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The Night Leaker

Nov11

by

Hi Amalah,

I have a question for you about breastfeeding that I’ve never seen anyone address before. Maybe I’m the only one with this problem! Here it is: My son is finally starting to drop some of his night feedings. Score! More sleep! But my boobs aren’t really on board with this plan. I sleep with a soft nursing bra or tank top on and disposable breast pads (I use washable ones during the day but they can’t seem to hack it at night). I leaked at night before but now I wake up ALL THE TIME at night covered in milk. Wet shirt, wet arms, wet bed. Puddles. My pads and shirt will be totally soaked through. Is there anything I can do to try to help with this nighttime leaking? Should I get up and pump? It seems like that might make the problem worse by signaling the boobs to keep making that much.

I’m so tired of being all wet and slimy and I desperately miss the days I used to be able to go to bed au natural. The final straw was last night when one side was super engorged and firehosed my baby, sprayed all over the bed, and got my husband right in the face before I could grab a burp cloth to hold back the tides.

Help!
Jamie

Oh yes, I remember this. I remember this so well! Nighttime engorgement and leaking. I went through this for the first couple months of Ezra’s life, thanks to good ol’ oversupply, despite round-the-clock nursing and cosleeping. And then it happened AGAIN once he started sleeping through the night (around 4.5 months)! Not! Fair! Just when you THOUGHT you were going to get more sleep, your baby’s cries have been merely replaced with the double-barrel alarm clock strapped to your chest. It’s awesome.

And, temporary. Really. Your body WILL eventually get with the program, I promise. Your baby is maybe not skipping the same night feedings every night, 100%, for seven straight days or so? If he isn’t, then technically your body is doing exactly what it’s supposed to: making sure that the baby really, REALLY doesn’t need that milk before cutting back on production.

Of course, not every woman’s body flips the switch in the same time frame — some women leak for a few days, a week, sometimes more, as their babies dial back on the night feedings. And since you took the time to write a question about it, I’m guessing it’s been going on for more than a few days and is stretching into that dreary “OH MY GOD IT’S GOING TO BE LIKE THIS FOREVER” feeling.
It’s not. But! I have a few first-hand tips for getting through it:

1) Wear a tighter bra or tank. Nothing that’s actually uncomfortable to sleep in, or really binding (you don’t want to cause plugged ducts) but just…snugger around the cup area. And a fabric that isn’t prone to stretching out over time. Personally I leaked SO MUCH MORE if my boobs were not really harnessed in and pressed TIGHT up against my shirt or nursing pads. This can be difficult to achieve at night, when you’re on your side or twisting around, so I went down a size in my sleep bras and tanks. I swear, AIR could trigger a helluva letdown for me.

2) Pump before you go to bed. I know, it seems so counter-intuitive to pump when you really want to make LESS milk, but it’s kind of a trade-off. I preferred taking a few minutes to pump at night to the crazy leaking. If, say, Ezra would nurse for the last time around 8:30, by MY bedtime (11:00), I generally needed to pump to keep my boobs from being full-on boulders by 1 am. Sometimes I pumped until I was empty, some nights I just pumped until I felt comfortable. Once my supply regulated a bit, the last-chance pumping session seemed MUCH easier to eliminate than the actual feedings had been.

3) Address the pain, however you need to. If you wake up feeling like you’re about to explode, go ahead and pump for a minute or two. Again, yeah, you’re sending your body mixed signals but if your baby isn’t going to drink that milk it’s either going to a) stay in your boobs until you clog a duct, or b) leak all over the damn place. Pump for comfort, not production. OR go down to the fridge and grab a chilled cabbage leaf and stick it in your bra for 10-15 minutes or so.

4) Waterproof mattress pad. I used a small one that we’d bought for the crib. I put it on top of our fitted sheet, then put a twin-sized flat sheet over it, just on my side of the bed. If disaster struck in the middle of the night, I just whipped them off and chucked them on the floor. No 3 AM sheet changes OR having to go back to sleep on wet bedclothes because I didn’t want to wake Jason up.

