No, I won’t Rick Roll you. I won’t run around and desert you. Never.
Instead let’s talk about the Let Down Reflex, a part of breastfeeding I never heard of, not at all, until it had been happening to me for some time. And I really wish I had known about it. I’ll let you know why directly.
Common sense tells you milk will be coming from (around about) your nipple, but the mechanics of it were mysterious to me until it applied directly to my life. Picture a Looney Tunes style drawing of a female breast – is there a hole in the nipple? I guess. Sure. Milk comes out of that.
In actuality, of course, it’s a complicated biological process I do not fully understand (or need to) that’s been honed over millions of years. An amazing reflex tells your body that it needs to release milk now, the baby’s ready, either because the baby has begun nursing, or because you’ve heard some other baby cry somewhere and your body is a little confused, or occasionally because you saw a photo of a kitten or a Subaru commercial (an experience not unlike being Rick Rolled.)
Don’t worry, your Breastmilk Let Down is Never Gonna Let You Down
Not every woman feels her breastmilk let down happening but I did and this is part of why I am moved to mention it – it HURT. Just in the early days, and not for very long, but for 30 seconds or so after latch on I really couldn’t stand to be spoken to. I had to just clench my jaw and wait for it to pass.
But the real problem was I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a bad latch, possibly damaging my nipples. And no matter what I did it kept happening. It did hurt, sure, but the doubt that came along with it made it far worse. Once I understood it was actually evidence of a good latch I realized what an asset it could be and the pain stopped seeming alarming, eventually drifting out of my consciousness. Pain can be tricky that way. And my body was adapting to breastfeeding. The let downs became expected, they stopped hurting. I rarely even feel anything now.
If you don’t feel yours you can tell when you’re having one because the nipple you’re not feeding from will also release some milk. This is why I say it was an asset – feeling the let down reflex helped me feel confident my baby was nursing successfully. I had a few let downs each feeding, a sharp discomfort above my nipple, so I knew the latch must be working and my supply increasing. Once I had some comfortable nursing bras and wooly breast pads, the light pressure on the non-nursing nipple prevented leaks and eased the feeling of let down. I just felt a little twinge, and once my milk supply had established itself, I didn’t feel much of anything anymore.
Now, the reason I so wish I’d known about the let down reflex right from the start is the common advice you’ll see all over the web and hear often: “If you’re doing it right, breastfeeding doesn’t hurt”. Because I was doing it right! It hurt anyway – just for a while, and THAT’S OKAY. I needlessly worried and looked for other explanations (yeast, plugged ducts, mastitis?!) when really, relaxation helped more than anything else. Luckily I didn’t go to the doctor or I might have been prescribed medication I didn’t need.
So breastfeeding was uncomfortable for a while. For me. And surely for some other women. If you are one of those women and you’re reading this, I can tell you it wasn’t a problem for long and I barely remember it. Worrying about it was far worse. Of course if you can get through childbirth, well, a strong let down reflex? Never gonna make you cry.
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Don’t leave without checking out my previous post: “Nursing Blind”
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