Slow Let-Down? How To Solve This Breastfeeding Issue

Are you unsure if your baby is getting anything when they’re feeding? Are you worried because you no longer feel the sensation of let-down after your baby latches on?

Don’t feel discouraged! Only an estimated 1 to 5 percent of moms lack the ability to breastfeed their babies successfully. In addition, 92 percent of new moms reported having troubles with breastfeeding in the first few days after giving birth (source).

You’re not alone — in fact, you’re the norm. There are ways you can tell if your let-down reflex is happening adequately. There are also ways to improve it — just keep calm and read on.

What Is Your Let-Down Reflex?

When your baby latches on during feedings, your brain releases the hormones prolactin and oxytocin (source). Prolactin helps you make more breast milk for future use, and oxytocin creates the let-down reflex to send milk to your baby.

When the let-down starts, some moms feel a tingly or itchy feeling in their breast. Others feel a warm sensation when let-down occurs.

Some moms think let-down is not happening when it really is. As your body adjusts to the process of breastfeeding, the physical sensations of let-down can fade. Don’t worry — there are other ways to tell this process is occurring.

You can tell let-down has occurred if you experience a change in your baby’s sucking from short, small sucking motions to longer, more rhythmic gulps (source). You may also be able to see leaking or spraying from the opposite breast once let-down has started.

What Causes Slow Let-Down?

Some women experience a slower let-down than their peers. This can result in difficulty and frustration for both mother and child. A baby may cry, try to unlatch and relatch from the breast, bite down, or even begin to refuse nursing completely.

There are several things that can cause your let-down reflex to slow, including:

If you’re pumping, let-down might also be slower than it is during nursing.

How Can I Solve Slow Let-Down?

If you are having issues with slow let-down, don’t be discouraged. This doesn’t mean you’re a failure in any way. It also doesn’t mean you’re out of options.

There are several things you can do to encourage the process.

1. Focus On Latch

If your baby isn’t latched well, he won’t be able to stimulate the nerves in the breast responsible for initiating the let-down reflex. A shallow latch is also painful.

Make sure your baby’s mouth is wide open when he comes to the breast and his lips are flanged out on the breast as he’s eating. A deep, asymmetric latch is comfortable and effective.

2. Relax

When you feel tense or stressed, it affects your entire body and can make let-down happen slower. Try taking a few calming breaths, nursing in a quiet room, or even humming along to your favorite song to ease your tension.

3. Massage

The nerves in your nipples and breast send a signal to your brain when it’s time to let-down milk. You can help to stimulate these nerves by massaging your breast before and during nursing sessions. Stimulating the nerves also increases your oxytocin levels and can increase milk production.

4. Pump Occasionally

Pumping before a nursing session can stimulate your let-down reflex and get it going before your baby ever latches on. This means it will let-down sooner for your baby. Pumping or nursing more frequently have both also been known to help (source).

5. Heat Helps

Heat from a warm compress can be used to help stimulate let-down. Heat encourages the blood vessels in your breast to open, making it easier for your milk to flow. You can also combine this with massage for even better results.

6. The Marmet Technique

This technique was created when a mother found her let-down reflex was not working as well when she hand-expressed breast milk compared to when she nursed (source). Today, it’s often used by moms who need to hand-express their milk, especially those who pump often and find their let-down is slower when they do.

The technique involves a mixture of manual expression combined with massage for best results. You do it by making your hand form a C-shape around the breast, with the thumb positioned on the top of your nipple and your pointer finger on the bottom (source).

You then push straight into the chest wall and roll your fingers forward all at the same time. You repeat the three steps until your breasts are completely drained of milk, usually 20 to 30 minutes.

7. Use Your Senses

Looking at your baby can make your body release oxytocin, the hormone needed to allow let-down to happen. Looking at your baby also makes your body release dopamine, a happiness hormone that can help you bond with your baby (source). Smell your baby’s head or nuzzle his neck right before latching. Listen to the little noises he makes as he’s eating.

If you’re having problems with let-down when pumping, listen to a recording of your baby or bring along a blanket he slept with. The sound and smell of your baby will help to induce let-downs. And who doesn’t have hundreds of pictures of their cute little one on their phone to look at while pumping?
Headshot of Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Editor's Note:

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

8. Skin-To-Skin

Skin-to-skin, or kangaroo care as it is often called, is a method that has been used for years to promote the health of premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. It helps your baby to thrive, and can also help to get your let-down reflex going.

This is because skin-to-skin care is one of the best ways to get the oxytocin for both you and your baby. It will help you feel more connected with your little one, and calm and relax your baby. When baby is relaxed, you can be too — which will help your let-down reflex.

9. Get In The Bath

When I was nursing, I found getting in the bath with my baby to nurse helped my let-down reflex a lot. The mix of skin-to-skin, relaxing water, and heat from the bath made a great environment to get used to breastfeeding. Just make sure your bath water isn’t too hot, you want your baby to be comfortable, too!

If baths aren’t your thing, don’t fret! A hot shower directly before nursing can also help promote let-down.

