Weaning occurs when your baby or child is no longer breastfeeding. Natural weaning can take place over many months or even years.
This sort of weaning gives a mother and her child a chance to readjust physically and emotionally.
During these times your milk production will vary accordingly to your child’s needs.
However, you might choose to wean, and this needs some forethought and planning, to make sure you don’t experience problems such as mastitis.
Let’s look at how to dry up breast milk naturally.
How to dry up breast milk?
Gradual weaning is often the ideal for mother-baby pairs. The child can have breast milk as long as he needs to. Then the demand will decrease over time, leading to a reduction in breast milk production and supply.
The amount of breast milk you produce will reduce significantly compared with the breast milk supply you had when you were feeding a very small baby.
For a number of reasons, however, gradual weaning might not be possible for everyone.
Unfortunately, drying up milk supply suddenly can have physical and emotional consequences for a breastfeeding mother and her child.
For example, sudden weaning increases a mother’s risk of blocked ducts, engorged breasts and breast infection (mastitis), as well as a deep feeling of sadness.
It’s important to have effective strategies for drying up milk quickly, if the situation arises, to avoid complications and distress. Support from a lactation consultant can be beneficial to help reduce the chances of problems when weaning.
Sudden weaning can be necessary if a mother needs urgent medical attention that means she won’t be able to breastfeed for some time or at all in the future. It might be needed, for example, if she were to start chemotherapy for cancer treatment, or in the tragic event of a child’s death.
Lactation suppression also affects your child, as he’s lost a very important part of his life. With the right approach, you can help make this transition as smooth as possible.
You can read more in Weaning a Toddler: 10 Tips To Gently Wean Your Toddler and Weaning From Breastfeeding- A Gentle Approach.
The following information is about how to dry up breast milk in these sorts of situations, where suppressing lactation suddenly becomes a necessity.
How to dry up breast milk naturally?
Here are 9 helpful tips and facts about how to dry up breast milk naturally.
Dry Up Breast Milk Tip #1: Medication to dry up breast milk is no longer routinely used
You might have heard about using medications to dry up breast milk.
Medications used in the past to prevent a mother’s milk from coming in are rarely used these days.
This is 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 of milk coming in.
It’s usually unnecessary to take anything to dry up your breast milk other than following the tips below.
However, there are certain medications (e.g., pseudoephedrine and some forms of birth control pills) that some mothers find help to dry up their milk.
Discuss the use of such medications with your doctor if you wish to use them.
Dry Up Breast Milk Tip #2: Binding breasts is no longer recommended
When researching how to dry up breast milk, you might come across breast binding. This is when a wrap is wound tightly around the chest and breasts, to stop milk production.
Binding breasts is an outdated way to try to dry up breast milk.
It can make mothers very uncomfortable and could increase their risk of blocked ducts or mastitis.
Wearing a supportive and well-fitted (not tight) bra is a better idea.
Dry Up Breast Milk Tip #3: Drink according to thirst
Breastfeeding women are often reminded to stay hydrated, so you might think restricting the amount of fluids you drink will help your milk to dry up.
There’s no credible evidence to show your fluid intake actually affects milk supply. The important thing to remember is that not enough fluid can make you dehydrated.
Even mild dehydration can leave you feeling fatigued and foggy.
Drinking electrolytes is even better than just drinking water.
We’re not talking about sugary sports drinks, but quality electrolytes from a health food store.
Electrolytes are beneficial during pregnancy and in the post-natal period.
Without any real evidence that increasing or decreasing fluids affects milk supply, it’s best to stay hydrated.
Dry Up Breast Milk Tip #4: Drink sage tea
Sage tea. Although the use of sage to dry up breast milk has not been researched, some mothers find consuming sage in the form of tea helps their milk supply to dry up.
You can find sage tea at any health food store.
It’s important to remember herbs can act like medications, so speak with a healthcare provider before taking any herbs.
Here’s a review about Pink Stork No Flow, which is Amazon’s top choice for sage tea:
“I used this tea to help reduce my milk supply for weaning my 3-year-old. He struggled with constant ear infections and was unable to wean earlier. Thankfully, he is finally well, but he was really struggling to let nursing go. I decided to try this tea to reduce my milk supply, and maybe help him begin the process of weaning. This tea helped tremendously!
I could tell a huge difference after just two servings. My son is finally starting to accept weaning since he is getting less milk, along with our constant encouragement. This has been a godsend for me. It is tasty too!”
Parsley, peppermint and menthol are also known for decreasing milk production if consumed in large quantities. However, there isn’t enough research to back this up.
Dry Up Breast Milk Tip #5: Cabbage leaves to dry up breast milk
Cabbage leaves have been used for a long time to relieve engorgement and help to dry up breast milk.
