The Surprising Truth About Breast Leakage During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, we are made aware of so many changes that will happen or are already happening to our body - weight gain, disturbed sleep, more frequent trips to the toilet, and everyday aches and pains. 

But there are many other things that happen, often without you noticing - including the production of colostrum that takes place in your breasts as your body prepares for baby’s first meal. 

Is Breast Leakage Normal?

Leaking a little milk during pregnancy is normal and is not usually something to worry about. It is a sign that your body is starting to prepare for your baby’s arrival and is working to build up your milk supply. 

It is also normal to not leak at all during pregnancy. It doesn’t mean that your body isn’t producing the milk needed for your baby. 

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So, What Is Colostrum?

Colostrum, aka “liquid gold” thanks to its yellowish appearance, contains an incredible amount of nutrients and antibodies. Colostrum also; 

  • Protects against infections 
  • Has a laxative effect, which helps to clear meconium, reducing the risk of jaundice 
  • Is easily digested by your baby
  • Provides nutrition to your baby  

This yellow/creamy white sticky fluid will be your baby’s first meal. Your baby only needs a few tablespoons of liquid gold per feed. Your colostrum will provide all of the nourishment your baby needs until your milk comes in. 
[Read more about colostrum here]

When Will You Start Leaking Colostrum?

From the first trimester, your body will begin to produce colostrum. Your breasts will begin to change early on in pregnancy to prepare for breastfeeding.

As always, every woman is different. Some women may leak a few drops as early as the second trimester. However, for most women, the leaking of fluid does not begin until towards the end of their pregnancy and during their third trimester - if at all. 

You may start to notice that you are leaking a little colostrum when your nipples are stimulated - This can happen while taking a hot shower, during foreplay, sex, or when your nipples rub against your clothing.

[Read more about everything you need to harvest your colostrum here]

How To Tell if You’re Leaking Colostrum

The easiest way to tell if you are leaking colostrum is by looking at the inside of your bra. If you notice an orange/yellow-looking stain, that is a sure sign that you are producing and leaking colostrum.

If you haven’t noticed stains and are still curious, you could try to hand-express a few drops of colostrum in your third trimester. 

To be safe, it is recommended that you do not try to express if you have any preterm labour risk factors or if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant. If you are 37 weeks or more - To hand express, gently squeeze your areola a couple of times. 

Do not get disheartened if you do not notice any liquid. Your body will know when it’s time to start producing colostrum. 

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Why Are Your Breasts Leaking During Pregnancy?

Breast leakage during pregnancy is down to the imbalance of the hormone prolactin. This hormone is responsible for your milk production post-birth, and it's this same hormone that starts to surge between 12 and 16 weeks of pregnancy. It is at this point that your breasts start to produce colostrum. 

The hormone estrogen works to stop your body from releasing milk until your baby arrives. Sometimes, the two hormones can fall out of sync, which results in leakage. 

What Can You Do About Colostrum Leakage During Pregnancy?

The leaking of colostrum is usually very mild during pregnancy, but if you’ve noticed you’re leaking more than just a few drops of colostrum, it may be worth purchasing some breast pads to wear inside your bra to help catch the flow and prevent any stains. 

Some women choose to hand express colostrum before their baby is born (aka colostrum harvesting) so that there is a guaranteed supply to feed the baby once they’ve arrived. This can also be beneficial should there be any complications with breastfeeding. 

Colostrum harvesting should not be done until you are around 37 weeks pregnant - you can talk to your midwife for advice on how to express and store colostrum safely. 

When Should You See a Doctor?

Most of the time, leaking colostrum or breast milk during pregnancy is nothing to worry about. However, you should see your GP or midwife if you notice:

  • You are leaking more than a few drops at a time.
  • If there is a sudden increase in the amount of fluid you are leaking.
  • If you notice a thick discharge from one of both of your nipples.
  • If there are spots of blood coming from one or both of your nipples.
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