The leaking of breast milk that occurs during breastfeeding is a normal part of the process, and a great sign that you’re making enough milk to meet your baby’s needs. Breastfeeding leaking usually happens because your breasts are full of milk and need to release a bit of it, a function called the letdown reflex. The leaking can start before your baby is born and continues during the early weeks of breastfeeding as you get used to your baby’s feeding schedule and your body’s lactation rhythm. It can also occur when you’re pumping, or if you go too long without nursing or pumping.
Leaking is especially common in the first few weeks of breastfeeding when your nipples are most active and your body is producing a lot of milk to feed your baby on demand. It’s also more likely to happen if you breastfeed while your baby is asleep or distracted. If your leaks are persistent or if they contain blood, talk to your midwife or doctor.
Sometimes the leaking is caused by a trigger that happens before you’re ready to nurse. It could be as simple as hearing your baby cry or thinking about him, or if you’re sitting in the chair where you typically nurse. It might also be a result of hormones, like the relaxin that’s released in your body during pregnancy and plays a role in labor and delivery, or the oxytocin produced in your nipples as you start to nurse.
If your leaks are a little more serious and frequent, or are occurring at a time when you’re not near your baby (like when you’re at work), there are ways to cope. Keep a few breast pads in your bra at all times to absorb the leaks, and look for ones that don’t have plastic liners as these trap wetness against the skin, leading to sore or cracked nipples.
Some mothers find that putting pressure on their nipples or using a cold compress helps reduce the amount of leaking that they experience. Letting your breasts dry out completely before nursing can also help decrease leaking. If your leaking is due to over-stimulation or you’ve had a hard time adjusting to nursing, try switching to another nursing position, such as laying down.
You can also practice block feeding to help slow the leaking. This is a technique that involves only feeding on one breast for a period of time, such as three hours. Then, you can switch to the other breast. Some experts suggest alternating between blocks of this type and responsive feeding, which is when you nurse on demand as your baby hungers.