10. Fennel

Fennel contains phytoestrogens, and while it’s good for stimulating the let-down reflex, it should be used with caution (source). If taken too frequently, fennel may reduce your milk supply. It’s also used as an appetite suppressant, so make sure you’re eating enough calories while taking it.

Other herbs, like goats rue and fenugreek, also act as galactagogues, helping you increase your milk supply (source). Working with your lactation consultant or an herbalist will help you find just the right herbs for your needs.
Headshot of Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Editor's Note:

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

11. Lean Forward

Let gravity do its job by leaning forward so your breasts are not restricted by clothing or your bra. Some even suggest shaking your breast from side-to-side while letting them hang down to stimulate your let-down reflex (source).

12. Acupressure

Acupressure is an ancient Chinese medicine that uses the activation of points in the body to relieve certain ailments (source). Acupressure can be used for everything from headaches to pain relief, and yes, it can even be used to help with your let-down reflex.

Some of the acupressure points you can do yourself while nursing, such as the Sl1 that sits on the outer corner of your pinky finger (source). Other pressure points, such as GB21, can also help, but are located on your back — so ask your partner or loved one for help.

13. Consider A Lactation Specialist

When having trouble breastfeeding it’s easy to feel discouraged, but it’s important to know we’re not alone. That’s why La Leche League International was founded in 1956 — to provide practical support for moms who want to nurse.

La Leche League International is now in over 80 different countries, and helps women with everything from engorgement, latching, weaning, positioning, and even helping increase your milk supply. Find a chapter near you here.

If you need more help than a volunteer breastfeeding counselor can supply, find a board-certified lactation consultant in your area. An IBCLC has training specifically to help with more difficult breastfeeding issues. You can find local IBCLCs here.

14. Talk To Your Doctor

Your doctor might not be able to help you make your let-down reflex activate faster, but they can help with the underlying symptoms causing it — especially if they are rooted in mental health.

If you think anxiety or postpartum depression might be the culprit, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. They can direct you to a therapist and possibly even prescribe a medication to help with your symptoms (source).

Up to 80 percent of new moms experience the baby blues, and about 10 to 20 percent will experience more severe postpartum depression or anxiety. Remember you’re not alone. Getting help is okay.

Learn More
The Connection Between Weaning Your Baby and Depression

When It’s All Said And Done

Many moms struggle during breastfeeding. If this is happening to you, you’ve joined a pretty big club.

If you think you’re struggling with a slow let-down reflex, take a deep breath. Remember as your baby gets older, you might not feel the physical sensation of let-down any longer — but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Check to make sure before exploring other solutions like those listed above!

Have you suffered from a slow let-down reflex? Do you have any tips for a mom who is? Please leave us a comment down below — we always love to read your advice!

Don’t forget to share this article with a mom you know is experiencing let-down issues. We’re all in this together!

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6 Reader Comments

  1. Tammy Goodwinm

    Thanks for the informative article.

    My baby is 8 months old and in preparation for returning to work, I have introduced a bottle. Ever since it seems I cannot get sufficient let-down. She tried for at least 10 minutes, pulling off and throwing herself back intermittently, and then biting in frustration.

    I really wanted to continue to nurse in the morning and evening, however, the more she tries the more I am unable to let-down. The let-down issue also happens when I pump.

    Do you have any advice?

    • Jenny Silverstone

      Hi Tammy,
      I’m sorry you are dealing with this issue. I know it can be frustrating. Have you tried using a warm compress or massage while nursing and pumping to stimulate let-down? You can also try taking a few calming breaths and putting yourself in a relaxing environment, all of these helped me to stimulate let-down when I was nursing.

      I’d love to hear if any of this helps.


  2. Sarah

    With my first baby I ended up pumping and bottle feeding at six weeks, now with my second, we are having the same issues.

    My baby is twelve days old, and our nursing sessions are lasting for hours. It is not a growth spurt, as it is like at every feed. He is eager at the start, but I think that my letdown (or lack of it) is exhausting him. He ends up falling asleep.

    If he stays awake an entire feed, it still takes a long time, and he is still not getting enough. I have tried everything to keep him awake. For my letdown I’ve tried heat, a hot shower, massaging, drinking water, relaxing, and I still have no improvements.

    I need to fix this, or my breastfeeding journey might be short-lived. I have a toddler that I feel is not getting what she needs from me because nursing is taking so much. Please help!

    I’m going to see a lactation consultant on Friday morning.

    • Jenny Silverstone

      Hi Sarah, I’m sorry you are going through this. I wonder if your letdown isn’t the problem, but instead, your baby is a lazy nurser? Have any other mama’s experienced this?

      • I know this is an old comment, but my son was having very similar issues and it turned out to be a tongue and lip tie. Something that widely goes undiagnosed for many babies — posterior tongue tie is even harder to diagnose and most pediatricians aren’t very knowledgeable on it. It’s genetic, so if you’ve already weaned your little one, it’s good to check any future children you have if they have similar issues as well. We went to a pediatric dentist who specializes in lip and tongue ties.

        • Team Mom Loves Best

          Hey Dg,

          Thanks a lot for sharing your experience. We hope it helps one of our mamas here! Is your son doing better now?

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