you hear a baby cry or your breasts get full (this is when breast pads come in handy!).
How long does it take for a let-down to occur?
The milk ejection reflex usually occurs within 1-2 minutes of latch (or pumping). Your let-down can last 45 seconds to 3.5 minutes. Typically, there are several let-downs during each feeding.
Not everyone feels a let-down, and some only feel the first in each feeding. Further, a let-down can feel different to different people. Some people feel “tingling in the breast,” “tightening,” “tickling,” “burning,” “buzzing,” etc.
It’s good to be aware that it is also very common to not feel a let-down in the first several days in the hospital. Furthermore, it is typical for the feeling of a let-down to decrease or diminish over time.
What are some signs that I am having a let-down if I don’t feel it in my breasts?
There’s no need to panic if you don’t feel a let-down in your breasts. You may feel it elsewhere in your body, or your baby’s through a variety of physiological responses:
- Uterine cramping in the first several days while breastfeeding
- Baby’s feeding pattern changes
- Feeling sleepy or relaxed
- Feeling thirsty while breastfeeding
- Baby swallowing more frequently
No response is better than another. What matters is that there is a let-down, no matter how your body experiences it.
Tips to help with let-down (especially when pumping)?
The brain is mighty, and often when pumping, you have to be in the right mindset to achieve let-down (at least that was my experience with infrequent pumping). Here are a few ideas to help you achieve a let-down if you’re struggling while pumping or feeding baby:
- Look at pictures of baby or look at your baby directly
- Smell something of baby’s
- Think of water flowing
- Use heating pads before and during pumping
- Get comfortable
Overall, find what works best for you. Use the ideas in this post as a jumping point. You’re doing a great job. Keep going, mama!
If you have further questions or if we can assist you in your breastfeeding journey, reach out to us to schedule a consultation.