Breastfeeding is rarely easy, especially in the beginning. But sometimes, to make things even more difficult, women have to learn ways to soothe painful let-down. Although your let-down reflex shouldn't cause you pain, in some cases, it does, and learning how to cope with it can be rough.
Although there are various causes for a painful let-down, according to La Leche League International (LLLI,) the most common are engorgement, an overactive let-down, breast infection, a yeast infection (or thrush), or a breast tissue injury that could have occurred during birth or otherwise.
Like most aspects of breastfeeding, issues with nursing are rarely permanent and there's almost always something you can do to correct or heal them when necessary. If your painful let-down doesn't resolve on its own — as it may in cases where engorgement is the cause — trying the following techniques are thought to provide relief, readjust your supply, and hopefully permanently correct the issue that caused the pain in the first place.
Even without any added difficulty or pain, breastfeeding can be hard enough on its own, so if you're experiencing pain during let-down, getting it corrected as soon as possible will make your nursing journey easier on both you and your baby in the long run.
1. Try Relaxation Techniques
The aforementioned LLLI article noted that pain during let-down can sometimes be caused through tension in your body. Try practicing some of the relaxation techniques you learned for labor, like deep breathing, picturing your baby, and releasing tension in your upper body. Being more relaxed will make sure there's nothing hindering your letdown.
2. Readjust Your Position
Similarly, a painful let-down may be caused by a breastfeeding position that just isn't working with your body. LLLI also noted to try leaning over your baby, and ensure that your back, shoulders, and arms are getting proper support so that the rest of your body isn't overcompensating by becoming too tense.
3. Manage Your Milk Supply
Baby Center pointed out that pain during let-down could be caused by an oversupply of milk — or hyperlactation. In these cases, you'll likely be dealing with engorged, overly full, painful, or tender breasts. Although oversupply is rare, it is when your body produces too much milk and can cause a forceful let-down that could be painful for both you and your baby to deal with.
The article suggested that moms try pumping or hand expressing before each feeding, to lessen the effect of their forceful let-down on baby and perhaps decrease the pain. You can also try nursing on one side per feeding to encourage your milk supply to lessen, or lean back during let-down to let gravity slow the force of your milk.
4. Rule Out Infection Or Clogged Duct
Sometimes an oversupply can lead to infection (and it doesn't always start with an oversupply) like mastitis or thrush. In cases like these, your breasts will feel very tender, or even warm to the touch. One article from Care noted that pain during let-down is often indicative of a bacterial or fungal infection of the milk ducts. If you suspect infection to be the cause, be sure to see your OB-GYN or a lactation consultant for help and proper treatment.
5. Give It Time
Although this isn't what most moms want to hear, some times a painful let-down is just the way her body handles breastfeeding and isn't caused by any issue that needs resolving. Rachael Anastasio Collins, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), tells Romper that in her experience feeding her own daughter, pain during letdown slowly got better over time (and with subsequent children) and lessened as the feeding went on. She says to call your lactation consultant if you expect a larger issue, but sometimes it is simply your body's reaction and nothing to worry about.