The oxytocin reflex or milk ejection reflex (commonly called a “let-down”) helps the milk that is already in your breast flow faster and helps your baby get milk more easily. While it feels different for everyone, the let-down reflex is often described as a tingling, a feeling of sudden fullness or stinging. It can be quite strong and is sometimes uncomfortable.
It doesn’t happen immediately and can take a few minutes of your baby sucking to be activated. Your breasts will let-down several times throughout the feed, but mothers usually only notice the first one. Does that mean that there’s no milk until you let-down? No, your breasts always have milk in them, even if they don’t feel full. When the let-down occurs, your baby will usually change their sucking pattern from a fast, short suck to a longer suck/swallow pattern.
If you don't feel your milk letting down, it doesn't necessarily mean that something is wrong. You may never notice it, or feel it in the first few weeks then less over time. As long as you can see the signs your baby is getting enough milk and growing well, you don't have to worry.
Did you know?
The let-down reflex isn’t purely biological. There are psychological elements to it, and it can be affected by pain, stress, fear or anxiety. It’s helpful to try to stay as calm as possible before and during breastfeeding so that your let-down reflex can be more easily triggered.
What is D-MER?
Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER) affects approximately 10% of breastfeeding mothers and, like the name suggests, occurs when intense negative feelings (e.g., anger, depression, anxiety) are triggered by a let-down reflex. These feelings are short-lived and typically fade 5-10 minutes into each feed. Researchers believe that the oxytocin spike causes an accidental activation of a mothers’ fight-flight reflex. The website d-mer.org has some great resources.
What is/was your letdown reflex like? If you’ve breastfed more than one baby was it different for each? Let us know in the comments.