How to Dry Up the Supply of Breast Milk

Stop Making Breast Milk

Woman holding her breasts as she weans
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Read anything about breastfeeding and you’re likely to find that it discusses the first three days of nursing your baby. Because we give so much air time to the importance of breastfeeding and breast milk, the concept of weaning is sometimes skipped. Some mothers will nurse for long periods of time and find that they gradually stop making milk. Some mothers will choose not to breastfeed and will choose to dry up their breast milk in the early days. Mothers who experience a loss and who do not want to pump and donate breast milk may want to stop making milk as soon as possible. Still others find that they need to stop making milk for a medical reason (Be sure to consult with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) if you are told you need to wean for a medical reason.)

The process of drying up your milk can take days to weeks depending on how long your body has been producing milk. Generally, the longer you have been nursing, the longer it will take to dry up your milk. In fact, some mothers report being able to express small amounts of breast milk long after their children have stopped nursing. Your mother or grandmother may have told you that they received a shot in the hospital to dry up their milk. This is no longer given in the United States, as it was found to have negative side effects. So what do you do? That depends on how long you have to stop making milk. You are more likely to experience a comfortable drying up of your milk if you can reduce your supply slowly. Abrupt weaning often causes engorgement that can be painful.

First, what not to do: breast milk is made on a demand and supply system, so you want to demand as little as possible. This means that you will want to avoid expressing your breast milk as little as possible during the drying up period. If you were previously feeding your baby or pumping, decreasing those feedings or pumpings slowly will cause you the least pain. If you were not expressing breast milk, avoid pumping for comfort and avoid nipple stimulation, this also means to avoid any extra stimulation to your nipples, including sexual stimulation. Mothers also find that standing in a hot shower can elicit the milk ejection reflex (sometimes called a “let down”.) Standing with your back to the shower can keep this from happening. If you must face the shower, a towel draped over your breasts may help. Avoid eating lactogenic foods during this time. These would include oats, flax, and brewers yeast.

Next, decide what approach you will take to stop making breastmilk. Some mothers will decide to go with a more natural approach and some will use medications to help dry up their milk supplies. Most mothers will include combining both methods. Always be sure to ask your practitioner before taking any medications or herbs.

Some medications are avoided by breastfeeding mothers because they are known to decrease breast milk supply. Therefore, mothers who want to purposefully decrease supply will sometimes take these medications.

The first type of medication (and one which requires a prescription) is a combination birth control pill. Combination pills contain estrogen and progestin (the mini pill, approved for breastfeeding mothers, only contains progestin.) The estrogen in the pill prevents most mothers from making a milk supply. Keep in mind that this is a contraceptive pill, so if you have plans to become pregnant again soon, this would not be the method for you.

A second medication category is decongestants, which are typically used when someone has a cold. Pseudoephedrine (brand name Sudafed) is known to decrease in producing secretions, including breast milk. In one study, 60mg of pseudoephedrine decreased milk supply by 24%. Because of off-label and sometimes illegal use of pseudoephedrine, in most states pseudoephedrine purchase is limited, although it is available over the counter. Using this drug can have serious side effects, so talk to your provider before considering this method.

For mothers who want a more natural approach to drying up their milk, many herbs have been used by different cultures for centuries. Herbs can act just like medications, so again, talk to your practitioner before taking these. Sage and peppermint often are the first recommended herbs. Sage can be found at health food stores in tincture, pill or tea form. Many herbalists recommend several cups (4-6) of sage tea a day. Peppermint is also known to decrease milk supply. An easy way to ingest the needed amount of peppermint is to suck on a strong peppermint candy (such as an Altoid) many times throughout the day. Other mothers report a decrease in supply when peppermint essential oil is applied to the body or diffused through the air. Some companies have created special-made herbal teas to decrease supply. One such tea is No More Milk Tea by Earth Mama Angel Baby.

Comfort measures for drying up your milk include wearing a tight bra, putting ice packs on the breasts and taking over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. While it used to be recommended that mothers put cabbage leaves in their bras, research has found no difference in comfort between mothers who use cabbage leaves or other cold compresses. Specially designed ice packs are available in the breastfeeding section of stores if necessary.

Mothers who attempt to abruptly cease making breast milk are at a higher risk for mastitis. Be sure to contact your practitioner if you experience any of the following symptoms: fever, chills, sweating, red streaks on the breast, breasts that are warm to the touch, feeling flu-like or hard lumps in the breast that accompany these symptoms.

Read more: How to Prepare Powdered Formula


Mayo Clinic. Can medication help supress lactation after childbirth?

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