The Night Leaker
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.
Let’s Talk About Nighttime Oversupply
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.
Six Ways to Manage Late Night Leaks
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 waking up 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.Published November 11, 2009. Last updated January 18, 2018.