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Experts say your breastfeeding letdown can be painful for a few different reasons.
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5 Reasons Why Breastfeeding Letdown Hurts & What To Do About It

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Breastfeeding may be one of the most natural things in the world, but it’s not always the easiest. I remember the first two weeks of breastfeeding my daughter being absolute torture every time she latched on, thanks to sore, cracked nipples. But even after we mastered nursing and everything was going smoothly, I was still left wondering why breastfeeding letdown hurts and what I could do to minimize the pain.

For those who aren’t familiar, breastfeeding letdown is the release of your breast milk. Lactation counselor Ashley Morris explains to Romper, “Letdown is a reflex and is initiated by various stimuli. The stimulation signals the release of oxytocin — the love hormone. Oxytocin helps the tiny muscles around your milk-producing cells to contract and squeeze milk into the ducts."

It usually occurs once your baby latches on and begins to nurse, but can happen at other times, too, like when you hear your child crying, or if your baby skips a feeding and your breasts are overfull. Not all women can feel the letdown happening, but if you do, you might find it painful. Your breasts might tingle, providing a pins and needles sensation that is reminiscent of a limb waking up after “falling asleep.”

I felt my body’s letdown reflex often and couldn’t help but grimace every time. This feeling is totally normal, but if you’re experiencing more intense pain, there might be something else at play, and you should consult with a doctor. But for those experiencing ordinary pains, here are five things that may cause your breasts’ letdown reflex to hurt, and what you can to do relieve the pain.

1

Oversupply Of Milk

You may think that producing too much milk is causing your letdown, but Morris says that’s not exactly it. “A better way to describe this might be to say that you may struggle with controlling a forceful letdown if you have an oversupply,” she explains. “A forceful letdown may result in your baby struggling to nurse, simply because the volume is too much for them to control and consume.”

So, what can you do? Morris says that trying different nursing positions may help baby cope better with the faster flow (like the cradle, football, or side-lying position). It’s also important to figure out what is causing the oversupply. “An oversupply in early nursing is occasionally a sign of typical regulating milk supply. An oversupply after six to eight weeks could be related to overstimulation, like from pumping or feeding too often.”

2

Thrush

Thrush is basically a yeast infection in the breast, and it’s common for nursing moms to experience it since a baby’s warm, moist mouth makes for a perfect environment for the infection to occur. But Morris says that thrush “would not independently cause a letdown." Instead, it could make letdowns, breastfeeding, and pumping very painful, so you'll want to be treated by a medical professional.

3

Engorgement

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The website Kelly Mom noted that engorgement can make breasts feel heavy and swollen, making it more noticeable as the milk comes through your ducts. “Painful engorgement could have a negative effect and inhibit letdown reflex,” says Morris. “If the breast is engorged to a degree where baby is unable to latch or mom is not responding to a pump, lactation specialists might suggest hand expressing or taking a warm shower to loosen the tissue.” You can also try releasing some milk, just for comfort, into the sink or a towel when you need to.

4

Blocked Milk Duct

If your baby isn’t nursing as often or your breasts aren’t emptied during a feeding, you may be susceptible to a blocked milk duct. This can cause inflammation of the surrounding tissue. Jennifer Ritchie, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and author of The Smart Parents Guide To Breastfeeding, tells Romper, “Blocked milk ducts do not affect the oxytocin release or letdown — it’s a blockage in the milk duct. The letdown would still happen, but the milk won’t come out because it’s physically unable to.”

This is, obviously, pretty painful. If you can handle it, let your baby nurse on the breast with a blocked milk duct to hopefully unclog it with their sucking. Massaging the area or using a hot compress can also help.

5

Mastitis

An untreated blocked milk duct can also cause mastitis, which is inflammation in the breast tissue that can lead to an infection, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Mastitis most commonly occurs after the milk comes in or during the second stage of lactation,” says Ritchie. “If the milk is unable to get out, the breast tissue surrounding the blocked milk gets infected. If the mom is engorged and in pain, it can definitely impact getting the milk out.”

Experts:

Ashley Morris, lactation counselor and Willow customer care lead

Jennifer Ritchie, IBCLC and author of The Smart Parents Guide To Breastfeeding