The Let-Down Reflex



The let-down reflex is triggered by hormones. It releases the milk from all parts of the breast so that it is available to the baby.

Some milk accumulates in the milk reservoirs behind the nipple and in the ducts but most of the milk is made and stored in other parts of the breast.

During breastfeeding, the baby’s suck stimulates the let-down. The rhythmic motion of the jaws, lips and tongue send nerve impulses to the mother’s pituitary gland in the brain. Two hormones prolactin and oxytocin are released.

Prolactin is responsible for the production of milk and the oxytocin for the let-down or release of the milk. (Oxytocin is also responsible for the uterine contractions felt during a feed in the early days after delivery).


A mother may experience any of the following during breastmilk let-down

  • Tummy cramps (After pains)

  • “pins and needles” or achy feeling in the breast

  • Milk leaking from the other breast

  • Change in the baby’s suck swallow rhythm from quick sucks to long slow sucks with regular swallowing.


A let-down may occur many times during a feed. If it is delayed or inhibited, the baby may nurse well initially but then pull away in frustration. The baby may be sucking rapidly but not swallowing deeply or often.


To increase milk supply:

  • Relax (leisurely ladies lactate longer)

  • Feed frequently

  • Switch breasts during the feed (super switching)

  • Increase fluids and rest.

  • Increase intake of Vitamin B (Brewer’s yeast powder twice daily)

  • Lactation AOK, Mothers milk, Blessed Thistle drops, Lactagogue tea – All of which can be found at the Health Shop.

During the early weeks of breastfeeding the let-down may take a few extra minutes to occur. Later on it will be quicker and may also be triggered by other stimuli e.g. looking at baby, baby’s cry and even just thinking about baby.

Warm compresses, breast massage, being free of pain, unrestricted nursing and relaxation are all useful to encourage the let-down reflex.


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