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Let down reflex, milk ejection reflex, when your milk comes in. Whatever you call it, it’s basically when the flood gates open up in your breasts so your baby can actually get a full meal.
There are things no one tells you about this seemingly innocent thing that happens every time your feed your baby.
That’s because motherhood is such a huge transition with so many new things to learn. It is practically impossible for veteran Mommies to relay all the necessary information needed in a few passing conversations.
Don’t worry, that’s why you have me! I won’t leave you blindsided.
I didn’t realize breastfeeding would be such a challenge! When people refer to the grind at work, they really don’t completely understand unless they have experienced the grinding it takes to breastfeed.
To go along with breastfeeding, this thing called ‘let down’ is another beast to conquer altogether.
My first real indication that your let down may cause some issues was when I was super pregnant, watching that scene in Bad Neighbors where she is spraying breast milk everywhere!
Talk about disbelief! Have you seen it? An absolute must see for new moms and moms to be! There is definitely some exaggeration, but they pretty much captured the gist of it.
Need more information on everything breastfeeding? See my post What No One Tells You About Breastfeeding, where I lay out practically every little thing you need to know about the subject.
- What is Your Let Down Reflex?
- How to use the Vagus Nerve to Initiate Your Let Down Reflex
- Frequently Asked Questions
- In Summery
What is Your Let Down Reflex?
It is a hormonal shift that takes place in your body to release (eject is probably a more appropriate term for it) milk from your breasts so that your baby can eat.
The wondrous hormone called Oxytocin is primarily responsible for this.
The problem arises due to the fact that this release of oxytocin does not occur right when baby latches. Sometimes it can take some moms up to 20 minutes for a let down to occur.
No let down means hungry baby. And no one wants that. . .
So let’s find out more about this let down reflex and how we can stimulate that let down pretty much on command so that our babies don’t go hungry!
Signs, Symptoms, and Side Effects of Let Down Reflex
The issue with the let down reflex is that it not only works to eject milk from your breasts, it works on several other areas of your body as well. Causing many potentially undesirable side effects.
But don’t worry, most of these symptoms either greatly diminish or go away completely after your body gets used to the hormonal shifts.
Breast Pain and Tightness
Definitely breast tightness like you have never experienced before. Maybe not so much pain, but such intense pressure that it may as well be pain.
For me and many other moms, it comes on as a sudden hot flash to the chest, then an extreme tightening of the breasts mixed with pressure. Some lucky moms don’t get much side effects at all (crossing my fingers that this is you).
If not, don’t worry. This gets much better over time. Exponentially better. Every couple of days the symptoms start to ease up. Then it hovers for pretty much the remainder of your breastfeeding venture at a minimal level until your supply starts to wean off.
Nausea with let down is apparently not a common condition. Unfortunately for sensitive old me, this was not the case.
“It’s related to the release of the hormone oxytocin, which also stimulates the gut to get gastric secretions going and has the potential to cause nausea.”Susan Guest, Lactation Consultant
I happen to have a pretty forceful let down, so this nausea was actually useful instead of annoying.
It went a little something like this:
Gag, 3-5 seconds, tingling/hot sensation to my chest, let down.
This gave me time to warn my babies “Milk is coming in!”
Then depending on whether they were hungry or full, they would either get excited to eat, or spit my boob out. Those little suckers (haha) learn fast!
So if this nausea is happening to you, it’s not necessarily such a bad thing. It’s supposed to goes away after a few months, but I still feel a slight twinge of nausea right before my milk comes in, every time.
I am literally astounded at how amazing and intuitive our bodies are sometimes.
Nature has figured out a way to shrink that stretched out uterus back to almost it’s normal shape and size. Through breastfeeding!
When that oxytocin gets released, it tells the uterus to contract and clamp down. Sort of flexing it’s way back into shape. Sounds great, right? WRONG!
No one told me about the pain! The excruciating, labor like pain!
Your uterus is basically doing the exact same motions that it did during labor to get that baby out of you, only this time there is no baby (so it is not as terrible).
This is a reminder I for sure do not need.
But again, don’t worry, once your uterus is back down to it’s normal size (max in 2 months), it won’t hurt at all anymore.
