Managing Leaking while Breastfeeding
Read time: 4 minutes
What to know about leaking breastmilk
Understand why leaking breastmilk happens
Learn how to manage and reduce the likelihood of leaking
Leaking milk often happens in the early weeks of breastfeeding. During this time your body is overproducing breastmilk while trying to figure out how much your baby needs. By about 6 weeks, your body has adjusted to making the right amount of milk for your little one and most leaking should stop.
But leaking can still happen at any age and stage of breastfeeding, especially when there is a change in your child’s feeding needs or schedule.
What causes breastmilk to leak while breastfeeding?
Scheduled feedings: Regimented feeding schedule (as opposed to feeding on demand) is a common contributor to leaking.
Emotional triggers: Hearing your baby cry, seeing a picture or video of your baby, or even thinking about your baby may influence a hormonal response to release milk.2 Some women feel a tingling or ‘zinging’ sensation just before milk is released.3 This is the let-down, or Milk Ejection Reflex.
Breast storage capacity: Smaller breasts have a smaller capacity to store milk. Think of it as a container: A smaller container will hold less milk at a time. This doesn’t mean that they make less milk over all, it simply means that babies may need to breastfeed more often from women with smaller breasts.4 Going too long between feeds will mean the ‘container’ will spill over: This is the leaking of breastmilk.
Oversupply: If you are over-producing milk, you might leak more frequently, and this often continues for longer than the first 6 weeks.5
While breastfeeding: Some experience a let-down and then leaking while feeding from the opposite breast.5
Change in feeding times: As your baby gets older and goes longer periods between feeds (like sleeping through the night, fingers crossed!), you may initially leak around the time your baby used to feed. The good news is that once your body adjusts to the new feeding schedule, the leaking will subside.
Should I Feed Baby On Demand or on a Schedule?
What is Breastmilk Oversupply and How to Manage It
Supporting Adequate Milk Production
Having trouble with leaking breastmilk? Our team of registered dietitians, fellow moms, and lactation specialists are available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm (ET). to help walk you through some tips. Chat now!
Tips to help manage leaking breastmilk
Bring extra clothes and try nursing pads
First things first, be prepared! Wearing layers can help to camouflage any surprise leaks. Try a nursing tank under a looser shirt or bring an extra shirt or sweater with you.
You can also try disposable or reusable cloth nursing pads. Be sure to change these once they are wet.
Babies in the first couple of weeks need to feed up to 12 times per 24 hours at the breast.6 Feeding often not only helps meet your baby’s rapidly growing needs, but also helps avoid your breasts from getting too full.
If you are near your baby when you start to leak, you can try to feed your baby. It’s ok to have your baby “snack” to help release milk, even if it hasn’t been the 2 or 3 hours since the last feed. No need to force it though. Your little one is very good at knowing if they are hungry or full, so your baby will turn their head away and refuse to breastfeed if they’re not ready.7
Remember that regimented (scheduled) feedings are a major contributor of leaking, so don’t get too caught up in the schedule.
Read more: Feeding Tips for Healthy Weight Gain in Babies and Toddlers
Learn about: Understanding your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues
Avoid pumping too much
Pumping tells the body to make more milk. If you are relieving engorgement pressure by pumping before the baby feeds (or after), it may make your leaking worse by encouraging a bigger supply of breastmilk.5
If you are experiencing painful engorgement: Instead of pumping, hand express a small amount of breastmilk until you are comfortable - only about 1 ounce or so.10
If your baby is having a hard time with a strong let down (spraying breastmilk) from oversupply or from engorgement: You can hand express to encourage a let-down before baby feeds, let the strong spray come out into a burp cloth, then latch baby once breastmilk flow has slowed down to drips.1112
Learn how to deal with a strong let down: How to Deal with Nursing Strikes while Breastfeeding
Apply pressure to the breast
If you are not around to feed your baby and not able to pump when you begin to leak, applying direct pressure to the breast can help to stop the flow.
If you’re out in public or at work, cross your arms across your chest to provide direct pressure to your nipple.9
Cold water or ice applied to the nipple for a short period of time may also help decrease leaking.8
Try products designed to collect the excess milk
If you want to save the leaking milk, check out products, such as milk collection shells, that fit right into your bra and collect the extra milk. Many women use these devices, for example, when one breast begins to leak while feeding the baby from the other side.
It is safe for breastmilk to stay at room temperature for up to 4 hours, as long as it is in a clean container.14 Place breastmilk in a clean container with a lid and refrigerate as soon as possible.
Read more: Safe Storage of Pumped Milk
Keep your nipples clean and dry to avoid infection
Just like anywhere else in the body, yeast grows in dark and wet places, so regularly replace nursing pads or bras to stay dry.
Learn about: Managing and Avoiding Thrush while Breastfeeding
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). Chat Now!
Read more about the experts that help write our content!
For more on this topic, check out the following articles:
Avoiding and Managing Blocked Ducts
Causes and Symptoms of Mastitis during Breastfeeding
Dealing with a Low Breastmilk Supply
What to do about Sore Nipples while Breastfeeding
6 Breastfeeding Positions for You and Your Baby