No matter how many “what to expect when you’re expecting” books I devoured after finding out I was pregnant with my first child, the data and information did nothing to prepare me for overwhelming emotions during the highs and lows of motherhood - especially the periods of embarrassment and shame.
I am the type of person who likes to be prepared for all situations, but despite my research, I came across many surprises during my first pregnancy – and while some were pleasant, many
left me feeling embarrassed and isolated. Especially under frustration and depression at the sight of so many glowing pregnant women demonstrated by influencers I followed on Instagram.
I expected to feel powerful and beautiful during pregnancy just like the girls I saw as I scrolled through my feed, but I learned the hard way that they were only sharing the highlight reel.
I’m not going to lie: the first time that I woke up restlessly in the middle of the night with my shirt soaking wet around my breasts, I had a mental breakdown. As soon as I felt the moisture, I understood what happened and tried to sneak out of bed without disturbing my partner. My commotion caused him to wake and follow me into the bathroom, and although I was grateful that he didn’t judge me or make me feel uncomfortable, I still felt uncomfortable, frustrated, and out of touch with my body. If I couldn’t handle this one night of discomfort, how was I supposed to get through childbirth and motherhood?
There are certain pregnancy side-effects that I was anticipating, including the weight gain, acne, and changes in appetite, but on this evening that I felt vulnerable, the small defeat sent me over the edge. In my mind, all of the pregnant women around me were golden and glowing, making me feel like the ugly duckling in the shadow left with unnatural grossness that made me weird and unattractive. Of course, this was all in my head.
I cleaned myself up and made it through the night, but the fear made me question everything. Is this normal? How can I prepare for milk leaking? What do I do if this happens in public? My spiraling led me down a path of research, and here is what I learned about breast milk that made me feel comfortable, confident, and reassured that my beautiful pregnant body was undergoing the natural rhythms of creating life:
How Breast Milk Is Produced
The main reassurance I found regarding my experience of milk leaking was learning about lactation or the production of breast milk. Like many other moms, I noticed my breasts starting to get larger near the end of my first trimester due to the increase in the number and size of my milk glands in preparation for milk production. Breast milk develops throughout the pregnancy cycle in preparation for feeding your newborn.
I had learned about female hormones during my pregnancy research, and it turns out that the balance between estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin plays a large role in both breast milk production and as well as fetal growth and pregnancy induction. Estrogen and progesterone regulate the amount of milk you produce throughout pregnancy and post-partum by suppressing prolactin, the hormone that promotes lactation until it is time to produce mature breast milk.
The leaking “milk” that is typical toward the end of pregnancy is called colostrum. This precursor to mature breast milk is often coined “liquid gold” due to its impeccable composition of proteins, nutrients, and antibodies that are a perfect first meal for a newborn to support growth and immune health. The color of colostrum can vary from a clear white color to a yellow-orange tint due to the beta-carotene content. This substance is what you may have noticed as discharge in your bra or shirt, but don’t worry: it is completely normal and a sign of a healthy, developing baby.
Tips for Moms Experiencing Milk Leaking
- Remember that you are not alone!
I don’t want you to feel the way I did the first time I had unexpected milk leaking – alone and ashamed. Milk development is a normal part of pregnancy, and we can’t help it if our milk decides to leak at an inconvenient time.
- Utilize bra liner inserts
These were lifesavers when I was experiencing the worst leakage. To be honest, I used them every night just in case, and they were comfortable enough that I hardly noticed them afterward. They were effective in soaking up the leakage and preventing my clothes from being soaked.
- Wear dark clothing
Just in case the liners don’t protect from the leakage, I felt more comfortable choosing darker colors while at risk for leakage. It is less noticeable if it does overflow and is easier to wash out.
- Don’t be afraid of ice packs
Toward the end of my pregnancy, tender breasts were one of my biggest struggles. Although it was slightly uncomfortable, using ice packs while I was laying down or doing sedentary tasks was helpful in reducing the soreness.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers are your friends
If your experience is anything like mine, your nipples might feel overwhelmingly tender during the lactation process. When the discomfort became too much, over-the-counter pain relievers were truly monumental in helping me through the process.
Amongst the countless tips and tricks that I’ve learned about milk leaking, I felt most reassured knowing that my body is happy and healthy, merely undergoing the changes necessary to naturally care for my child. For the first time since getting pregnant, I felt like my voice was heard and I could share my experiences with people who could relate to me.