The let down reflex for most mothers usually occurs within seconds of their baby attaching to their breast to feed. This is due to the release of prolactin and oxytocin when the baby sucks, stimulating the nerve endings around the nipple. Oxytocin is an essential hormone for breastfeeding. It enables your breast to push out or let down your milk. If you are stressed this can initially inhibit your let down reflex and can be a problem if expressing milk.
When breastfeeding baby, a mother can experience multiple milk let downs during the period of the feed or when expressing breastmilk. A mother can also experience a let down if they think about their baby or see another baby; even when the baby is not physically with the mother. So, if you need to express and you are not with your baby, have a picture of your baby there to help you with the release of breastmilk.
Some mothers report no noticeable sign or sensation of the let down reflex, whilst other mothers notice one or more of the following signs:
- Tingling or prickling ‘pins and needles’ in the breast
- Sudden feeling of fullness in the breasts
- Skin temperature increase
- Dripping or leaking of milk from the opposite breast while breastfeeding
- Feelings of wellbeing or relaxation
- An intense thirst or dry mouth
Uterine contractions can occur in the immediate postpartum period due to the effect of oxytocin when letting down milk.
NOTE: It may take you several days of observation after ‘the milk comes in’ to recognise these changes. If no signs are seen or felt, you can confirm a let down by watching for your baby to swallow or gulp at the start of a feed. Also, your breast will get lighter and softer.