Breastfeeding, which is the only source of nutrition for the first six months of life, plays a significant role in helping mothers bond with their babies and vice versa. It comes with several benefits, but is not the most comfortable and can give way to various changes in the body.
In certain cases, breastfeeding mothers may experience leaking breasts, meaning the breast milk may overflow due to excess production. It can cause discomfort and raise concern among individuals. But is it something to worry about? On World Breastfeeding Week 2023, we spoke to Dr Nitin M, Consultant-Paediatrician and Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Electronic City, Bengaluru, to understand the science behind leaking breasts and whether it is normal or not.
Importance Of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is critical as it could save the lives of over eight lakh children under the age of 5 years each year, says the World Health Organization (WHO), recommending exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life.
"Early initiation of breastfeeding, within 1 hour of birth, protects the newborn from acquiring infections and reduces newborn mortality. The risk of mortality due to diarrhoea and other infections can increase in infants who are either partially breastfed or not breastfed at all," the global health organisation adds.
What Do Leaking Breasts In Breastfeeding Mothers Suggest?
According to Dr Nitin, leaking breasts are natural and normal.
“During pregnancy, the breasts may begin to produce milk several weeks or even months before the due date. Colostrum, the first milk your breasts produce in preparation for feeding your baby, is the fluid that is dripping from your nipples. Leaking is typical and not cause for concern,” he says.
Explaining further, he adds, “ Leaking, or even spraying, can also happen when the hormone oxytocin triggers the muscle cells in your breasts to squeeze out milk (letdown reflex).”
He recommends putting a tissue or an absorbent breast pad (also known as maternity breast pads or nursing pads) in your brassiere to absorb the milk if it irritates you.
When Do Leaking Breasts Become Concerning?
“Some new mothers will continue to leak during weaning, which is the process of switching an infant's diet from breast milk to other foods and fluids, and even while they are breastfeeding,” notes the doctor, adding, "Even after your infant has stopped nursing, it's usual to continue leaking for up to three weeks.”
However, if your breasts continue to leak, three months after you fully weaned your infant, it’s time to contact your healthcare provider, as per Dr Nitin.
No Foolproof Method To Stop Breast Leaking; What You Can Do Instead
There is no standard procedure to stop your breasts from leaking, particularly when you’ve just delivered a baby. But regular breastfeeding and avoiding extended gaps between feedings may be beneficial.
“Your breasts are less likely to swell with each feeding. Find a posture that permits your infant to latch on properly by experimenting with a few different ones,” says the doctor.
“When breastfeeding, laying on your back may prevent your breasts from spraying if you have a strong let-down reflex. The leaking ought to stop once you both settle into a breastfeeding routine,” he adds.
Additionally, you can also attempt block feeding, which involves feeding your baby one breast at a time. This is done to make your body produce less milk. “One breast is exclusively used for feeding during a set period, such as three hours, to make it work. Then, for subsequent feedings, alternate the breasts, again using each breast for around three hours,” Dr Nitin explains.
Breastfeeding can be an overwhelming experience, especially for new mothers. A leaking breast is likely to throw anyone off, but if you’ve just given birth or are in the nursing phase of parenting, it is completely normal for your breasts to leak. If you still have concerns, you must speak with your healthcare provider.