Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood
My boobs were so leaky the first six months of Hudson’s life that I once dripped onto a woman who was pushing a baby out. Yup. I was her doula and had been away from Hudson for about twelve hours. My boobs were bursting. As I held her leg while she pushed, I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening under my shirt. And then I saw something wet drop onto her arm. It was raining, and the old hospital we were in had some leakage issues, so I looked up. But it wasn’t the ceiling, it was my mammaries. I. Was. Horrified. Thank the birthing gods I was wearing a black shirt; no one seemed to notice, and I flew to the bathroom to change and squeeze milk into the sink. Oy vey.
That’s a long way of saying, I get it. I was constantly embarrassed by my leaky jugs, instead of being thrilled they were producing so much milk. This is something many women experience in early motherhood. I’ll get to how to physically deal with the seepage, but I want to start with the shame you might feel when this happens. As I noted in the previous question, it takes a while to stop sexualizing our breasts, meaning we still think of them in “that way” when they start drawing attention, especially when they’re leaking. I have a friend who had DD-size breasts before pregnancy. They were a G after baby was born. She once said, “I can’t go into public. It’s bad enough that these puppies are so massive, but they start leaking unexpectedly. Obviously, I’m not doing it on purpose, but I feel like people are going to think I’m trying to draw attention to them or something. Leaking from anywhere is embarrassing, but this is next level.” Her words hit on many important points.
First, many women I’ve worked with also think people will judge them for having leaky breasts in public. And maybe some people do, but those aren’t the people we should care about. The people we should care about are the little humans relying on those glorious boobs for sustenance, and your glorious self, who has every right to get out of the house when your body is still trying to figure out the whole milk supply thing. You’re doing nothing wrong when you’re out and all of a sudden you have wetness spreading across your shirt.
While it’s easy for me to write that, I understand it can be tricky to turn off the shame tap we’ve been taught to open at the slightest provocation. I turned off the shame by forcing myself to laugh at the situation. Whenever I was in public and my milk volcanoes erupted, I would shrug my shoulders, laugh, and in my own time, change into the extra shirt I always kept in my bag. I was totally faking this lighthearted attitude in the beginning, but the more I did it, the more I felt genuine humor instead of shame. It also seemed to give others permission to brush it off as no big deal, instead of something to uncomfortably ignore.
The second excellent point my aforementioned buddy made is that we are deeply conditioned to associate a leaking body part with serious humiliation. Peed your pants? Thought you needed to fart, but turned out it was something more? Got boogies coming out your nose? All are situations our society has said should produce mortification. Most people are ashamed even to cry in public. I think that’s all whack. Our bodies don’t stop doing body stuff just because we’re outside the privacy of our home. Leaks happen — to every body. Every single person. I encourage you to remember this when you’re met with seeping boobs in public. Remind yourself that what’s happening is the most natural thing in the world, and if you’re able to give yourself the grace to handle it with amusement instead of humiliation, you’re helping us all take a small step toward being more accepting of our bodies. Hey girl, you can be a leaky boob trailblazer!
What to do
And now for the logistics of that soaked bosom — because while we’ve canceled the Shame Game, it’s still not a fun feeling to have a sticky, wet chest.
Know the leaking triggers. Often hearing a crying baby, seeing a baby, or just thinking about your baby can induce a letdown. Knowing these triggers and any others you notice can give you a heads-up about a milky surge that’s on the way.
Press on your nipples when you feel tingling in your breasts. This preemptive measure can dam the milk flow. If you want to be incognito with this motion, just stretch an arm across your boobs and press it into your chest with your other hand.
Feed baby or pump before you go out. Emptying your breasts before you leave the house can minimize the chance of a leak.
Use breast pads. These absorbent boob buddies can soak up milk before it reaches your shirt. Keep a supply in your car, diaper bag, and purse so you always have replacements on hand. Be sure to change them when they’re wet, as your nipples being in a moist, enclosed space for long periods could lead to a yeast infection. (Aren’t we lucky — we can get yeast infections in the vagina and on our boobs!)
Keep tissues and organic wet wipes handy. I was the worst at remembering breast pads, but I almost always had tissues on hand. I would stuff them in my bra when I sensed an impending leak. And because the stickiness of breastmilk was irritating, I would try to have wet wipes on hand. I recommend organic wipes, as the alternative could leave chemical residue on your breasts.
Keep an extra shirt in your purse and diaper bag. Despite all the pads and tissues, you’ll still have moments where the milk reaches the shirt. So keep a patterned or dark-colored (with the exception of grey) shirt in your going-out bags. Avoid silk. I also recommend a cover-up you can throw on until you’re able to change.
Sleep on a waterproof pad that’s covered by a pillowcase. I had to wash my sheets every single day for the first week of Hudson’s life because I soaked the bed in milk nightly. I then wised up and bought a few waterproof changing pad liners. I would cover the liner with a pillowcase to make it less scratchy, and bam, I only had to change out a small liner and pillowcase instead of all the sheets. If it was chilly, I would sleep in a zip-up sweater so I wouldn’t have to pull the covers over my drippy boobs.
Wear a milk saver while breastfeeding. Many women leak out of one breast while feeding baby from the other. Save those precious drops by popping a “milk saver” onto the boob not being used. These are boob-shaped pieces of plastic and rubber, with a hole in the middle for your nipple and a catchment area below it. Once you’ve finished that side, you can pour the collected milk into a container. It can add up to a lot of extra milk!