Every nursing parent experiences milk-ejection reflex (MER), better known as ‘let-down’. Doesn’t “milk-ejection” sound like a more accurate description of our superpowers? Let-down may feel like a mild sensation, pressure, slight burning, or even painful for some mothers. It varies a lot from mom to mom.
When pumping, let-down is when milk sprays instead of dribbles from the breast. Side note: Did you know your nipples were more of a sprinkler and less of a hose before watching a let-down? When nursing, let-down happens when your baby goes from stimulation sucking (that quick suck-suck-suck pattern) to the slower, more drawn out nutritive sucking.
Since let-down is a conditioned response caused by a variety of triggers and the hormones oxytocin and prolactin, you can help stimulate milk let-down. Warm compresses on the breast, massage while nursing and pumping, and staying hydrated are easy and popular ways to encourage let-down. If you’re breastfeeding, holding your baby will help to encourage it but even pumping moms who aren’t with their baby can carry something with baby’s scent to help encourage let-down!
Did you know that some women experience sadness or anger during let-down?
Dysphoric milk-ejection reflex, or D-MER, is a condition that affects some breastfeeding women and includes a sudden onset of negative feelings upon let-down. These feelings usually last for only a few minutes but can be worrying for mom. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and are known to affect up to 10% of breastfeeding women. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, please know you’re not alone. The good news is that this condition does not impact milk supply or cause long-term issues, though it can be extremely uncomfortable or frustrating while it’s happening.
Although let-down is a natural occurrence and an important part of the breastfeeding process, each mom experiences this phenomenon differently. If you have any concerns about your own let-down, be sure to reach out to your lactation consultant or doctor.
Written by: Lyn Statler