What To Do About Leaking Breasts While Breastfeeding

August is National Breastfeeding Month and here at Ready. Set. Food!, we support each and every parent’s decision on how to feed and nourish their families.That’s why we’re proud to join National Breastfeeding Month in helping build a landscape of breastfeeding support. In this article, you’ll learn what to do if your breasts leak while you’re breastfeeding, and why they might leak in the first place.

Leaking breasts may be annoying, but they’re actually a sign that you’re lactating properly. If your breasts leak, drip, or even spray, that’s perfectly normal – many moms are going through the same thing! Here’s why your breasts might leak while breastfeeding, and what to do about it.

Why are my breasts leaking during breastfeeding?

Your breasts leak while breastfeeding because of the let-down reflex.

Usually, a leak occurs because your body is still getting accustomed to lactating, and/or getting used to the timing of baby’s feeding needs.

Once your body gets acclimated to the timing that your baby wants breastmilk, your let-down reflex will only activate when baby’s ready for a feed. But in the first few weeks to months of breastfeeding (or if you’re currently adjusting your feeding schedule so baby feeds less often), your breasts may leak at any time.

Your breasts might leak because of a physical trigger (such as when clothing, a blanket, or a towel brushes against your nipple), or because warmth is applied to them (such as during a hot bath or warm shower).

Thanks to the hormone oxytocin (which stimulates let-down and is associated with mother-baby bonding), your breasts may also leak because of an emotional trigger. So, they might leak when you see a picture of your baby, think about your baby, or hear any baby cry.

There are a few other reasons why your breasts may leak, even if you’ve breastfed for a while and baby’s schedule is predictable. If you have an overactive let-down reflex, or an overabundant milk supply, your leaking may continue past the first few weeks to months of breastfeeding.

Tips to help manage leaking breasts

Here are some tips to help you manage leaking breasts and stay comfortable, based on what has worked for countless moms.

1. Use nursing pads.

Nursing pads are absorbent pads that you place in your bra to absorb breastmilk. They’re your best friends when you have leaking breasts – having plenty of them at the ready is always a good idea. They will help you stay dry and comfortable if your breasts leak, while also stopping breast milk from staining your clothing. And if you find that one breast tends to leak when baby is feeding from the other breast, placing a nursing pad inside your nursing bra can absorb the leaks.

You can choose between several disposable and reusable nursing pad options, but be sure to select one that’s made of cotton (the waterproof and plastic-lined ones just trap moisture, so they’ll be uncomfortable). Whichever one you choose, be sure to change them when they get wet. That way, your breasts won’t get irritated or sore, and you won’t be at risk of a nipple thrush infection.

Check out different nursing pad options in this video from CloudMom:

2. Pick your outfits strategically.

Patterned, layered, and darker clothes may make leaks less noticeable when they do happen.

And if you’re in a cooler climate, bring a light jacket or sweater with you when you go out, so you can cover up a leak with the added layer.

When it’s warmer, you might opt to pack an extra bra and shirt instead, in case you get a leak and would prefer to change.

If you’re more self-conscious, it may be a good idea to skip wearing silk (or any other lightweight and light-colored fabric) when leaks are unpredictable.

3. Consider milk collection shells.

One more wardrobe tip – think about wearing a nursing bra with milk collection shells. These will help you collect any breastmilk that leaks, so you can save it and feed it to baby later. They’re also a great option if one of your breasts leaks while baby is feeding from the other breast.

(Remember that breastmilk can only stay stored at room temperature safely for 4 hours, so you’ll need to empty the shells and refrigerate the milk before the 4-hour mark.)

4. Breastfeed or pump regularly (but don’t pump during a leak).

Sometimes, your breasts may leak if they’re overfilled. If you go too long without breastfeeding or pumping, your breasts may be more likely to leak. So, regular and frequent emptying of your breasts is key. Feeding baby on demand might also lessen leaks, because your body will adjust to their nursing patterns.

If baby’s with you, you can have them feed when you feel a leak – or proactively, if your breasts start to feel full and you think a leak might come soon. Even if it isn’t your regular nursing time, it’s ok to give them a short “snack time” to stop a leak (assuming they’re hungry and interested in the breast).

But don’t try to pump to solve the problem if your breasts are already leaking. Pumping leaky breasts may just stimulate your let-down and encourage your body to produce more milk (usually a good thing, but in this case, it’ll lead to more leaking).

5. Sleep on a nursing pad or towel.

Changing sheets due to a breastmilk leak can be very inconvenient, especially when you have so many other things to do and think about. Save yourself time by sleeping on a nursing pad or bigger towel. It’s easier to throw that in with the rest of the wash if your breasts leak during the night.

It’s always a good idea to breastfeed baby before you go to bed, as this can help cut down on leaks during the night.

6. Consider applying pressure to stop a leak.

If you feel your breasts start to leak, there are ways to try and stop the leak with pressure. One way to do this is by crossing your arms across your breasts and applying gentle pressure (almost like you’re hugging yourself). You can also press directly on your nipple using your palms.

Note: Only use this tip if your milk supply is regular and you’ve been breastfeeding for at least a few weeks. If you try this too soon after giving birth or starting breastfeeding, you might mess with your let-down, clog a milk duct, or even end up with mastitis. You could also lower your milk supply.

7. Think about applying cold water or ice.

Another way to try and stop a leak is with cold water or a cold compress. So, you might want to have ice packs on hand. (If you don’t have an ice pack and want to minimize water mess, try cold water on a washcloth as your cold compress.) Apply the cold water or ice to your nipple for a short time when you notice a leak.

8. Be patient.

Remember, breastmilk leaks are normal – so you’re not alone. It might be annoying or embarrassing when you experience a leak, but most moms have been in the same situation that you are right now. Plus, leaking is just a phase. As you get used to your baby’s feeding needs, your breasts should leak less and less.

If your breasts have continued to leak for a few months, and you think you’re experiencing an overactive letdown, read our forceful letdown management guide for more.

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