How to Cope with Leaking Breast Milk When Breastfeeding

Leaking breast milk is a common occurrence for new moms, especially in the first few weeks after baby is born. Your body is trying to establish your supply and working out how much milk to make for each feed. Moms who have breastfed before tend to leak less or stop quicker than if it’s your first baby.

leaking breast milk

You may notice that you leak whilst feeding baby or sometimes even in between feeds. It’s common to drip or spray milk if you stimulate your ‘let down reflex’.

Leaking often occurs:

  • In the last few weeks of pregnancy
  • If you go too long between feeds
  • From the ‘free’ breast when nursing
  • When your baby cries, if you think about baby or see a photo
  • In the shower
  • During sex
  • Whilst sleeping

Leaking milk can be a slight inconvenience for some or can happen at inappropriate moments and cause embarrassment. The latter is more common if you have an overactive let down reflex or increase milk supply. The unpredictability of leaking breast milk can be messy and frustrating for moms if it continues.

Top 10 Tips for Coping with Leaking Breast Milk

1. Wear Nursing Pads

For immediate protection from leaks, wearing nursing pads is the best solution. A breast pad will soak up any leaks and protect your clothes from wet patches. Check out our favorite nursing pads here.

Nursing pads are available as either disposable or reusable types. The disposable kind are convenient as they are single use and require no maintenance. You will however need to purchase them on a regular basis which can add up over time. In an emergency cut a sanitary pad in half and it will do the same job.

Cloth (or wool) breast pads are worn once and then washed after use. Although they are more effort, they are a better option if you want to save money or be more eco-friendly.

Some moms aren’t too keen to wear nursing pads regularly as they can be quite bulky underneath clothes. The moist conditions can also leave you more prone to fungal infections, such as thrush, so remember to change them regularly.

2. Feed Regularly

If your breasts feel heavy and full, known as engorgement, they are more likely to leak. That’s uncomfortable feeling you get it a sign that baby needs to feed. By feeding regularly you should cut down on the number of ‘leaking’ incidents.

A crying baby is a late hunger cue and it’s important to learn and recognize a baby’s early hunger cues. Regular feeding will also prevent you from developing blocked ducts, mastitis or more serious breast abscesses. It will also help you to prevent future leaks by regulating your milk production quicker.

3. Express Your Milk

If you don’t have baby close by when you start to leak you may want to express your milk to prevent them becoming engorged. Even if you don’t own a breast pump, we highly recommend all breastfeeding moms learn how to hand express for these type of situations.

Hand expression is useful if you are able to nurse baby soon for example if you’re on a night out. If you are away from baby longer, for example at work, then you should look into buying a manual or electric breast pump to ensure you remove your milk as often as baby feeds.

Be careful not to pump too often as for some moms this can cause over stimulation and make more likely.

4. Apply Pressure

lilypadzA top tip lactation consultants teach to prevent leaks is to apply pressure to your nipples. If you feel the tingling sensation of your ‘let down’ cross yours arm over your breasts and apply slight pressure by pulling inward towards your chest.

Check out the LilyPadz alternative breast pads which also work with this principle. They are thin clear silicon ‘pads’ which apply slight pressure to the nipple and prevent leaks. These are great as they are a lot less noticeable than regular bulky breast pads. You should continue to nurse or express regularly with these or they may not prevent leaks.

5. Tactical Clothing

A top tip from other moms is to ensure you wear either patterned or dark colored solid tops or dresses, especially in the early days. This will make it harder to see any wet patches on your top, and save embarrassment.

If possible try to keep a spare vest in your bag to quickly deal with any mishaps. Jackets, cardigans and infinity scarves are great ‘cover up’ alternatives if any leaks happen in public.

6. Catch it

The most common time you may leak is when you are nursing on one side and the other breast starts to leak. This happens as your hormones are stimulated from nursing baby and ‘set off’ both breasts.

If you are at home the best way to deal with this is to stick a towel or a muslin cloth over the nipple to catch any drips or sprays. The leaking should only last a few minutes at most, and then settle.

7. Collect It

Some moms can’t bear to see any breast milk being wasted during a nursing session. Instead of catching any ‘let down’ leaks with a cloth, try using breast shells to collect the milk.

These are great if you leak a lot during a feed. The milk can be transferred from the shell into a collection bottle and stored in the fridge or freezer, just like expressed milk.

Simply pop the shell into your bra and the milk will drip in whilst you nurse baby. It’s not advised to wear these as an alternative to breast pads. One reason being that they would look a really weird shape in your top. The second reason is that they should be sterilized in between use, and milk collect between feeds is regarded as unsafe for feeding.

8. Use Ice

Research has shown that ice inhibits your let down reflex. If you feel that tell-tale tingle, with full breasts, try placing an ice pack or cold compress on your breast to prevent leaks.

This method should only be used as an emergency preventative measure. This is a technique often used by engorged formula feeding moms as they wait for their milk to ‘dry up’ after birth. It’s best to nurse or express regularly if your breasts are engorged. Otherwise you run the risk of decreasing your milk supply, as your body thinks baby doesn’t need so much.

9. Check Your Diet

You may be unaware that there are certain foods with ‘milk boosting’ properties. These foods are known as lactogenic foods. Check your diet to work out if you eat these foods often.

If you have a large intake of lactogenic foods and nurse or express regularly then this may cause over production. The first step would be to cut down on the responsible foodstuff and see if that makes a difference to how often you leak.

10. Night Protection

Leaking at night is common as baby starts to sleep for longer periods. You can wear a sleep nursing bra with breast pads. Sleep bras are made from soft cotton with little support and made for comfort during the night. If you leak a lot consider doubling up with breast pads during the night.

If you prefer not to wear a bra whilst sleeping, an alternative is to lay a large bath towel only our side of the bed. This won’t stop any leaking but it will protect your mattress from the breast milk.

Some women may leak the whole time they breastfeed as up to 3 weeks after weaning. If you are ever concerned about leaking milk or it continues for longer, contact your doctor or lactation consultant for advice.