There is a lot of terminology thrown around when you enter the world of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding / chestfeeding, and early parenthood. In our "Terminology Explained" series, we help you break it down, bit by jargony bit.
The term for today is let down.
What is Let Down?
Official definition: "Let down" is short for the full "let down reflex," which refers to what happens in each breastfeeding session when the milk in your breast releases and flows freely. The reflex is normally occurring and caused by stimulation of the nerves in your breast. Most often, it's caused by baby's suckling, but can also be caused by using a breast pump, during a shower, after orgasm or during sexual intimacy, when hearing/seeing another baby, or for no apparent reason.
The let down reflex, which is also sometimes called the milk ejection reflex, is caused by hormones. While the hormone prolactin sends the signal to make more milk, the hormone oxytocin is responsible for releasing the milk during a let down. The let down can happen anywhere from a few seconds after stimulation to several minutes. Let down can be slow and gentle or fast and strong, or anywhere in between. Some people feel sensations in their breasts with their let down while others don't feel anything. Both are normal.
When you will hear/see the term used? Let down is a common discussion between breastfeeding parents, in breastfeeding classes, and with medical professionals, especially lactation consultants. People who experience a slow or strong let down may seek support from a certified lactation consultant as both of these can cause issues and stress with breastfeeding / chestfeeding.
Why is it important/beneficial? The let down reflex plays a critical role in successful breastfeeding as it determines how the milk is released when feeding or pumping. While let down differs for each person (there is no "standard"), it's important to know that help is available if you experience problems. Be sure to source the name(s) of a reputable IBCLC (certified lactation consultant) for after you give birth. Don't wait too long to call as addressing issues early can make the difference between stopping or continuing breastfeeding.
For more details about let down, including information about difficulties with let down, check out these resources from KellyMom.
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