How Long Does It Take for Breastmilk to Dry Up?

Tips for Weaning and Drying Up Breast Milk Supply

Mother experiencing breast pain as milk dries up
Photo © Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

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 child has stopped nursing.

Generally, you'll begin to make a small amount of breast milk while you're pregnant.

Then, after your baby is born, the production of breast milk increases. By the third or fourth day after your delivery, your milk will "come in" and you will most likely feel it in your breasts. You will continue to make breast milk for at least a few weeks. If you don't pump or breastfeed, your body will eventually stop producing milk, but it won't happen right away.

Preventing Milk Production

If you are choosing not to breastfeed at all, you are probably wondering if there is anything that you can do to prevent lactation prior to giving birth. There aren't any options. You will experience the same hormonal processes that every pregnant woman experiences, including those that stimulate milk production. After birth, your breast milk will dry up when it is not used, meaning that the less you stimulate the nipples or breasts after the birth, the faster you'll dry up.

When to Start Drying Up Supply

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, even if it is a temporary weaning. (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 bottom line is that it's up to you and your specific situation. If helpful, discuss timing with a lactation counselor or your health care provider.

Best Weaning Approach

After you have made the decision to dry up your milk, decide what approach you will take. Some mothers will decide to go with a more natural approach and some will use medications to help dry up their milk supplies. Both methods can also be used, but always be sure to ask your practitioner before taking any medications or herbs.

Medications that Dry Up Breast Milk

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

Birth Control Pill

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 production of 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.

Decongestants

A second medication category is decongestants, which are typically used when someone has a cold. Pseudoephedrine (brand name Sudafed) is known to decrease secretions, including breast milk. In one study, 60mg of pseudoephedrine decreased milk supply by 24 percent.

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.

Other Options

There are some medications that have been used in the past to dry up the breasts.

These medications did not significantly speed up the process but were fairly standard for women who chose not to breastfeed. Note that medications such as pyridoxine, Parlodel (bromocriptine), and high doses of estrogen can be ineffective or dangerous. They are no longer used due to ineffectiveness or serious side effects.

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.

Natural Options 

For mothers who want a more natural approach to drying up their milk, various 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 are often the first recommended herbs. Sage can be found at health food stores in tincture, pill, or tea form. Many herbalists recommend several cups of various types of tea throughout the day.

Some companies have created specially-made herbal teas to decrease supply. One such tea is No More Milk Tea by Earth Mama Angel Baby.

Temporary Weaning

If you have been told that you will need to temporarily wean your baby from breast milk, understanding why you need to wean will help you determine what needs to happen. For example, if you are having a medical procedure that requires you to take medication that will need to clear the breast milk before feeding the baby, you'll follow different procedures than if your baby simply needs to go without breast milk for a test for a short period of time.

What is key to temporary weaning is the maintenance of your milk supply. Maintaining your milk supply will be something that you will want to talk to a lactation consultant about. You'll likely use a breast pump or hand expression to mimic the baby's natural feeding schedule as closely as possible. This will help you be prepared to step right back into feeding your baby at the breast.

If the reason for temporary weaning was not about the breast milk being tainted with medication, talk to someone about how to properly store the breast milk to use for your baby at a later time.

Tips for Lactation Supression

Because we focus so much on the importance of breastfeeding and breast milk, weaning basics are sometimes skipped. It's important to understand that breast milk is made on a demand and supply system, so to decrease your milk supply you need to decrease the demand. This means that you will want to express your breast milk as little as possible.

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, which includes sexual stimulation. Resist the temptation to squeeze your nipples to check if you're still making breast milk. Stimulating your breasts or nipples while you're drying up could lead to the continued production of a small amount of breast milk.

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. Also, avoid eating lactogenic foods during. These would include oats, flax, and brewers yeast.

You may experience some discomfort during the weaning process. Here are some tips to minimize the pain.

  1. Wear a well-fitting bra. A bra that is slightly tighter than normal will cause you to experience more pain and may actually increase the risk of getting plugged milk ducts or mastitis.
  2. Take an over the counter pain reliever like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) to help you deal with the pain and pressure.
  3. Cold compresses can help with the pain and will also help reduce some of the swelling. 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.
  4. Avoid hot showers or warm compresses on your breasts. Warm or hot water can stimulate breast milk production.
  5. Your breasts can leak breast milk when they become very full or when you think about your baby or hear him or her cry. To soak up unexpected leaks, you can wear breast pads inside your bra.
  6. If you are in extreme pain, it may be necessary to remove a little bit of the breast milk from your breasts for comfort reasons. If you do this, don't empty the entire breast. Only express enough breast milk to relieve the pain and pressure. Pumping or hand expressing a good deal of breast milk or emptying the breast will signal your body to keep making more breast milk.

A Note on Mastitis

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
  • hard lumps in the breast that accompany these symptoms

These may be signs that you have a breast infection. Slow weaning will help prevent this.

A Word From Verywell

Drying up your milk is a process. Whether or not you've breastfed before, the process will take some time. Patience and a few tricks will go a long way to safely and easily reducing your milk supply without pain or infection. Never hesitate to reach out to a medical professional, like an IBCLC, if you have questions.

Sources:

Aljazaf K, Hale TW, Ilett KF, Hartmann PE, Mitoulas LR, Kristensen JH, Hackett LP. Pseudoephedrine: effects on milk production in women and estimation of infant exposure via breastmilk. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2003 Jul;56(1):18-24.

AlSaad D, Awaisu A, Elsalem S, Abdulrouf PV, Thomas B, AlHail M. Is pyridoxine effective and safe for post-partum lactation inhibition? A systematic review. J Clin Pharm Ther. 2017 Apr 19. doi: 10.1111/jcpt.12526. [Epub ahead of print]

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Cole, M. Lactation after Perinatal, Neonatal, or Infant Loss. Clinical Lactation. 2012. 3(3): 94-100.

Hernandez P, Kisamore AN. Gradual weaning and oral care management of prolonged breast-feeding based on family preferences. J Am Dent Assoc. 2017 Jun;148(6):392-398. doi: 10.1016/j.adaj.2017.01.025. Epub 2017 Mar 11.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

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