Breasts leaking milk? Here's what to do

Breasts that leak milk are common for breastfeeding moms. This might be temporary, as you and your baby adjust to breastfeeding, or it can happen until you're done breastfeeding. Just hearing a baby cry, thinking about your baby, or sitting in the chair where you usually nurse might be enough to trigger your letdown reflex and cause leaking. To cope with leaking breasts, use nursing pads or products that collect milk in your bra.

woman with leaking breasts using breast pad
Photo credit: Nora Agbayani for BabyCenter

Is it normal for my breasts to leak milk?

Yes, some nursing moms leak or spray milk from their breasts, especially when their breasts are full. Leaking is most likely to happen in the morning (when milk supply is at its peak) and during feedings (when one side leaks while a baby is nursing from the other side).

Some nursing moms leak only during the early weeks of breastfeeding, while others leak until their baby is weaned. For some women, leaking starts during pregnancy.

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What causes my breasts to leak?

Your breasts may leak when they become so full of milk that they overflow. (Leaking is common in women who have an overabundant milk supply). Or you might leak when your letdown reflex – which releases the milk – kicks in.

In the first weeks of breastfeeding, your letdown reflex is being conditioned to respond to the sensation of your baby nursing. Until your reflex adjusts to that stimulation, certain sensations and even thoughts may trigger letdown. For example, hearing a baby cry, thinking about your baby, smelling your baby, or sitting in the chair where you usually breastfeed might be enough to trigger your reflex and cause leaking.

Here's how it works: These stimuli prompt your body to release oxytocin. This hormone makes the milk-making lobes of your breasts contract and eject milk toward the nipple. If your baby isn't nursing at that moment, the milk may leak or even spray.

Oxytocin also causes the contractions felt during orgasm, so your breasts also may leak or spray milk during sex. (You may want to bring a hand towel to bed.)

What can I do about my leaking breasts?

If you're producing too much milk in the early days of nursing, be sure to nurse frequently – before your breasts become too full.

If your breasts are full but your baby isn't ready to eat, it may help to "pump to comfort." This means pumping just enough to make your breasts compressible and comfortable, but not so much that you boost your milk supply. Manually expressing a little milk is another option.

It's important to relieve the pressure, otherwise you could develop a clogged breast duct or mastitis, a breast infection.

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You'll soon establish a breastfeeding rhythm that works for you and your baby. Once you're in sync with each other, you'll probably produce just the right amount of milk for each upcoming feeding.

Here are other ways to deal with leaking breasts:

  • Apply pressure. If you feel letdown happening at an awkward moment (like if you're chatting with a co-worker about your baby and your milk starts to drip), cross your arms over your breasts and press firmly. If you're sitting at a table, cup your chin in your hands and press your forearms into your breasts.
  • Use nursing pads. Tuck nursing pads inside your bra to absorb leaks. You can buy disposable or cloth pads online or at the store, or make your own cloth pads from cut-up cloth diapers. Be sure to change the pads when they get damp so bacteria and fungi won't grow on your nipples. (A warm, moist environment can lead to fungal infections, such as thrush.)
  • Be prepared. If one breast always leaks when your baby is nursing on the other, put a cloth over that breast or a nursing pad inside your bra ahead of time. Same goes if your breasts leak at night – you may want to wear a comfortable sleep bra with nursing pads.
  • Dress for leaks. When you're out and about, layer your tops. (Try wearing prints – they're great for camouflaging milk stains.) Or carry a jacket or sweater that you can throw on if you notice your breasts leaking.
  • Save your extra milk. You can use a breast pump to collect milk from one breast while you nurse on the other. (Manual silicone breast pumps are good for this.) There are also products that fit inside your bra and collect milk so you won't waste a drop.

How long will my breasts keep leaking?

Some women continue to leak for as long as they're nursing, but many find that the problem goes away once their baby gets the hang of breastfeeding – usually within the first six to 10 weeks. Once your milk production is synched to when your baby wants to eat, your breasts shouldn't leak as often.

Going too long without nursing or pumping (more than three hours) can also cause leaking. If you're nursing less often, you may have a certain amount of leaking as your body transitions to your new schedule. (This can occur, for example, when you return to work).

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Take heart that your leaking breasts are a sign of your body's ability to make plenty of milk for your baby. And though leaking can be messy, it's usually pretty easy to manage.

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BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

Kaiser Permanente. Undated. Breastfeeding your baby: How to care for leaky breasts. a new window [Accessed July 2022]

La Leche League International. Undated. Oversupply. a new window [Accessed July 2022]

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Office on Women's Health. 2021. Common breastfeeding challenges. a new window [Accessed July 2022]

Karisa Ding

Karisa Ding is a freelance health writer and editor with expertise in preconception, pregnancy, and parenting content. A mother of two, Ding finds great joy in supporting new and expectant parents by providing information they need for the life-changing journey ahead. Ding lives in San Francisco with her family.