But you have been warned.
To go along with the contraction-like pain in your belly, is the bleeding. A lot of it. Actually, gushes of it with every let down. For around 6 plus weeks.
It doesn’t seem like it, but it’s a good thing. Your body, especially your uterus has just been through a traumatic experience. And where that very vascular (lots of blood vessels) placenta was pulled off your uterine wall, a lot of bleeding will occur.
So in order to help stop the bleeding, expel the blood accumulating in the uterus, and help shrink the uterus back down to an appropriate size, oxytocin comes in to save the day!
I guess we should be thanking our let down, not perpetually cursing it while simultaneously hoping that we haven’t bled through the ginormous diaper-like pad this time.
So gross, but so true!
For some reason, unbeknownst to me (and apparently to google as well), when your breasts have a let down, so does your bowels.
It’s not just me though. Several Mommies I know experience the same thing and there are a few (obscure and difficult to find) forums with threads that discuss this very issue.
I don’t have to go into the potentially ugly details. But just remember, the baby won’t remember you feeding him on the toilet.
I’ll just leave it at that.
Know that if this is happening to you, you are not alone.
So the only relationship I can find research wise with dizziness and breastfeeding is dehydration and or low blood sugar.
More specifically, dizziness and let down reflex, had no definitive explanation. All I know is that it happens to me, even when I am fully hydrated and well fed.
Something about the hormone shift makes me a little light headed. This would only last maybe about a minute. It was much worse when I first started breastfeeding, then started to ease up after a few weeks.
Just be sure that you do keep yourself well hydrated and well fed, to make sure those aren’t the reasons for your dizziness.
Oxytocin has makes you sleepy. Especially when you aren’t used to it yet.
Case in point: I almost dropped my baby the first few times I breastfed because the sleepiness overcame me!
You know when you take benadryl and you are trying to keep your really heavy eyes open but they just won’t do it? Ya, kinda like that.
But don’t worry, you get used to it pretty quickly and you stop almost dropping your baby in a relatively short period of time.
I rarely feel any sleepiness now and it is for sure not as intense as it was when I first started.
Just be aware that this can happen and breastfeed in a safe location or when someone is there to help until you get used to/over the sleepiness.
Falling in Love
Okay, this one definitely falls under the very desirable category of symptoms. It’s like the BEST part!
Oxytocin, aka the ‘love’ hormone makes it practically impossible for you to not fall in love with your baby.
Remember, this hormone gets released EVERY TIME your let down occurs, every time. It is basically making you fall in love with your baby over and over and over again.
No wonder why we Mommies have such a strong emotional connection with our little loves!
More good side effects
I know I like to warn you about all the bad stuff that no one tells you about, but sometimes I like to counteract it with some good stuff too.
How does promoting attachment, solidifying relationships, easing stress, and improving social relationships sound? Those are some of the other wonderful side effects of oxytocin hormone release with your let down.
Gotta love those hormones!
All the good feelies make up for all those yucky side effects, every time. Well, except for maybe when your baby bites.
How to use the Vagus Nerve to Initiate Your Let Down Reflex
There is a sort of back door way to help initiate your let down reflex. That way is through utilizing the vagus nerve.
When the vagus nerve gets stimulated, it stimulates oxytocin release.
Usually, the nerves in your breast are triggered to release oxytocin when your baby suckles, which then opens the ducts to open and release milk.
But like I said, you can use the vagus nerve as a back door to also stimulate a let down reflex.
Relax to Start your Let Down Reflex
You really need to be in a relaxed state of mind in order for your milk to come in. Your body is programmed to feed your baby when you are relaxed, not when you are stressed.
Slow Deep Breathing for stimulating your vagus nerve
To stimulate your vagus nerve with deep breathing you have to take really, really deep, slow breaths. You are trying to ‘increase intra-thoracic pressure.’
Translation: to cause your belly and chest to fill with so much air that you increase the pressure in those areas.
This increased pressure, will trigger the vagus nerve and cause oxytocin to be released into your system. That oxytocin makes your milk let down, and your baby gets to eat or you get more milk when pumping.
