This mama's viral TikTok moment shows how bizarre the letdown reflex can be.
Early on in my breastfeeding journey, my boobs would start leaking if I inhaled the scent of my infant's swaddle, or if another baby cried while I was buying diapers at Target, or if I looked at photos of my newborn on my phone while he was sleeping (so, all the time). It seemed like the slightest stimuli would result in a slow drip of milk from my breasts, soaking through my nursing bra and staining my shirt. (Even typing this now, I'm getting those phantom boob twinges.)
So when breastfeeding mama Kat Stuckey (@Imdatmom) shared on TikTok in a hilarious viral video that she was shocked to realize her boobs were leaking after hearing a highly specific TV theme song, I could commiserate.
In the video, Kat declares that she's been watching early-aughts fave One Tree Hill (an excellent choice for a low-stress teen drama, if you ask us) since "day one" while breastfeeding her one-month-old infant son. But when she sat down to catch an episode *without* her baby or her breast pump, she was floored to realize that her boobs started leaking as soon as she heard Gavin Degraw start belting out the opening lyrics to "I Don't Want to Be."
Those milk letdown hormones work in mysterious ways.
What is the letdown reflex?
The letdown reflex is also known as the milk ejection reflex (MER), which is an action that stimulates the release of breastmilk from the mammary glands when breastfeeding. Letdown can be triggered by a number of factors, the most obvious ones being those involving your infant's suckling or rooting, or anything that reminds you of your baby, like a smell or photo.
But in a weird twist, letdown can also occur in response to various environmental stimuli that may have seemingly nothing to do with your baby.
That's thanks to the fact that letdown can be a conditioned reflex, a physiological response that happens as a result of repeated training. This phenomenon was famously studied by Russian neurophysiologist Ivan Pavlov (i.e., the Pavlovian response), who researched feeding cues for dogs to discover that salivation occurs as a result of a stimulus (for example, a bell ringing).
Because Kat was watching the same show and hearing the same theme song every day, likely multiple times per day, she unknowingly created a conditioned reflex in her body to trigger the MER in response to hearing that song, baby at her breast or not.
How to create your own letdown cues
But why not make this strange science work to your advantage? Letdown cues can be super helpful to implement for yourself, especially if you're regularly pumping and trying to stockpile milk, or if you tend to have trouble with letdown.
Every time you sit down to nurse or pump, try listening to a certain song, watching the same show, sipping a cup of chamomile tea or taking 3 deep breaths before you start. The key here is consistency—and pretty soon, your body will start catching onto this pattern and responding to the cues, hopefully making those pumping sessions a little more productive.
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