Why Breastfeeding Parents Sometimes Leak Milk

As a mother to a newborn, you'll find that it's bittersweet chaos when you are going into labor. Despite the physical pain involved, the moment has finally come when you get to meet your baby. When they leave the womb and enter our world, you'll look into your baby's eyes for the first time and instantly fall in love with them. After this special moment, you'll shift your focus to caring for your baby so it can grow and develop accordingly. 

Within an hour of birth, a woman can begin breastfeeding her baby (per UNICEF). It's beneficial for the baby's health to have skin-to-skin contact with their mother immediately following birth, as it regulates their body temperature and strengthens their immune system. According to WIC Breastfeeding Support, breast milk directly after birth contains nutrients and antibodies that protect a baby from infection, and has been named "colostrum." This special milk, sometimes fondly referred to as "liquid gold," is thick and colored yellow.

Colostrum is replaced with transitional milk two to five days after delivery before it develops into mature milk 10 to 15 days after delivery. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, experts recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, but they are encouraged to continue for at least a year.

Mothers may be surprised to notice that they leak breast milk even when they aren't breastfeeding. Let's take a look into why this happens and what you can do about it. 

Why do mothers leak when they aren't breastfeeding?

Although leaking breast milk out of nowhere can feel uncomfortable and embarrassing, you should know that it's extremely common during the nursing period. If the breasts become excessively filled with milk, leakage may occur (per BabyCenter). During the morning, nursing mothers may notice more leakage because their milk supply is at its most abundant.

There is a hormonal component to breast milk leakage known as the "let-down reflex." According to Grow by WebMD, a baby's suckling on their mother's breast sets off the let-down reflex, triggering the hormones prolactin and oxytocin to initiate milk production and release. Interestingly, other stimuli can also trigger the let-down reflex, causing inappropriately timed breast milk leakage. Leaking can be triggered by hearing your baby cry, or even by hearing another mother's baby cry. In addition, breastmilk can sometimes be released by simply thinking about your baby or being in the environment where you routinely breastfeed (per BabyCenter). In a physiological response similar to when her baby is suckling on her breast during breastfeeding, oxytocin is released in a mother's body when they are triggered by these nursing-related stimuli.

There are ways to make the inconvenience of leaking breast milk more comfortable for you. As explained by What to Expect, breast milk leaks can be absorbed with nursing pads, so your clothes can stay dry. Sleeping on a towel can keep your bed sheets dry, and dressing in dark colors can conceal any unsuspected leaks made in public.