Many women worry about leaking breasts during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Some women might even experience leaking breasts without being pregnant or giving birth.
This article answers your questions about why breasts leak.
Why are my breasts leaking so much?
In the early days postpartum, while your milk supply is being established, it’s normal for your breasts to leak milk.
The breast stimulation from your newborn baby’s frequent feedings is continuously stimulating your letdown reflex and boosting your body’s breast milk production.
Sometimes this can cause a mother to temporarily make too much milk.
Once your milk supply regulates, your leaking breasts should too.
In the meantime, you can read BellyBelly’s article Too Much Milk? Managing Oversupply of Breastmilk.
What does a letdown feel like?
The letdown reflex occurs when the nerves in your breast and nipple send a message to your brain to release oxytocin, which helps your breast milk flow.
Some women describe the letdown reflex as a tightening, tingling or feeling of fullness in one or both breasts. Your breasts might leak during a letdown, or you might even notice your breasts spray milk.
How long will my breasts leak for?
Leaking from the breasts usually lasts for the first few weeks of breastfeeding.
In most women, it takes about 6-8 weeks of breastfeeding for their supply of breast milk to regulate. Most new mothers wear breast pads to absorb leaks during this time.
Can you wear breast pads to bed?
Many women find they need to wear breast pads, or nursing pads, day and night in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. Nursing pads help absorb leaks and prevent breast milk soaking through clothing or pajamas.
If you are wearing breast pads to bed, make sure you are not wearing a bra that is very tight fitting or has underwires. This can cause damage or blockages in the delicate ducts in the breast. You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article Blocked Milk Duct – Symptoms and Treatments.
Do leaking breasts mean my baby is hungry?
Lots of new mothers experience a letdown reflex when they hear their baby cry. It can even happen when they hear another woman’s baby cry. This is a woman’s body physically responding to a baby’s needs.
You might notice your breasts leaking if your baby has gone longer than usual between feeds. Once again, you and your breastfed baby are a dyad – a connected pair – where each responds physically to the other’s needs.
It’s also important to understand that crying is usually a late sign of hunger. Babies display other cues to show they are hungry before they reach the point of crying. You can learn more about your baby’s cues in BellyBelly’s article Baby Hunger Cues | How To Tell If Your Baby Is Hungry.
What happens if your breasts don’t leak while breastfeeding
Not all women have leaking breasts during pregnancy or breastfeeding; this is also normal.
Leaking milk is not a reliable sign of a ‘good’ milk supply. Many mother successfully breastfeed their babies to term without experiencing leaking breasts. On the flip side, other mothers might experience leaking breasts for their entire breastfeeding journey, long after their milk supply has regulated.
Individual women, their breasts, their babies and their breastfeeding journeys are unique. If you have any concerns, talk to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for reassurance or advice.
How to stop leaking breasts if you are not breastfeeding
Some women continue to leak milk after they have stopped breastfeeding. Leaking milk after weaning from breastfeeding is common, depending on what stage your baby was weaned and how long the weaning process took.
Generally speaking, the later your baby was weaned and the more gradual the weaning process, the less likely you are to experience leaky breasts. If you have weaned suddenly, especially if your baby was being exclusively breastfed, you are more likely to experience leaking breasts, blocked ducts, engorgement or mastitis.
If you have very full breasts that are lumpy, painful, or constantly drip or leak milk, wear a supportive bra with breast pads to absorb the leaks.
You can also try hand expressing a very small amount of milk to relieve some pressure from the breasts. Do not aim to drain the breast, as this will stimulate milk production.
Galactorrhea: leaking breasts without pregnancy or breastfeeding
Are you a woman who is neither pregnant, breastfeeding or weaning but has noticed breast enlargement as well as leaking breasts? A possible cause is galactorrhea.
Galactorrhea is a medical condition where a women’s breasts make milk or produce a nipple discharge even though she is not pregnant nor has recently given birth. It can occur in women who have never been pregnant or given birth.
Causes of galactorrhea
Galactorrhea can sometimes be due to another cause or the result of an underlying condition. Possible cause of galactorrhea are:
- Hormone imbalances
- Prolactinoma (tumor of the pituitary gland)
- Thyroid disease
- Some medications, such as contraceptives or anti depressants
- Some herbal medicines, such as fenugreek
- Some illicit drugs, such as cannabis or opiates.
If you have noticed your breasts leaking a milky discharge and you are not pregnant, breastfeeding, or weaning, seek advice from your doctor.