A child has weaned when she has drank breast milk for the very last time.
Natural weaning takes places over many months or years. This sort of weaning tends to occur gradually over time and gives a mother and her child a chance to readjust physically and emotionally.
Gradual weaning is often the ideal for mother baby pairs.
However, for a variety of reasons gradual weaning might not be possible for every breastfeeding mother and child.
Unfortunately, sudden weaning can have physical and emotional consequences.
Therefore, it's important to have effective strategies for drying up milk quickly for situations that require a mother to do so. Sudden weaning can become necessary if a mother needs urgent medical attention that requires her to cease breastfeeding (e.g. needing to start chemotherapy) or in the tragic event of a child's death (at birth, during infancy or later) The following information is about drying up milk in these sorts of situations where needing to wean suddenly becomes a necessity.
How To Dry Up Breast Milk
Here are 10 top tips and facts about how to dry up breast milk.
#1: Medications Are No Longer Routinely Used
Medications used in the past to prevent a mother’s milk from coming in are rarely used these days, due to their possible side effects such as extreme nausea (or much worse). These medications are also not effective at drying up milk if given after the first few days.
It is usually unnecessary to take anything to dry up your milk other than following the tips below. However, there are certain medications (e.g. pseudoephedrine and some forms of hormonal contraception) that some mothers find help to dry up their milk.
Discuss the use of such medications with you doctor if you wish.
#2: Binding Breasts Is No Longer Recommended
Binding breasts is an outdated way to try to dry up milk.
It can make mothers very uncomfortable and could increase her risk of blocked ducts or mastitis.
Wearing a supportive and well-fitted (not tight) bra is a better idea.
#3: Drink According To Thirst
Restricting how much fluids you drink does not help your milk to dry up. So, drink when you need to.
#4: Drink Sage Tea
Although the use of sage to dry up milk has not been researched, some mothers find consuming sage (e.g. in the form of a tea) helps their milk to dry up.
Sage tea can be found at any health food store.
It's important to remember that herbs can act like medications, so speak with a healthcare provider before taking any herbs.
#5: Wear Cabbage Leaves In Your Bra
Cabbage leaves have been used for a long time to relieve engorgement and help to dry up milk.
Scientifically, it is unknown if cabbage leaves truly help relieve engorgement or dry up milk, but there is anecdotal support as some mothers have found their use helpful for these reasons.
If using cabbage leaves, wash and dry the leaves and cut out any large lumpy veins. Cool the leaves in the fridge before placing the leaves inside your bra. Change the leaves every couple of hours and continue to use them until your breasts stop feeling full.
#6: Express For Comfort
Expressing no more than needed for comfort will help your milk to dry up. A warm shower will often help relieve pain of full breasts, and is also a good place to hand express a small amount of milk to make you feel comfortable.
Initially, you may find you have to remove some milk every few hours. But as time goes by and your supply reduces, you can go longer between removal sessions and remove less each time.
#7: Use Cold Packs For Pain Relief
Ice packs, cold compresses or a frozen bag of peas can help to relieve pain and reduce any swelling.
#8: Anti-inflammatory Medication May Help
Some anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen can help to relieve pain associated with drying up milk. Speak with your healthcare provider before taking any medication.
#9: It Usually Takes A Few Weeks To Dry Up Breastmilk
Many mothers find it takes weeks for their milk to dry up. Others will be over the worst of it in a few days and for others it will take a bit longer. Every mother will have a slightly different experience.
#10: Help Is There For You If You Need It
Depending on your individual circumstances, there are organisations that may be of some help to you.
- SANDS (Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Newborn Death Support)
- SIDS and Kids
- Australian Breastfeeding Association
- PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia)
- La Leche League
Sudden weaning often means a difficult situation is happening. In the situation where a mother has to dry up her milk (e.g. due to a medical reason that precludes breastfeeding), it is possible for her baby to continue to receive breastmilk if that is what the mother wishes. There are organisations, such as Eats on Feets or Human Milk 4 Human Babies that share milk on a mother-to-mother basis.
If a baby dies, or cannot receive his mother’s breastmilk for a medical reason, some mothers may choose to express and donate their milk to such organisations. For some, this is a healing experience as well as one that allows for a more gradual reduction of supply which can reduce some of the pain and discomfort.