5) Letdown into the pump or a towel. This is more for the projectile milk problem. If you wake up to nurse with one or both sides super-engorged, DON’T just offer it to the baby. Get on the pump for just a few compressions until that CRAZY strong flow is over, or just sort of…let it happen into a towel or burp cloth if you can trigger your letdown mentally, like by hearing your baby cry. (I always could do it by imagining the sight and sound of a running sink faucet. I don’t know. Is that weird?) If your baby is still gagging or choking on your flow, nurse him while lying flat on your back, so he has more sucking control instead of milk just pouring into his throat.

6) Skip the nursing pads and use a diaper. Yeah. I know. Sexy. But after waking up in a puddle three nights in a row thanks to shifting, inadequate nursing pads, I grabbed an outgrown newborn-sized disposable diaper, cut it half, and covered each of my boobs with a half. Muuuuuuch better. It wasn’t too long after that my oversupply FINALLY balanced out, as if crying uncle against the indignity of it all.

This WILL STOP. I promise. In the meantime, congrats on your superwoman milk powers. I know they’re…slimier than you expected, but awesome all the same.

*************************
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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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8 Responses to “The Night Leaker”

  1. mir Nov 11 at 1:10 pm Reply Reply

    I remember thinking that I’d have to pump in the night even when the baby started sleeping through the night… I’ve squirted the baby in the eye and had tough latch on for that first feed in the am (have actually had to pump while DH fed the baby because she was like a puppy trying to get hold of a soccer ball)
    I still have the pump session before my bedtime which works out great for my freezer and workdays. Since my baby goes to bed at 6 or so I don’t think I’d be able to hold out otherwise.
    In general I feel like my supply is not so overabundant as it was a few months ago. Whether it’s going back to work or just my boobies getting with the program I don’t know.

  2. lisa Nov 11 at 2:21 pm Reply Reply

    I used to have the same problem – well, not the crazy spraying and leaking. Just a sort of normal overnight leaking. At first the engorgement was so bad in the mornings that I would pump in the middle of the night, but just enough to stop the pain and be comfortable again to sleep some more. Eventually, it would be just barely manageable to sleep through the night, but would either double pump, or just pump one side, and have the baby nurse the other and put the baby back to sleep. Now, three months later, I don’t have the problem as much, and sort of miss it.

  3. Meghan Nov 11 at 4:32 pm Reply Reply

    I’m intrigued by the cabbage leaf. Why does that work?

  4. EW Nov 11 at 8:44 pm Reply Reply

    I’d second the “pump before bed” thing — yes, it might mean you keep making a bit more milk, but I found it meant I was a lot more comfortable and much more likely to wake up mostly dry. Freeze it — I thought I had a ton in the freezer, but now that my seven-month-old can down 8 ounces without a pause, a quart is only a four-day supply!
    I also only stopped leaking a lot when my baby was six months old, and that was when she stopped sleeping through the night because she got hungry. I’ll probably have the same problems again when she starts sleeping more than six hours in a shot, although I’m not nearly as engorged at night as I was a few months ago.
    It will get better, if not as quickly as you’d like!

  5. Ashley Nov 11 at 10:56 pm Reply Reply

    Another idea instead of outgrown diapers? Pads. They’re so handy, what with the sticky backing and all, with the added bonus of being the perfect size to fit into a nursing tank. I used two, one for each boob. They were a God-send when my boobs went haywire!

  6. MissB Nov 12 at 6:21 pm Reply Reply

    hehe, I basically slept with 1 towel across, another towel folded on my side for a few weeks, with the breastpads and bra and t shirt. with an extra towel nearby, just in case.

  7. Sharon Nov 12 at 8:17 pm Reply Reply

    I second the menstrual pad suggestion — I cut ‘em in half. (No newborn diapers handy.)
    Also, if you want an actual breast pad, the widest and most absorbent ones I’ve found, that are also pretty darn thin and unobtrusive, are the Gerber Heavy Flow contoured ones. (NOT the Gerber ultra-thin, which are just about useless for anything more than tiny little drips.) Those work for me during the day, even with my crazy oversupply and random time of day let-down (hi, garbage truck! My body thinks your screeching brakes sound like a baby!).
    If you can’t find them but want them, I found them at drugstore.com

  8. The Mommy Feb 18 at 1:18 pm Reply Reply

    My little guy is exclusively breastfed and my supply has evened out to match his demand. He is 7 months old and still wakes up every 2-3 hours at night. That is rough. But, don’t have engorgement. I read somewhere else that some moms have large capacity and some have small. The small capacity usually nurse more often…that might be me…

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