Leaking and spraying

Why am I leaking and spraying?

It is normal for milk to leak or spray from the nipples. These are usually signs of a normal or above-average milk supply. Between feeds, leaking or spraying can occur when the breasts are stimulated or full or if the mother thinks of the baby or hears another one crying. Spraying is common during feeding when the baby suddenly lets go of the breast. Leaking can be managed by using breast pads, by pressing on the breasts during a let-down, or collecting the leaked milk. Spraying can be stopped by applying direct pressure to the nipple. Both leaking and spraying slow or stop over time. Leaking is considered abnormal if it continues for six months after weaning.

A) Describing leaking

The right breast is leaking as the baby breastfeeds on the left.

Many mothers leak between feeds. This happens when the breasts are full or the mothers have a let-down when not breastfeeding. This can be triggered by various stimuli including:

  • Physical stimulation of the breast
  • Entering a cold room
  • Thinking about the baby
  • Hearing another baby cry
  • Being very full

Some normal mothers:

  • Don’t leak at all.
  • Leak colostrum before giving birth.
  • Leak in the first few weeks or months after delivery.
  • Leak for as long as they breastfeed.
  • Produce milk and even leak for months or years after stopping breastfeeding.

Leaking from the nipples is normal and is generally a sign of a good milk supply. While all mothers can leak, it is more common in mothers with a large milk supply and less common in mothers with a low milk supply. Copious leaking can indicate a very large milk supply.

Leaking generally slows or stops with time. One study showed that at 6 months after the baby’s birth, 66% of mothers still leaked (Morse 1989).

Mothers with previously-pierced nipples often leak from the piercing sites.

B) Worries about leaking

Some mothers worry they will not have enough milk for the baby because of leaking. They don’t need to worry. Leaking never results in an underfed baby. In fact, mothers who leak a lot tend to have a very good milk supply.

If you are leaking because your breasts are often overfull, make sure you are breastfeeding or expressing effectively.

Leaking is considered abnormal if it continues for six months after weaning or if it resumes after having stopped months previously. This can be caused by abnormal functioning of the thyroid or pituitary gland or other parts of the brain. Some medications can also have this effect. Please see your health-care provider if this develops.

C) Managing the leaking

Mothers who leak will generally use breast pads inside their bras.

If you feel the let-down happening, you can minimize leaking by pressing on your breast and nipple with your hand. If you are in public, you can cross your arms across your chest. This will not cause plugged ducts or cause you to run out of milk. Leaking is just a cosmetic problem and a bit of a nuisance.

Another option is to collect the leaked milk.

D) Leaking from the areola

Some mothers have milk ducts that don’t end at the nipple but fall short and open onto the areola. Montgomery glands can also leak. 

E) Spraying

Spraying is a sign of a strong let-down and often accompanies a large milk supply. Spraying usually creates several streams of milk and can send milk half a meter (several feet) away.

It can happen whenever the mother has a let-down and the baby is not attached to the breast. It is especially common if the baby suddenly lets go at the start of a feed. Babies often choke after letting go in this situation.  

References

Morse JM, Bottorff JL. Leaking: a problem of lactation. J Nurse Midwifery. 1989 Jan-Feb;34(1):15-20