Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Let-down reflex

3-minute read

The let-down reflex is an important part of breastfeeding that starts milk flowing when your baby feeds. Each woman feels it differently, and some may not feel it at all. It can be affected by stress, pain and tiredness but once feeding is established, it requires little or no thought.

What is the let-down reflex?

The let-down reflex is what makes breastmilk flow. When your baby sucks at the breast, tiny nerves are stimulated. This causes two hormones – prolactin and oxytocin – to be released into your bloodstream. Prolactin helps make the milk, while oxytocin causes the breast to push out the milk. Milk is then released or let down through the nipple.

Some women feel the let-down reflex as a tingling sensation in the breasts or a feeling of fullness, although others don’t feel anything in the breast.

Most women notice a change in their baby’s sucking pattern as the milk begins to flow, from small, shallow sucks to stronger, slower sucks.

Some women also notice, while feeding or expressing from one breast, that milk drips from the other.

Your let-down reflex needs to be established and maintained to ensure a good supply of milk. This reflex requires no thought, unless you are having problems with breastfeeding.

When does it occur?

The let-down reflex occurs:

  • in response to your baby sucking at the breast
  • hearing, seeing or thinking about your baby
  • using a breast pump, hand expressing or touching your breasts or nipples
  • looking at a picture of your baby
  • hearing your baby (or another baby) cry

The let-down reflex generally occurs 2 or 3 times a feed. Most women only feel the first, if at all. This reflex is not always consistent, particularly early on, but after a few weeks of regular breastfeeding or expressing, it becomes an automatic response.

The let-down reflex can also occur with other stimulation of the breast, such as by your partner.

Strategies to encourage the reflex

The let-down reflex can be affected by stress, pain and tiredness. There are many things to try if you are experiencing difficulty.

  • Ensure that your baby is correctly attached to the breast. A well-attached baby will drain a breast better.
  • Feed or express in a familiar and comfortable environment.
  • Try different methods to help you to relax: calming music, a warm shower or a warm washer on the breast, some slow deep breathing, or a neck and shoulder massage.
  • Gently hand express and massage your breast before commencing the feed.
  • Look at and think about your baby.
  • If you are away from your baby, try looking at your baby’s photo.
  • Always have a glass of water nearby.

Milk let-down can be quite forceful, particularly at the beginning of a feed. This fast flow of milk can upset your baby, but it might not mean you have oversupply. It can be managed through expressing before a feed, reclining slightly and burping your baby after the first few minutes. If you continue to have problems, seek advice.

How to deal with unexpected let-down

Until you and your baby fine-tune breastfeeding, many sensations and thoughts can trigger your let-down reflex. Leaking breasts can be embarrassing, but should stop once breastfeeding is fully established.

In the meantime you can feed regularly, apply firm pressure to your breasts when you feel the first sensation of let-down, use breast pads and wear clothing that disguises milk stains.

If you need help and advice:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2021


Back To Top

Need more information?

Let-down reflex (milk ejection reflex) | Australian Breastfeeding Association

The let-down reflex (milk ejection reflex)By sucking at the breast, your baby triggers tiny nerves in the nipple.These nerves cause hormones to be released into your bloodstream.One of these hormones (prolactin) acts on the milk-making tissues.The other hormone (oxytocin) causes the breast to push out or ‘let down’ the milk.The let-down reflex makes the milk in your breasts available to your baby.Cells around the alveoli contract and squeeze out the milk, pushing it down the ducts towards the nipple.Oxytocin also makes the

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Mastitis | Australian Breastfeeding Association

Mastitis is an inflammation in the breast tissue (also sometimes called 'milk fever'), often caused by a blocked milk duct that hasn't cleared. Infection may or may not be present. Read about the symptoms and what you can do to relieve mastitis.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Breastfeeding challenges - Ngala

Sometimes breastfeeding can be challenging

Read more on Ngala website

Breast refusal and baby biting breast | Raising Children Network

Breast refusal or baby biting breast are common breastfeeding issues. These issues might resolve themselves, or your child and family health nurse can help.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Breast feeding your baby - MyDr.com.au

Breast milk has long been known as the ideal food for babies and infants. Major health organisations recommend that women breast feed their babies exclusively until they are 6 months old, and continue breast feeding, along with solids, until they are 12 months old or more. Breast milk has many benefits.

Read more on myDr website

Expressing and storing breast milk

This page includes information about expressing, storing, cleaning equipment, transporting and preparing expressed breastmilk for your baby.

Read more on WA Health website

Expressing breastmilk & storing breastmilk | Raising Children Network

You can express breastmilk by hand, or with a manual or an electric pump. Store expressed breastmilk in special bags or containers in the fridge or freezer.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Mastitis, blocked duct & breast abscess | Raising Children Network

If you think you have a blocked milk duct, you can treat it at home to start with. If you think you have mastitis or a breast abscess, see your GP as soon as possible.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Weaning at 6 Months | Tresillian

Babies start weaning when they begin consuming foods other than breastmilk. For advice on weaning check out Tresillian's tip page.

Read more on Tresillian website

Breastfeeding - expressing breastmilk - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.