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Leaking breasts can be a nuisance and sometimes a little embarrassing. However, milk production is a normal part of pregnancy and having a baby and this is nothing to be ashamed of. Your body will produce milk even if you have decided not to breastfeed. You will most likely notice changes in your breasts pretty early on in your pregnancy. They usually increase in size. This is your body getting ready to produce the milk needed to feed your baby. In fact, your breasts begin to produce milk at around 16 weeks pregnant. This is a natural process and a good sign that everything is progressing as it should.
You may find that you have the occasional small leak towards the end of your pregnancy. At this stage it will most likely be a small amount of thick creamy yellow milk known as colostrum. Colostrum is the milk you produce in the early stages of motherhood and it is particularly rich in the nutrients and the antibodies your baby needs in its first few weeks. If leaking becomes a problem during pregnancy, use a breast pad in your bra to absorb the liquid and stop it coming through on to your clothes. It is usually after the birth, however, that leaking breasts cause more problems, when the slightest thing can cause you to 'let down' your milk at the most inconvenient time. Some women leak when they just think about their babies!
Why does it happen?
Your breasts may leak when they are so full that they overflow. Although it is irritating and can happen at the most inopportune times, try to think of the let down as a positive thing; you are producing plenty of milk for your baby. Certain things such as hearing a baby cry (it does not even have to be your own) can cause your milk to start flowing.
How can I stop it?
You cannot physically prevent this from happening, especially if you have chosen to breastfeed your baby. Rest assured, however, that the occurrences of leaking should reduce after a few weeks when you and your baby settle in to a pattern. The best thing you can do in the meantime, however, is be prepared. Use breast pads to absorb any leaks but remember to change them frequently if they are getting very damp or you could end up with sore nipples. You can buy both disposable pads or, for the more environmentally conscious, washable and reusable pads. Wearing tops with 'busy' prints will help camouflage any leaks that do get through and it is a good idea to take a spare bra and top with you if you are going out for the day.
Feeding your baby frequently and expressing milk if you need to should also help prevent leakage. You can store and even freeze breast milk for use later on so you will not be wasting it if your baby isn't hungry there and then. You may find that you leak heavily at night when your baby is likely to be feeding less. If you find this is the case then invest in a light night maternity bra which will feel less restricting but will still hold a breast pad in place and prevent you leaking on the sheets.
If you have chosen to bottle feed your baby then you may still experience many of these problems. Doctors no longer give the drugs or injections which dry up milk production as they were linked to a number of serious side effects, including cancer. Your milk will dry up of its own accord after a few days but it can be a rather uncomfortable time.
Use breast pads to absorb the milk and be careful not to stimulate your breasts as this may trick your body in to thinking that the milk is being used and thereby prolong the process unnecessarily. For example, try not to touch your breasts more than is absolutely necessary, stand with your back to the shower as the water falling on them will cause your breasts to leak.
If you need to, take pain killers to ease the aches and pains you may be suffering during this process. Some people swear by herbal remedies, while the method of placing cold cabbage leaves in the bra has been around since the early 1800s. Indeed, cabbage has been proven to have some antibiotic and anti irritant properties and some mainstream doctors are now recommending it. Another old remedy that is not recommended is binding your breasts, this can cause damage to your body and even Mastitis, an infection in your breast which can be very painful and unpleasant. If alternative medicine is not your thing then you could try gently applying ice packs or cold damp cloths to your breasts to relieve some of the pressure. However, if you become unwell and you develop a high fever then contact your GP immediately as you may have Mastitis and will need treatment.
Mastitis is an infection in the breast which usually occurs during breastfeeding, although it can occur if you suddenly stop breastfeeding and your breast becomes engorged with milk. You may notice an area of redness which will feel hard and tender to the touch, you will also have flu like symptoms and will feel unwell. A course of antibiotics should clear it up and if you are breastfeeding, you can continue with no ill effect to your baby. In fact, it is a good idea to continue to feed as this will keep the milk flowing and will help to ease the symptoms. In some cases, however, your baby may refuse the milk from the infected breast as the taste may change. If this happens try to express the milk from this breast instead to help clear any blockages and relieve the pressure on your breast.
Leaking breasts can be a real nuisance but it is something that will occur for only a short period of time whether you choose to breastfeed or you are allowing your milk to dry up. It is also something that is easily dealt with if you know what to expect and you are ready to deal with it. Get some breast pads well in advance so you are armed and ready when the leaks come.