What is a letdown?

What is a letdown?

A letdown [also known as the Milk Ejection Reflex] is a normal and natural response to breastfeeding and like all things each persons experience to this can be different. A letdown typically occurs shortly after your baby latches which initiates a series of messages to your brain causing two hormones to be released. The hormone prolactin binds to the receptors of the alveoli which stimulates and regulates milk production and the hormone oxytocin causes the milk ducts to contract so that breastmilk can freely flow. Think of these hormones as the ones that "open the gates" so the breastmilk can flow. How do you know if you're having a letdown?

You may feel your letdown, it's often described as a tingling feeling once you begin feeding your baby or if your baby is due to feed. However, some women cannot feel their letdown so let me offer some other signs;

  • a sudden feeling of fulness in your breasts
  • breastmilk dripping form the opposite breast you're feeding from
  • a change in sucking pattern from a quick suck-suck pattern to a more rhythmic suck-swallow pattern, this is a sure sign that a letdown has occurred 

How to encourage a letdown

  • find a quiet, relaxing space to feed, somewhere without distractions that may inhibit your letdown
  • skin-to-skin with your baby is a great way to get the hormones flowing and the milk gates open
  • another great tip is to use warm your breasts before feeds with a flannel or by having a warm shower
  • breast compression can be helpful too, you do this by placing your hand around your breast and using a steady squeezing pressure, breast compressions can result in more milk flowing 

Things that can inhibit a letdown;

  • caffeine, stress, too much exercise, tiredness, smoking and alcohol