Scientifically, it’s uncertain whether cabbage leaves really help with drying up breast milk or relieving engorgement.
There is anecdotal support, however, as some mothers have found their use helpful for these reasons.
If you wish to use cabbage leaves to dry up breast milk, wash and dry the leaves and cut out any large lumpy veins.
Cool the leaves in the fridge before placing them inside your bra.
Change the leaves every couple of hours and continue to use them until your breasts stop feeling full.
Dry Up Breast Milk Tip #6: Express for comfort
It might seem counterproductive to be expressing when you want to dry up your breast milk supply. But removing small amounts will help to reduce the supply-demand feedback that actually triggers milk production.
A warm shower will often help relieve the pain of full breasts.
The shower is also a good place to hand express a small amount of milk to make you feel comfortable.
Initially, you might find you have to remove some milk every few hours.
As time goes by and your supply reduces, you can go longer between removal sessions and remove less each time.
When you hand express, make sure you hold the entire breast while expressing the minimum amount of milk possible. That way you’ll avoid blocked milk ducts.
Although at the beginning it might seem like a good idea, don’t use a breast pump. Just hand express the excess milk out until you feel relief. Remember, the more milk you express the longer it will take to stop producing milk.
Dry Up Breast Milk Tip #7: Use cold packs for pain relief
If you experience any pain in the process of drying up breast milk, cold packs can be a huge help.
Ice packs, cold compresses or a bag of frozen peas can help to relieve pain and reduce any swelling.
Always make sure to cover the ice pack with a piece of cloth as it could produce burns if it comes into direct contact with your skin.
Dry Up Breast Milk Tip #8: Anti-inflammatory medication might help
Some anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, can help to relieve pain associated with drying up breast milk.
Reducing pain and discomfort can help you manage as you go through the process of drying up your milk supply.
Speak with your healthcare provider before taking any medication.
Dry Up Breast Milk Tip #9: Help is there for you if you need it
To prepare yourself for any emotional challenges, see BellyBelly’s article Post Weaning Depression | 7 Tips To Help.
Depending on your individual circumstances, there are organisations that might be of some help to you:
- SANDS (Miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death support)
- Red Nose
- Australian Breastfeeding Association
- PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia)
- La Leche League for a lactation consultant in your area
The need for sudden weaning often means you are going through a difficult situation.
When a mother has to dry up her milk – for example, due to a medical reason– it’s possible for her baby to continue to receive breastmilk, if that’s what the mother wishes.
If babies have died, or can’t receive their mothers’ breast milk for medical reasons, some mothers might 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.
How long does it take for breast milk to dry up naturally?
If you’re wondering how to dry up your breast milk supply, your next question could be, ‘How long does it take to dry up breastmilk?’
Most mothers find it usually takes a few weeks to dry up their breast milk supply. Of course, this also depends on each women’s physiology.
Although a few weeks might seem like a long time, bear in mind your milk supply will decrease gradually. The amount of milk you produce will become less and less until it finally stops.
How to dry up milk supply without getting mastitis?
Getting mastitis is one of the most dreaded breastfeeding experiences.
The best way to avoid mastitis is to let your milk dry up naturally. Following the above ‘How to Dry up Breast Milk: 9 Easy Tips’ should help you stop producing milk naturally while avoiding a breast infection.
You can read more in Mastitis/Breastfeeding Symptoms And Treatment.
Breast milk drying up symptoms
When you stop breastfeeding you’ll gradually see how your body adjusts to this new chapter in your life.
Breastmilk production happens on demand. The more the baby feeds, the more milk is produced and vice versa.
However, your milk production won’t suddenly stop the moment you stop feeding your little one. It will take a bit of time for your breasts to stop production completely.
Milk leakage will completely stop. During the weaning process, it’s very likely you aren’t leaking milk spontaneously, as you used to in the early days.
You might feel some small leakage, especially if your child is triggering your breastfeeding response – for example, your child hurts himself and you can’t comfort him with breastfeeding as you have been doing until now.
Leaking can also happen with thoughts or memories of your child, with breastfeeding memories, or with direct nipple stimulation.
Your breasts will gradually reduce their response to your child’s demands and, in terms of size, will eventually return to their non-breastfeeding state. The use of a supportive bra might help during this transition.
Your child’s demands for breast milk will also gradually slow down, and so will your automatic reactions related to breastfeeding.
How to dry up breast milk quickly?
There isn’t a fast solution to lactation suppression. Even certain medications that cut off your milk supply quite quickly aren’t effective for the first few days after birth. These were given to women who had given birth to babies they weren’t going to feed from birth.
In most cases, this type of medication is no longer routinely used for this purpose because of the strong side effects.
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