While all moms have a letdown reflex, it can become a problem if mom has an overactive letdown that makes that process of breastfeeding more difficult than it needs to be.
Breastfeeding is supposed to be this amazing thing that allows mothers and newborn babies to bond in the early days of parenting. It’s also a natural process that allows a mother to nourish her baby while passing on powerful nutrients that can enhance the immune system and guard the child later in life. Yet, what most mothers really want are those bonding moments of staring down into her baby’s eyes as they receive the nourishment that only she can provide.
Unfortunately, those amazing moments are often interrupted by improper latching and excessive spitting up. Sometimes, babies seem to gulp and choke rather than swallow the breast milk. Some babies would rather scream at the nipple than eat, and new mothers grow more and more concerned by the day.
In many cases, these symptoms are hints of a condition known as overactive letdown. It’s common for doctors to misdiagnose the problem, so all new mothers should know what it is and how to pick up on signs of potential trouble.
What Is Overactive Letdown?
The letdown reflex is the natural process of allowing your breast milk to drop lower in the breast so that it can easily flow through the nipple to your baby’s mouth. This typically occurs within a minute or two of a feeding session and is a reaction to your baby’s stimulation of your nipples.
If you go too long between breastfeeding sessions, letdown may occur without that stimulation. Some mothers even experience letdown and the associated leaking when they hear other babies cry.
Overactive letdown occurs when the milk is released with more force. Some mothers will experience an uncomfortable sensation as they feel the milk drop, but others simply notice that their babies seem to choke or release their latch on the nipple soon after the milk begins to flow. Some babies seem to be gulping while breastfeeding. Some women also note that their milk spits out and causes substantial leakage if they letdown when their baby isn’t feeding.
The choking or the releasing of the nipple after letdown is a natural response for babies. They latch properly and start to nurse, but then that forceful burst of milk enters their mouth unexpectedly. It can cause them to choke momentarily, and some babies may shy away from the breast because they don’t enjoy that experience.
Solutions for Overactive Letdown
There are a lot of opinions out there when it comes to solving the problem of overactive letdown. Here are some of the most common treatments that you might consider trying:
- Express some of your breast milk just before you allow your baby to latch. This allows your milk to drop fully before your baby is attached, preventing that sudden rush of milk into his or her mouth. Many babies can adjust to the natural flow of milk once you get past that initial release.
- Adjust your feeding position so that your baby is slightly upright. This allows your baby to move his or her head back a little if the milk comes out too strong. This still doesn’t solve the problem if your baby simply doesn’t like the initial rush of milk.
- Instead of allowing your baby to feed from both breasts at every feeding, offer only one breast for every four-hour period. This means that your baby will feed from the same breast for every feeding during a four-hour block of time. After four hours, you will switch the other breast for all feedings. This is believed to work for babies experiencing stomachaches from consuming more foremilk than hindmilk. By feeding on the same breast for multiple feedings, you limit the amount of milk consumed prior to letdown (foremilk).
- Simply allow your baby to handle the problem over time. In many cases, babies will control the flow of milk through their feeding patterns. You can say that they train their mother’s nipple to react to their needs. The choking, spitting up, and pulling away from the nipple often stops naturally after days or weeks of consistent breastfeeding.
Overactive letdown often becomes a serious problem when a baby becomes colicky or extremely gassy between feedings. These are signs that the baby isn’t getting an adequate supply of milk or is taking in too much air during feedings. Both of these issues are caused by the forceful flow of milk into the baby’s mouth and the baby’s reaction to that experience.
If you cannot solve the problem with any of the potential solutions listed above or you’re concerned that your baby isn’t getting the nourishment that he or she needs to thrive, it’s time to seek the help of a professional. If your baby is wetting fewer than six diapers per day or exhibits other signs of dehydration, that professional should be your pediatrician or family doctor, and you should call right away.
What Should You Do Now?
If you suspect that your amazing breastfeeding sessions are being sabotaged by overactive letdown, consider working with a lactation consultant. They can help you find the best position for your baby while breastfeeding, and they will ensure that your baby is latching onto your nipple properly.
There are other reasons that babies sometimes struggle with breastfeeding, and a professional will help you identify all potential issues. They will then tell you the best measures to help you and your baby enjoy the breastfeeding experience more. You should end up with more of those bonding moments and fewer unsettling interruptions.
You can also see your doctor or pediatrician with these concerns, but they are likely to refer you to a lactation specialist if they aren’t experienced in this area. If you notice the problem while still in the hospital after delivering your baby, you can always request to see a specialist before you’re released.
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