The let-down reflex is what makes the milk flow out of the breast when breastfeeding or pumping.
While most women experience signs of a good let-down reflex, like tingling or a change in the baby’s suckling pattern, other women aren’t sure if their baby is getting milk.
If you have issues with your let-down reflex, follow these 18 tips while pumping or nursing.
1. Focus on Your Baby
If you’re pumping away from your baby, you need to signal to your brain that it’s time to release milk.
Thinking about your baby through scent, images, or sounds can elevate your body’s oxytocin levels to encourage your let-down reflex. Visualize your baby nursing or crying to send the right signals to your brain.
2. Look at Pictures & Videos of Your Baby
One way to focus on your baby is by looking at pictures or videos of your baby. You probably have lots of photos to choose from, and each image may bring a smile to your face.
It’s best to look at your baby nursing or a video of them crying so that your brain gets the signal that your baby needs to eat.
3. Snuggle Your Baby First
Snuggling your baby before you start breastfeeding can help stimulate the let-down reflex. Physical touch releases oxytocin, signaling the body to produce and let milk out of the breast.
Snuggles can also get the baby comfortable and ready for suckling efficiently.
4. Drink Warm Beverages
Indulging in a soothing warm beverage before breastfeeding or pumping increases blood circulation and releases oxytocin.
Drink a soothing, calming, or fruity tea to heighten your senses and relax before your nursing session. Hold it against your skin to relax your muscles. You may want to avoid drinking caffeinated beverages because they could affect your mood.
5. Massage Breasts
Hand stimulation before pumping or breastfeeding sends a signal to the brain from the nerves in the nipple and breast that it’s time to let down milk.
If you have a free hand, you may also want to massage the breast you’re pumping or nursing from during your session.
6. Smell Clothes Baby Has Worn
Another way to focus on your baby during a pumping session is by smelling the clothes the baby has worn.
If your baby isn’t near, you need sensory stimulation to remind your body to produce and let down milk. Try smelling your baby’s clothes or a favorite blanket, taking in your baby’s sweet smell and the soft fabric.
7. Express Small Amount of Milk First
If your baby has a poor latch or difficulty suckling, expressing a small amount of milk with your hand or pump can encourage the let-down reflex so your baby gets enough during a feeding.
Put your baby to the breast right after you feel the let-down reflex start or you see breast milk forming on the nipple.
8. Listen To a Recording of Your Baby’s Crying
Your baby’s crying stimulates the let-down reflex because it signals to your nurturing brain that it’s time for your baby to eat. This reflex is why some mothers leak milk when they hear babies crying in public.
Listen to a video or voice memo of your baby crying or feeding before pumping.
9. Apply Warm Compress
Applying heat to your shoulders and back can help relax your muscles and regulate blood circulation. If you can sit comfortably with the compress on your back and shoulders, you can keep it on while nursing or pumping.
You can also apply a heating pad to your chest before pumping or breastfeeding.
10. Take a Warm Shower Before Feeding or Pumping
Like applying a warm compress, showering before pumping or breastfeeding can relax your muscles and stimulate the let-down reflex.
Besides the heat this activity provides, it also gives you the opportunity to massage your breasts before you begin your nursing session.
11. Listen to Relaxing Music
Listening to music before and during your breastfeeding or pumping session can shift your focus onto feeding your baby.
Sit in a comfortable position and let the music ease your mind. You may want to make a playlist to play each time you need to pump or breastfeed.
12. Increase Skin-to-Skin Contact While Nursing
Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin and keeps you and your baby comfortable during a breastfeeding session. It helps to take all the clothes off your baby, except the diaper, and undress yourself from the waist up.
13. Practice Relaxation Techniques During Feeding
Stress can affect the let-down reflex, so you should try to keep yourself as relaxed as possible during a nursing or pumping session.
If you’re having issues during breastfeeding, try including these relaxation techniques in your nursing routine:
- Deep breathing: Take slow abdominal breaths, counting to four when inhaling and exhaling. Breathe in through your nose, filling up your belly with air, and then breathe out through your mouth.
- Tensing: Make one part of your body, such as your fists or your toes, as tense as possible as you keep the rest of your body relaxed. Do this exercise from head to toe, until your whole body feels at peace.
- Repetitive prayer: Try repeating the same word, phrase, or prayer until you feel your body relax. Avoid thinking about anything else but the prayer, word, or phrase on your mind.
14. Use Visualization Techniques
Like relaxation techniques, visualization techniques can reduce stress and help you focus. Try these visualization techniques as you begin nursing or pumping:
- Focus on a word or phrase: Choose a simple, encouraging phrase or word to guide you during your pumping or breastfeeding session.
- Focus on a relaxing scene: Give yourself peace of mind by visualizing your favorite place to relax, like a warm beach or a cozy spa resort.
- Focus on a water image: Some women find that dwelling on the image of a waterfall or a fountain helps signal the let-down reflex as it provides a similar sensation to milk gushing in the breast.
15. Choose a Comfortable Location and Position
Part of relaxing and getting into the mindset of breastfeeding or pumping is sitting or lying down in a comfortable position and location.
Make sure the temperature is right, and put yourself where you can be comfortable for the entire feeding session. Get your favorite pillow to put behind your back or under your arm.
16. If Needed, Take Pain Reliever Before Beginning
Pain can inhibit the let-down reflex and cause stress to your body. About a half hour before you start nursing or pumping, you may want to take Tylenol or Advil to relieve your pain.
Keep in mind that some pain relievers are unsafe for breastfeeding mothers. If you have any concerns, read the instructions on the bottle or speak with your doctor.
17. Cut Back on Caffeine & Maintain Balanced Diet
A small amount of caffeine may not directly affect your breast milk supply or let-down reflex, but it can affect your mood and energy level. Since stress can limit your let-down reflex, try to reduce the amount of caffeine you have on a daily basis.
It’s also helpful to have a balanced diet of healthy fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins to help you feel your best.
18. Establish a “Let-Down Cue” Routine
Any and all of these tips can help you establish a let-down cue routine.
Using sensory stimulation through heat, warm beverages, smells, relaxation techniques or calming music can signal to your brain that it’s time to start producing and releasing milk.
Get your body ready for nursing or pumping by performing the same routine each time you sit down to feed your baby.
The let-down reflex lets your body know when it’s time to feed your baby. These tips will help you efficiently produce and release milk so your baby gets all the benefits from breastfeeding or pumping.
Mom of three (including identical twin boys), wife, and owner of Parents Wonder. This is my place to share my journey as a mother and the helpful insights I learn along the way.