When you breastfeed your baby, your body releases hormones that draws your milk towards your milk stores behind your nipples. This release is called the ‘let-down reflex’. The let-down reflex happens every time you breastfeed, and while it may take a few minutes to occur when you first begin breastfeeding, over time it will become more efficient and take place within a few seconds of commencing breastfeeding.
You may experience a range of physical sensations when the let-down occurs. They may include:
- feeling a tingling pins-and-needles sensation that starts under your arm and then moves across and down the breast.
- milk dripping (or shooting!) from the other breast.
- Strong cramping in your uterus in the early days after giving birth. Oxytocin, which is the hormone related to your flow of milk, also causes the uterus to contract. Breastfeeding will, in fact, help your uterus quickly return to its original size.
There are two types of breast milk:
- Your baby will first feed on the ‘fore milk’, which is rich in protein and will satisfy his hunger. He will drink this milk quickly.
- After the let-down, your baby will begin to drink the fat-rich ‘hind milk’. His sucking will slow down as he has to work a little harder to drink this milk.
- Your baby needs both types of milk so it’s important that he drink fully from one breast before being offered the other.
To encourage the let-down process, try these tips:
- Feed your baby in a quiet environment where you won’t be disturbed.
- Make sure that you’re comfortable and relaxed, and that your baby’s correctly positioned.
- Have a glass of water handy – breastfeeding is thirsty work.
- Look at your baby while she’s feeding.
- Don’t wear restrictive clothing or underwear – nursing bras may not be pretty but they are designed to make breastfeeding easy and practical.
- If you’re having problems getting a let-down, try leaning forward, letting your breasts hang unencumbered by clothing and shaking them from side to side vigorously. This shouldn’t hurt but you should feel the whole weight of your breast moving.
- Stress can inhibit your let-down so try to relax when you breastfeed. Don’t forget that the making and delivering of milk is one of your body’ natural functions.