Make sure your exhale is about twice as long as your inhale. That slow exhale tells your body to go into parasympathetic mode (relaxed mode), also helping to trigger that vagus nerve.
When baby is feeding
I hear a lot of Moms complain that their let down is too slow for baby. Their baby gets impatient and frustrated because it takes so long for their milk to come in.
Be sure to actually pay attention to your baby! Put your phone away and give that baby your FULL ATTENTION. You need to train your body to let down when you need it to.
So if you give your baby your full attention when you breastfeed, your body will remember and recognize that feeling/situation and your milk will come in pretty much on command every time you pay attention to your baby breastfeeding.
Also, utilizing the deep breathing technique above (activates the vagus nerve) to stimulate your milk to come in at the same time, can drastically reduce wait time for your baby.
Most people think that the only way to stimulate a let down response when pumping is to relax and think of your baby or look at baby pictures. Well, it’s not the only way.
You can use your other senses to help remind your body that it’s time to let down. Use as many of your senses as possible.
I find that listening to and watching my baby works well. When I watch a video of him laughing, or trying to talk, my milk tends to let down faster.
You can also bring something with you that smells like your baby. This has helped a few people I know. They bring out the item saturated in baby smell and sniff/cuddle it when they begin to pump and it helps bring the milk in faster.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s go over some of the common questions I come across about helping your milk to come in faster.
How Long Does it Usually Take for Your Let Down Reflex to Start?
This varies from person to person. Everyone is different. I know some people who pretty much have an instant let down reflex as soon as they see or hear a baby crying. And I also know of some people where it takes 20-30 minutes for a let down.
30 seconds to 1 minute is about how long it can take for my let down. I am super in tune with my body (in other words: overly sensitive), so over a short period of time I figured out what helps my milk come in faster. Hey, one good thing about my over sensitivity is that it makes it easier for me to help you!
Can I have multiple let downs in one feeding?
Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can have several let downs in one session (pumping or feeding). If you are producing enough milk (different hormone than oxytocin), you can get quite a bit of milk out.
When pumping, if you feel like you aren’t pumping enough, try and initiate another let down reflex. You’d be surprised how much more will come out if your body lets down again.
What can I do if my let down only happens when I’m feeding from a certain breast?
This would happen to me. My right breast seemed to let down WAY faster than my left.
When I needed my baby to eat from my left breast, I would start him off there (it was hit or miss), I wanted to still give the left one a chance to prove itself.
Then if it wasn’t letting down, I would switch sides, wait for a the tingly, nauseated, hot feeling, detach real quick like, and make him drink from my left. Worked like a charm.
You just have to get real agile moving the baby super quick from boob to boob.
Warning: If you don’t switch fast enough it can get messy (just remember Bad Neighbors).
What can I do about my other breast during a let down reflex?
You can either cover it with a small towel just before your milk comes in, or make sure you have something like a breast pad in your bra to prevent leaking.
What helps me is just pressing my hand or finger right up against the nipple. It prevents just about 100% of the milk from coming out.
A good friend of mine uses my same technique. She doesn’t even use any nursing pads because she is so in tune with her let down and doesn’t have any leaking unless her milk lets down. When it does, she just holds the gates shut with her fingers and all is well.
Some smart Mommies don’t waste a precious drop. They will use the Haaka manual breast pump to catch the milk to use for later. I hear great things about the Haaka. Another one that I hear is good to use is the Milkies Milk Saver.
The let down reflex is nature’s ingenious way of helping you feed that precious baby of yours. Side effects or not, it’s still a beautiful experience.
Your body is literally made to nourish your baby. Wow!
If you are having trouble with your let down, try these tips. Don’t give up! It takes a while to learn to be in tune with your new body. It takes a while to get used to being a Mommy.
And if your let down is great, be thankful. It really is a blessing.
Don’t forget to check out my post on What No One Tells You About Breastfeeding! It is super informative with realistic and helpful tips on what to do when things aren’t going so well, or as expected with your breastfeeding journey.
I’m always on the look out for the best way to do things. I’d love to hear from you! What things do you do to help your milk let down? Email me or leave me a comment below!
All the love,