A lot of women worry about their breasts leaking during pregnancy, and this article will answer some of the most common lactation during pregnancy questions.
Is it normal to leak?
Yes. Many women experience leaking from the breasts during pregnancy. It usually happens in the last trimester, but a leaking breast can happen earlier.
Is it normal not to leak?
Yes. Many women never leak until their baby is born. Some don't even leak then. This is all normal, too.
What exactly is leaking out?
The first milk that comes out is called "colostrum". It's thick and yellowish and is often called "liquid gold" because of its color and because of its great value to baby. Don't be fooled by the small quantity: It's jam-packed with protein, carbohydrates, and antibodies, among other things. It's all that baby will need until your milk transitions to "mature milk".
If I'm leaking milk while pregnant, will it get "used up" before the baby arrives?
No. Your body knows to keep making colostrum until it naturally and slowly transitions to mature milk after the baby is born. Once your baby is born, new milk is continually made every time he or she nurses (which is why "nursing early and often" is recommended to help establish your milk supply).
Leaking is annoying. What can I do about it?
- Wear breast pads. Buy or make your own using soft and breathable cloth such as 100% cotton. Some women make them using cut-up cloth diapers. Store-bought breast pads come in two varieties: disposable and reusable. If you buy disposable, make sure they don't have a plastic lining since plastic doesn't "breathe" and moist, dark places breed bacteria. Be sure to change the pads often. It's not a bad idea to keep a spare set of pads in your purse in case you start leaking unexpectedly. (Keep a spare set in your purse or diaper bag after baby is born, too!)
- Use the "arm trick" (but see the cautionary note below). There are a couple of ways to do this:
- Use your wrist or the lower part of your palm to press gently against the nipple
- If leaking from both sides, cross your arms over chest with your wrists/forearms so you can apply gentle pressure to both sides at the same time
- If you're sitting at a table, put your chin in your hands so you can casually apply gentle pressure using your forearms
- Choose clothing wisely. Wear outfits that include layers (e.g., a cardigan or vest) or outfits made of fabrics that don't show leaks as well (e.g., patterned fabrics or darker colors).
What shouldn't I do to control leaking?
- Don't use the "arm trick" too much. If you're in a place where it's okay to be leaking (such as in the privacy in your own home or among friends who understand), avoid using the "arm trick". Since pressure on the nipples blocks milk from lactating or flowing, it could result in a plugged milk duct, which can be painful and even lead to infection (called "mastitis"). Don't worry though--using this trick on occasion should be perfectly fine.
- Don't bind your breasts. This is not recommended even for women who are purposely trying to dry up their milk supply for the same reason as described above (potential for plugged ducts and mastitis).
- Don't try to dry up milk with cabbage leaves or other common drying remedies. While potentially a good home-remedy for dealing with engorgement, cabbage leaves should not be used to try and dry up your milk while pregnant. Although possibly annoying, just let nature take its course and it will soon be time for lactation.
- Finally, don't hesitate to ask your health care provider if you have any questions. And even before baby is born, you can always call a lactation consultant or your local La Leche League leader for breastfeeding support.