The let-down reflex, or milk ejection reflex, is an important part of breastfeeding. It is the reflex that allows milk to flow from the breast to the baby. Some women report feeling a tingle or mild pleasurable sensation when their milk lets down, while others don’t really notice it. There are a few factors that contribute to whether let-down feels good or not.
What is the let-down reflex?
The let-down reflex is triggered when a baby sucks at the breast. This sends signals to the brain which then releases the hormone oxytocin into the bloodstream. Oxytocin causes small muscles around the milk-producing glands in the breast to squeeze and contract, pushing milk down the milk ducts toward the nipple so it can be available to the baby.
This reflex causes milk to “let down” and start flowing quickly, usually after baby has been sucking for a minute or so. It helps the milk eject with more force so baby can get it easily. Some women describe it as a tingly, pins-and-needles sensation, while others don’t notice it much at all.
Why does let-down happen?
The let-down reflex serves an important purpose for breastfeeding. It allows the mother’s body to produce plenty of milk stored in the breasts, while regulating flow so not too much comes out at once.
When milk ejects in response to baby’s sucking, it enables them to get the hindmilk – the higher-fat milk produced later in a feeding that helps baby feel full and satisfied. Without let-down, they would have a harder time removing milk from the breast.
Let-down is an innate reflex that women’s bodies developed to facilitate breastfeeding and milk removal. Even if mothers don’t always notice the sensation, the reflex is working to make breastfeeding more efficient and effective.
Does Let-Down Feel Good?
Whether or not let-down feels good depends on the individual woman and her body. Some women do report sensations ranging from mild to intense when their milk lets down. For others, it’s hardly noticeable at all. Here are some factors that play a role:
Since the release of oxytocin is what triggers let-down, women who tend to be more sensitive to oxytocin or have stronger responses may be more likely to feel intense let-down sensations. Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love hormone” because of its role in bonding, intimacy, and orgasm. So for some women the surge of oxytocin makes let-down feel similar to those other pleasurable experiences.
Some women have greater nipple sensitivity, so the sensations associated with let-down may be more pronounced. Since oxytocin causes breast tissue to contract, for sensitive nipples the tugging, tingling, or pins-and-needles feelings can be quite strong when milk lets down. Women with low nipple sensitivity may hardly notice let-down at all.
Women with oversupply or forceful let-down may be more likely to experience intense let-down because their oxytocin response is so strong it causes very forceful milk ejection. The sensations come on quickly and powerfully when milk releases in large amounts. Women with low supply may have let-down that is less noticeable.
Let-down sensations may be most pronounced in the early weeks after giving birth when oxytocin response is high. As breastfeeding becomes established, let-down can become a less intense sensation. Though for some women stronger let-down persists for months or the whole duration of breastfeeding.
When mothers are engrossed in something else while breastfeeding like reading a book or watching TV, they may not even notice let-down. If they are tuned into the physical sensations of nursing, the feeling of let-down may be more pronounced.
Some women notice let-down more based on visible changes like breasts becoming larger, fuller, and leaking milk. Seeing the milk eject can make the sensation more obvious. For others, let-down happens without outward changes that are noticeable.
Let-Down Sensations Reported
The type of sensations women report experiencing along with let-down can vary quite a bit. Here are some common descriptions:
– Warmth spreading through breast
– Slight pain or ache as breast tissue contracts
– Itching or stabbing
– Nipple sensation/sensitivity
– Skin crawling
– Relaxation spreading through body
– Contraction feeling like during orgasm
– Euphoria or pleasant release
The intensity also ranges from mild tingles to very strong sensations that take their breath away. Timing can be just before milk becomes visible or along with the milk flowing. For some the feeling starts in the breast, while in others it spreads to the nipples, chest wall, or whole body.
Let-down can happen multiple times during one breastfeeding session as the baby pauses and then resumes sucking. So some women may feel waves or pulses of sensation over the course of one feeding.
Quotes from Mothers
Here are some direct quotes from women describing how let-down feels:
“For me let down feels like a wave of tingles that starts at my nipples and radiates back into my chest. I don’t always notice it when I’m busy but when I do it’s intense!”
“It took me weeks with my first baby to realize those prickly and tingly feelings while breastfeeding were let-downs. For me they happen alongside the milk starting to flow, almost like my breasts are getting ready to release it.”
“I get the pins and needles but it almost feels nice, like it’s soothing and preparing my breast to feed.”
