The sensation of breastfeeding

When asked to describe what it felt like to breastfeed, women often found it hard to put into words. Some focused on the physical aspects and others focused on the emotional feelings associated with breastfeeding. Some of the women who spoke about the physical sensation of a normal breastfeed talked about a warm, tingling feeling in the whole breast at the beginning of a feed and at other times as the milk let down (or was made available to the baby by the action of a hormonal reflex). Others did not feel the tingling that they had been led to expect. One woman felt it for the first six weeks or so only (see Interview 30 below). The women also described the sensation of breastfeeding as pleasant or pleasurable, enjoyable, satisfying and relaxing. Several said that it made them sleepy. Some even talked about it being a relief, especially if their breasts were feeling full. One woman, who had experienced engorgement, said that she almost felt euphoric after a while when she got the milk flowing. (The baby's suck stimulates the release of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin in the mother. It is oxytocin that is responsible for the let-down reflex and the feeling of relaxation. Prolactin is responsible for milk production.) 

Most, but not all, of the women were aware of their let-down reflex when the milk began to flow, either because of the tingling feeling and being able to see their milk or because their baby began to suck and swallow in a rhythmical manner (see 'Positioning & attaching/latching the baby at the breast'). Many women also noticed that milk began to leak or even spray from the un-suckled breast. Some collected this milk for storage and later use while others simply used breast pads to absorb it. Some women said that their let-down was so intense that it was almost painful. Several women spoke of having a let-down even when they were not with their baby or about to breastfeed. Sometimes thinking about their baby, hearing another baby cry or seeing a photograph of a baby was enough to trigger a let-down (see 'Emotional and psychological aspects of breastfeeding'). A few women spoke of having a slow let-down, showing that the time to let-down can vary between women. 

In terms of emotion, the women talked about a normal breastfeed as a nice time of comfort and closeness with their baby. They felt that they were doing something for their baby that no one else could do and that was very special to them. One woman said that the feeling of a breastfeed was:

“Amazing, you've got this baby that knows what it wants and it reaches for you, it knows when it needs a drink”.

Last reviewed November 2018.


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