Your breast milk let down is an involuntary reflex action from your body which helps release milk from your breasts. This reflex action is controlled by a hormone known as oxytocin which is easily affected by stress, fear or anxiety. Click here to read our article about understanding the let down reflex.
These are Expressing Mama’s top solutions to overcoming a slow milk let down.
7 Ways to Improve Your Milk Let Down
1. Breast Massage
Start preparing for a nursing session by using gentle massage on your breasts. Not only will breast massage help stimulate your let down reflex, but will prevent you developing blocks ducts which can lead to more serious problems.
Clean your hands and use the opposite hand to your breast, starting under the armpit. Use your fingertips and make small circular movements. Slowly work your way down the breast until you reach your nipple, this should be a spiral type movement. Move roughly 2-3 finger width along either side of the breast and repeat. Continue until you have massaged the whole breast. Finish the massage by stoking your breast with the palm of your hand, in a downward motion.
The whole massage process should take no longer than 1-2 minutes for each breast. Use a gentle touch as your breasts may be sensitive. You may notice your breasts start to leak during the massage, this is a good sign you are massaging the breast properly and ready to feed baby.
2. Warm Compress
Use this technique together with breast massage for best results. The heat from a warm compress will stimulate the bloods vessels in your breasts to open up. This makes it easier for the milk to flow from the tissues down to your nipples.
Run a face cloth under hot water and lay over your breast just before you massage. A nice warm shower will also have the same affect. You can also purchase some specifically designed breast therapy pads which can be used either hot or cold, for different breastfeeding needs.
If your nipples are sore, it is best to avoid using ice to relieve the pain as the cold is known to slow down your let down reflex.
3. Relaxed Environment
The best environment to breastfeed in is one in which you feel comfortable. For most women this will be in a calm, un-distracted setting with control of privacy. This type of environment will help you feel safe and secure and enable you to release the oxytocin for your let down to happen. You may want to consider setting up a breastfeeding station in a corner of your house. This means you have all you need for a breastfeeding session at hand. This speeds up the time it takes to feed and prevents the stress of forgetting what you need and disrupting a feed.
If you house is anything but calm and noise-free, you can also listen to music whilst breastfeeding. This is a better option than watching TV or using a tablet as it enables you to intact with baby. Your favourite music will lift your mood and you can always sing to baby, although you may want to refrain if your tone deaf and make baby cry!
4. Photo of Baby
This tip applies to expressing moms who find it difficult to trigger the ‘let down’ when separated from baby. A handy tip is to keep a photo of baby alongside your breast pump. You may want to look at the photo whilst you massage your breasts in preparation for a pump. The photo can help you to visualise baby and image they are close by, and in turn release oxytocin.
Moms with premature babies find this particularly useful as they usually have minimal contact with baby through the day and when expressing. If you have not already been provided a photo of you baby, ask the special baby care unit to assist you with this to help you express.
5. Skin to Skin
Uninterrupted skin to skin contact is proven to be one of the best ways to increase oxytocin levels between mother and baby. This method is also known as kangaroo care, and has been used with premature babies for years due to its benefits. Not only does skin to skin encourage your let down, but also helps to keep baby calm and cry less. A relaxed baby usually means a relaxed mom ready to feed.
Skin to skin Facts & Tips
- The chest is the best place for skin to skin
- Use baby wraps to keep baby close even when out an about
- Get dad to have skin to skin with baby too to encourage bonding
- Skin to skin immediately after birth is one of the WHO 10 steps to successful breastfeeding
6. Relaxation Exercises
If you are a bit of a stress head and find it difficult to relax before a feed, you may find relaxation exercises useful before a feeding or pumping session. There are various techniques out there, but most will follow some form of deep breathing and visualisation.
These exercises will dull your nervous system which causes the stress and helps you to release oxytocin. It’s the same type of breathing you probably learned during antenatal and birth classes.
Here are a few great techniques:
- Relaxation When Pumping
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Breastfeeding visualisation for premature infants
7. Lying Position
A lying down breastfeeding position can be enough to relax mum and stimulate the let down reflex. Studies have shown that a flat or reclined position stimulates more feeding responses from baby. Moms who feed in this position were found to have greater breastfeeding success. This position is also great for night feeds, or ‘growth spurt’ periods when you and baby need to relax more.