Choosing to dry up your milk supply is a very personal decision. There are many reasons a woman may want or need to suppress lactation. Before your little one was born, you may have decided that breastfeeding would not work best for you and your baby. You may have encountered unexpected medical conditions that make breastfeeding extra challenging, unobtainable or contraindicated altogether. Or it is just time to wean.
No matter the reason, a woman will go through the process of drying up her milk supply at some point after birth. This could be immediately after birth or a few years down the road. The method of lactation suppression will differ for every woman in terms of symptoms they experience and the length the process takes. By being prepared to start the journey to dry up your milk supply, you will know what to expect and how to support your body best while going through new changes.
Safely Drying Up Your Milk Supply
By knowing how to dry up your milk supply safely, you will be able to stop lactation, hopefully with as little discomfort as possible. Research has found that the safest way to stop lactation is gradually.1
To dry up your milk, you must let your body know that lactation is no longer needed. To do this, milk must stop being removed from your breasts. You will need to stop breastfeeding or have any stimulation to your breasts that will remove milk. This will signal your body to slow down and eventually stop milk production. If you are currently breastfeeding, this decrease in milk removal can be done gradually.1
When weaning a breastfeeding child and there are no time constraints, the safest way to approach lactation suppression is by slowly dropping the number of times the baby feeds at the breast each day. The timeline to wean your child is up to you and can even be over months if desired.4
For many women, the process of lactation suppression will take about two to three weeks. This will vary from mom to mom and depends on each woman and their milk supply before suppression.2
Tips for Support During Lactation Suppression
Here are a few tips to help you during your lactation suppression process.
Pump for Comfort
When in the process of drying up your milk, your breasts will feel engorged. Engorgement is when your breasts become tight, full, and swollen.3 This feeling can lead to discomfort and even pain. To help alleviate some discomfort, you can use your pump (manual or electric) to remove just enough milk to offer some relief. You do not want to empty your breast fully; this will trigger your body to produce more milk. It may take several days before you no longer need to express your breastmilk for comfort.1
Cold compresses can be soothing for engorgement and help with swelling and discomfort of the breasts.1
Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, may be a good option for pain support. When taking any medication, it is always best to speak with your provider.1
A supportive bra that is firm but not tight can be very helpful when drying up your milk supply. The breast may be full and tender; having a comfortable bra can bring extra support during an uncomfortable time.1
Green Cabbage Leaves
Cold cabbage leaves can be excellent support when drying up your milk supply. The cabbage leaves have been found to help with discomfort and edema from engorged breasts.5 The washed leaves can be placed in the refrigerator to chill. Once ready, mom can place the cabbage leaves in her bra against her breasts. They can be left in place until they are no longer cold and begin to wilt.6
Possible Experiences During Milk Suppression
When your body wants to produce breastmilk, telling it otherwise will bring challenges. Every woman is different; some might experience numerous symptoms while others breeze through lactation suppression.
The first and most obvious symptom you may experience is engorgement. As discussed above, engorgement is when your breasts are full of milk and become tight, swollen, and tender.3 Implementing supportive measures such as cold compresses, removing minimal milk for comfort, and wearing a supportive bra can help ease some discomfort you may be experiencing.
Impact on Hormones
The process of suppressing lactation will also impact your hormones. Your hormones will be changing, and this could affect your mood. In some circumstances, you may feel extra sad than usual. Be gentle with yourself; your body is going through a significant change. When feeling sad, it is essential to seek support. This can be from friends, family, fellow moms, or even your health care team.1
While working through the process of drying up your milk supply, you may be at risk of developing mastitis.2 Mastitis is a breast infection, and the chance of mastitis increases due to engorgement and full breasts. You may notice your breasts are red, hot, and swollen, and you may be experiencing flu-like symptoms such as fever and muscle aches. Please contact your provider for further guidance and help if you recognize these symptoms.1
A minor experience you may encounter during lactation suppression is leaking milk from your breasts. This may cause frequent wet spots on your shirt. Your breasts are full, which can cause milk to leak out still. Nursing pads can be beneficial in catching leaked milk before your shirt becomes wet.2
No matter what stage of motherhood you are in, drying up your milk supply can be a challenging process. Give your little one plenty of extra snuggles during this time, and most importantly, be gentle with yourself and give yourself plenty of grace during this time of immense change. You’re doing great, mama!