“I sometimes feel a bit lightheaded if I have a really strong let-down, like all my tension releases and I get a rush of relaxation. It doesn’t happen every time but when it does it feels amazing.”
“For me let-down is most noticeable in my nipples. They get super sensitive and the sensation goes all through them right before the milk comes down. It’s a pretty cool bonding feeling.”
As you can see, sensations vary greatly between women and even from feeding to feeding. There’s no right or wrong way to experience let-down.
While pleasurable let-down sensations are common and normal, some women do experience issues like:
Too strong of an oxytocin response can lead to let-down that is forceful, causing oversupply, leakage, and potential feeding problems for baby. Some women need to take measures to control excessive let-down.
Related to oversupply, some babies will struggle with a very fast flow of milk during let-down. They may choke, sputter, or take in too much air while feeding. Mothers may need to use strategies like laid-back nursing, block feeding, or pumping to handle excess flow.
While many women enjoy the strong sensations of let-down, others find it feels painful or uncomfortably intense. Methods like massaging the breast or leaning forward can help temper the sensation. In some cases medications may help dial back uncomfortable feelings.
If nipple sensation is so intense it feels painful, using nipple creams, allowing air to dry nipples after feeding, massaging out any blocked ducts, or discussing the issue with a lactation consultant may provide relief.
Tips for Let-Down Comfort
Here are some tips for making let-down more comfortable if needed:
– Use breast massage or warm compresses before nursing to stimulate oxytocin release ahead of time and prepare the breasts for let-down.
– Try leaning forward or dangling your breast while baby latches and suckles to use gravity to slow milk flow.
– Allow your nipple area to air dry after feeds to reduce sensitivity. Use purified lanolin if needed.
– Wear breast shells or absorbent breast pads to collect leaking milk between feeds.
– Discuss medications options with your doctor if sensations are painful or severely interfering with feeding.
– Block feed to help manage supply and give one breast a chance to “rest” while feeding from the other.
– Pump briefly before feeds to initiate let-down then allow milk to slow before putting baby on the breast.
– Experiment with positions like laid-back, football hold, or side-lying to potentially reduce flow.
Maximizing the Let-Down Experience
If you enjoy the sensations of let-down, here are some tips for making the most of that bonding experience:
– Relax and breathe deeply during nursing sessions
– Dim lights, play soft music, and minimize distractions
– Focus on the physical sensations in your breasts and nipples
– Visualize the milk flowing and oxytocin releasing
– Express milk before feeding to stimulate extra let-downs
– Use breast massage, gentle nipple stroking, or warm compresses right before nursing
– Experiment with positions to see if one enhances the let-down sensations
– Track sensations and what made let-down stronger that session
– Discuss what you are experiencing with other moms
– Read up on the science behind the milk ejection reflex
– Revel in the beauty of your body nourishing your baby!
Let-Down and Orgasm
Due to the similar oxytocin response involved, some women do experience orgasm or climax while breastfeeding. This is somewhat controversial but more common than discussed. Here is some information on this phenomenon:
Solid numbers are hard to come by, but informal surveys suggest perhaps 20-30% of breastfeeding women experience orgasm or arousal during intense let-down sensations. Many feel embarrassed or ashamed to bring it up.
– Hormones: Oxytocin is released during orgasm and let-down, so women sensitive to it may respond similarly.
– Physical stimulation of nipples: This stimulates nerve endings connected to genital arousal.
– Intense emotions: The intimacy of nursing can trigger strong emotional and physical responses.
– Relaxation: Feeding requires deep relaxation, which for some brings on arousal.
Tips if It Happens
– Know it’s not abnormal or a sign something is wrong with you.
– But do mention it to your doctor to rule out any issues like high prolactin.
– Remind yourself it’s not actual sexual desire for your baby but just a physical reflex.
– Try positions that provide less nipple stimulation if needed.
– Distract yourself by chatting with your baby or focusing on something else.
– Avoid touching your genitals during nursing as this reinforces the neural connection.
– Recognize the joys of nourishing your baby, but this particular response should fade over time. Discuss it with your partner if that would help.
Let-down is an incredible capability of the female body that allows mothers to breastfeed their babies. The sensations vary widely, from mild to intense, and can feel pleasurable for many women. Others may hardly notice it at all. If let-down is uncomfortable or problematic, there are strategies to try for making it more manageable. While not widely talked about, orgasm during breastfeeding sometimes happens too. Overall, it helps to know sensations can range greatly between women and even between feedings for the same mom. Let-down is just one of many bonding joys between nursing mothers and babies.