Breast Milk Leakage

by Anne Smith, IBCLC

BFB Statue leaking 2014 Most expectant mothers are aware of the wonderful opportunity they have to enhance the physical and emotional bond with their babies by breastfeeding as soon as possible after childbirth.The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), recommends that a baby be breastfed for at least the first year of life, and for as long after that as the mother and her baby want to nurse.

As wonderful as breastfeeding is, it does present some challenges, like learning how to deal with leaking. Leaking or spraying breasts are a natural, but sometimes embarrassing, part of your nursing experience.

Here are some facts about leaking that you need to know:

Fact: Nearly all nursing mothers will experience breast milk leakage at some point. Some find it a big bother and inconvenience, while others hardly notice it at all.

Fact: Leaking occurs when mother’s milk “lets down”, due to the MER (“Milk Ejection Reflex”). You can’t control this reflex. It happens when your baby nurses, or when you think about your baby, or when you hear a baby in crying in the mall, or when your breasts become uncomfortably full – like when your baby starts going longer between feedings, you are in a situation where you aren’t able to nurse as often as you usually do, or he starts sleeping through the night.

Fact: Most moms find that leaking occurs most often during the first few weeks of nursing, while their breasts are adjusting to their new lactating state, and the milk supply is building up to meet the needs of the baby. Even though leaking is more common during the early stages of nursing, it can still continue, to one degree or another, for as long as your baby nurses.

Fact: Many women will leak colostrum while they are pregnant, usually starting during the third trimester, but sometimes earlier. Some women leak a lot, some can squeeze out a drop or two, and some never leak at all. The same thing applies after your baby is born – some moms leak so much that the sheets are soaked in the morning, some will leak a few drops from one side when the baby nurses on the other, and some don’t notice any leaking at all. I’ve nursed six babies and hardly ever leaked with any of them.

Fact: Leaking colostrum during pregnancy is normal, and just means that your body is going through the changes that prepare your breasts to produce milk for your baby when she arrives. Most of the time, colostrum will leak during the night while you’re sleeping, but may leak during the day as well. Occasionally leaking a few drops, or being able to squeeze some out in the shower is one thing, but lots of leaking and soreness before your baby arrives may indicate a medical problem, and should be checked out by your doctor.

Fact: Many women find that their breasts become somewhat swollen and/or tender during their pregnancies, but if they become extremely painful, you develop a fever, or have an unusual discharge (like blood or pus), then you should have your doctor check it out.

Fact: Breastmilk doesn’t look like formula. The color and consistency may vary from thin, watery, and bluish or greenish, to thick, creamy, and yellowish. Foremilk, the milk expressed at the beginning of a feeding or pumping, doesn’t contain as much fat as hindmilk, the milk expressed after the milk “lets down”, so it may look watery. The hindmilk may be thicker and creamier looking. Both foremilk and hindmilk are equally good for the baby, so don’t worry if the milk you leak or express looks different from one minute to the next. Both foremilk and hindmilk provide important nutrients and are and good for your baby, regardless of what they look like. When your baby is nursing, you don’t see what the milk looks like, anyway. It’s only when pumping, or leaking, that you even see the difference.

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